Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Southern Reflections: Eric O’Dell’s Works of Art

Eric O’Dell wanted to be an art major from day one of his undergrad at Mercer University, Macon, Georgia. His dad, his hero, was a colourist who worked in the textile printing industry and always taught him to do his very best at whatever it was that he undertook. Eric says art can’t be measured in terms of dollar signs: it is energy.

Liberty Hall Studios and Arts Exchange are collectives that Eric formed with fellow artists.

“We call it sanctuary. No matter what is whirling outside, no matter how many obligations, this is our sanctuary. It is the space and the time to do the best thing to do: to make good art. You need to have your mind, your feet, your hands, your eyes, and you need to give yourself room to breathe.”

Eric says that art making is an act of communication. He, along with his brother Brian, a sculptor, comes at art with a southern angle. At one point, Eric was curator of Exhibitions and Collection at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Macon, Georgia. He has also given a Tedx Talk on what it is like being an artist in a particular place. He is currently full-time professor of art at Mercer University.

Eric’s works of collection include mainly charcoal and pencil drawings and acrylic on canvas landscape paintings. He says he never wants to paint something that is pretty or seductive. His landscapes have a dark side to them. He only paints what he sees but intentionally puts items in them that man would place within a landscape, so to speak violating an environmental space for good or for bad. To begin with, he was only painting what he saw by looking at high angles, stars, the sky and skyline. Over the past few years he has turned his gaze downwards.

These two pieces that Eric shares with us here, and others, emanate from the death of his mother, Patsy O'Dell. Each piece continues a concentration on landscape, specifically the Panhandle Florida, where he essentially grew up. Florida’s Panhandle, when he moved there with his family in the early ‘80s, was to Eric as exotic a place as he could imagine.

Heavy in the Air

“Mom was actually terrified of water. Heavy in the Air is a bit of thievery from Willie Nelson’s album Spirit. ‘She is gone, but she was here, and her presence is still heavy in the air....”

Heavy in the Air is from a visit to a park near his mom and dad’s house on the day she died.

“I went there with my brother. It was a painful, disorienting time. It was powerful and very intimate and epic, all at once.”

Unlike the common belief of art and the production of artistic pieces being a therapeutic experience, for Eric this series wasn’t so.

“These are not pieces trying to resolve that experience, and they are not an attempt at a summation either. I guess they are a witnessing of sorts, a meditation or soft assertion as to my presence in a particular place at a particular time.”

Last Year's Lessons

Last Year’s Lessons is the first piece he executed after his mother died. It is also derived from one of nature’s features: a creek in Panhandle Florida.

“If you look closely there is some text, towards the bottom. It happens in my work at times, and these snippets along with the title all derive directly from Gillian Welch’s song I Dream a Highway from her album Revelator.”

For more work by Eric O’Dell visit his website. To find out more about Liberty Hall Studios visit its Facebook page.

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