Artist Announcement: Tessa Greene O'Brien

Tessa Greene O'Brien, One of the co-founders of Portland Mural Initiative will be one of our confirmed 2015 artists. 

Tessa was born in a small coastal town in Maine, and grew up surrounded by woods, fields, ocean, and artists. The landscape and the people continue to inspire her work.  She graduated from Skidmore College with a degree in studio art, and spent the next 10 years traveling the country and painting sets for music festivals. During this time she fell in love with large-scale painting and collaborative projects.

Tessa paints primarily on wood panels and walls. Her work explores themes of place, architecture, humor, water, and text, using layering, drawing, erasure, and color to convey her ideas. She often combines several mediums in a painting, including oil paint, latex, ink, watercolors, and guache.

Today she lives and paints in Portland, Maine, where she is working on an MFA from Maine College of Art. 

Here is an Interview we conducted with Tessa:

What is your name and where are you from?

My name is Tessa O’Brien and I was born in mid-coast Maine but also spent many years living in Montpelier, VT.

What did you want to be growing up?

So many different things! Highlights would have to be professional figure skater, marine biologist, and author of detective novels.

Describe your work/practice in the format of an elevator speech?

I am a painter that is currently using traditional methods of oil on panel to explore themes of contemporary life, memory, and the formal properties of paint.

Can you identify 3 or 4 artists or art movements from art history that you feel have paved the way for your work today?

I am influenced by many of the Abstract Expressionists. Lyrical Abstraction, Neo Expressionism, and The Bay Area Figurative Movement also resonate with me. I appreciate the work of many Minimalist artists, such as Agnes Martin, Frank Stella, and Sol Lewitt, despite the fact that my work rarely reflects that interest.

What is inspiring you right now?

I just returned from a whirlwind NYC art trip, where I visited the Met, MOMA, the Armory Art Fair and a few others, and several galleries in Chelsea and the Lower East Side. It was far too much for a 5 day trip, but exciting to see what many other artists are doing. I was very moved by the installations and paintings of artist Subodh Gupta, and the draped paintings of Sam Giliam at MOMA. Outside of the art world, I am inspired by love, and the small ways that it is made visible in our daily lives.

What kind of envoirnment do you like to create in? If you listen to music when you work, what’s been in rotation recently? 

My studio is a wonderful haven for me. I like to keep it hovering between messy and organized, with a comfortable chair to sit in and lots of books, for when I need to take a break from painting. I recently saw the artist Sinkane play at SPACE, and have had his latest album on repeat ever since.

Have there been any murals that have had a profound impact on you?

I love the mural culture in San Francisco. The city seems to have a lively mix of official commissioned murals and also some beautiful, unofficial pieces. You never know what you will come across.

How long have you lived in Maine?

I moved to Maine in 2004, fresh out of college, and have called Portland home ever since. I traveled frequently for work for the first 8 years that I lived here, so I really felt like a full time resident for the past few years, and have really been enjoying getting to know the community more.

What do you like about the art scene here?

I like that there are so many talented, creative people living and working in the area. Many of the local business owners and residents are supportive of creative projects, and new ideas are often welcomes. While Portland is not an inexpensive city, it is relatively easy to navigate and live comfortably in, without making great sacrifices in quality of life.

What would you like to see happening in Portland’s art scene in the future?

I would like to see more contemporary art galleries open and active, as well as more non-traditional art spaces. I hope that our mural project can be a part of this growth, and be another positive opportunity for artists.

What’s next for you? Any upcoming shows or projects that you would like to mention?

I will be showing new paintings at The Oxbow Tasting Room on Washington Ave later this spring, and will be part of a group show at Engine in Biddeford in July, called Ode to Letters.
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Check out more of Tessa's work on her website here