Interview with the Artist : Jan O Sullivan

Jan O'Sullivan Artist

" A love of making things, a touch of design aptitude and a keen eye for balance and colour are what I bring to every canvas. "

How did you first become interested in art, and when did you decide to become a professional artist?

Over 40 years ago I was hooked on the magic of Tony Hearts painting programme on BBC. I loved the way he put together paint and paper in what seemed a haphazard way, only to reveal an amazing artwork at the final stroke. So, I became interested in making and creating at an early age, but never thought I had the skill to follow it professionally. I started painting 4 years ago and am moving towards what I hope is professionalism one painting at a time.

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How would you describe your artistic style? Which artists or artistic movements have had the greatest influence on your work?

My style is abstract just because I don’t have good drawing skills and as a viewer, I prefer abstract art over other forms. I’m not a student of the artistic movements – I made a conscious decision not to actively study art or other artists, but to discover it organically as I move forward.

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Can you walk us through your creative process? How does an idea evolve from its inception to a completed work of art?

I paint with the purpose of creating something that will look well on a wall in a home or office space. I think of scale and colour intensity. I decide if it will be a loud piece or a quiet piece. I will paint a style depending on the dimension and shape of the canvases I have at the time. And I will decide on a colour palette – usually based on colour combinations I have admired in nature, in interior design publications, in posters from the art deco era and online on Pinterest or Instagram.

What influences your work? Can you give an example of a piece where this influence is particularly evident?

Anything and everything. Mostly one painting influences the next and so on – I find a colour combination works well in one painting so I will develop it further in the next. Colour Camouflage was painted on the back of Migraine Vision. Colour Camouflage is the deeper louder yet more controlled sibling of Migraine Vision.

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How do you choose these materials, and what do they add to your work?

I’m not fussy about brands, I’ll use any acrylic paint that is the colour I need. I use tissues, wipes, sponges and kitchen implements to paint with. I use a paint brush sometimes, but I don’t have a big supply.

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What feelings or messages do you hope to convey through your work?

I have a few feelings I hope to evoke with different styles I paint – a sense of place as in Antibes, a sense of something bigger as in Situation Critical, a sense of space as in the large artwork Blue Dissolve, a sense of history as in Celtic Valley, a sense of sci fi (i love sci fi movies) as in Ripley.

Over your career, how has your artistic style evolved or changed? Are there specific experiences or phases in your life that have impacted your art?

Yes, I think I’m moving towards maybe actually painting something someday! I started exploring florals about 2 years ago (Night Garden), and some outlines of faces in the last year (The Three). I even painted something resembling a house this year in The Woods.  Next year maybe an arm or a leg. My work process is totally influenced by my lifestyle of painting at home while caring for my kids. I work in the side passage, beside the kitchen.  I  paint in pockets of 15 to 30 mins at a time due to other demands on my time, but this is a plus as it gives the paint time to dry and me time to reflect. Maybe in the future I will have a studio and longer periods of time to paint – I’m not sure if that will make my work better or worse, time will tell.

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Do you have any recurring themes or symbols in your art? Can you share their significance and why they are important to you?

Not specifically.  I like to include numbers in my large paintings as I like the shapes. There is a 4 and 2 in Swinter Series No. 1. I also include references to art deco patterns, shapes and color combinations as it is my favourite aesthetic. The Vintage Collection is based on art deco doodles.

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How has being part of the arts scene in Ireland influenced your work and career?

I’ve come to painting relatively late in my working life and am early in my painting career, so I don’t have an answer to this question. My career in Banking and IT including WBT and technical writing has taught me that you can be creative and immersed in design without being in the so-called art industry.

Can you tell us about a piece that posed significant challenges to you? What were those challenges and how did you overcome them?

I never give up on a painting – if I can’t get it right, I will paint over it and start again.


How do you handle creative blocks, and what strategies do you use to stay inspired?


I just keep on painting, putting paint on canvases with or without an idea of what’s coming next. I take photos of my work constantly throughout the painting process. I constantly review these photos to see what I can take from them for future paintings – I examine and analyse each variation, each decision and select patterns or colour combinations that I really like and save them for using in future paintings. So, I have a file of hundreds of bits of paintings that are my creative reserve – I plunge in there if I am at a creative crossroads. My failsafe is to paint a variation of a recently sold painting – I figure if someone liked it then there may be somebody else out there who likes it too.

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Do you have a favourite piece that you've created? If so, can you tell us the story behind it?

My favourite piece is By The Lido. It was the first painting I did where I totally followed my instinct and journeyed around the canvas in an intuitive way. I felt it would be perceived as weird, or different or just silly, but within 4 months it had sold. And that sale (thank you buyer!) absolutely gave me the validation to know that I can paint how I like in a way that is easy for me and very instinctive, and that there are people out there. well 1 at least, who see what I see in my paintings.

How has the digital age and the rise of social media influenced your art practice?

I would say I’ve only been able to be a painter because of the digital age. I take digital photos of my work constantly. I spend more time looking at a photo of my paintings than I do actually painting. I use reverse image searches to validate that my work actually is a painting – for example when I first started to paint, I would do a reverse image search of my work to find similar works. and I always came up with children’s art from school… But eventually as I got better, the image search would bring back real paintings by real painters – Joan Mitchell and Willem De Kooning. That’s how I discovered those painters and their style. Social media is an invaluable platform for sharing visual images – so it is the perfect platform for getting a wider audience to view paintings.

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Do you engage in any other creative practices that feed into your art, such as poetry, music, or dance?

I make and give workshops in making handmade cards. I love to cook and bake, and I think the process I use for painting has similarities to baking… you add paint, add proving time, then more paint, then finalise with decoration.

Can you share what you're currently working on or any upcoming projects? What can our readers look forward to seeing from you next?

I’m happy to produce artworks that will enhance people’s spaces well into the future. I love interior design and architectural trends and I follow them to ensure that the paintings I paint will be suitable for homes, not galleries – as there are so few galleries, and so many homes. Each painting brings me closer to the next, each sale validates that I am enhancing people’s spaces. I have no long-term plan, other than the practicality that I may need to invest in a storage unit – If I do get a storage unit you will see more larger paintings.

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