O'CON presents viewers with the mystery of nature in paintings and
immersive installations. His fluorescent palette appears at times
otherworldly or manufactured because we sometimes forget that nature
itself creates such intense colors. Colin graduated Cum Laude with a BFA
in Painting and Drawing from the University of North Texas in 2000. In
2004, he earned his MFA from Hunter College in New York (2004) and won
the Tony Smith Sculpture Award. His work has been included in
exhibitions at Fresh Window (Brooklyn), Rawson Gallery (Brooklyn),
Lesley Heller Workspace (New York), The Alexandria Museum of Art
(Louisiana), Boston Center for the Arts, Artspace (San Antonio), and
CSAW (Houston). Alongside his visual art practice, he plays in the bands
Dark Carpet and Sportsman's Paradise. Colin lives and works in Brooklyn.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Your color-saturated landscapes appear otherworldly, like they might exist on a planet with a different atmosphere. Are you painting our world or another?
Colin O’Con: All of my experiences come from this world, so I'm definitely painting our world. It's more a questioning of what our "world" is and how we perceive and create that idea. The palette is a conceptual choice. I use fluorescents for their visceral punch, their popular culture implications and the otherworldliness that they evoke.
But it's an interesting question. . . what other worlds are beyond our planet? I am certainly fascinated by pictures of space but mostly because of how fictitious they are. I'm interested in that illusion. And it’s not only the images. Take the recent satellite comet landing and the so called "song" it was emitting. Listen to the "song." Someone made that song. It is made from a frequency that is sped up so we can hear it and whoever "produced" it put a bunch of reverb on it and panned it back and forth to make it sound "spacey,” I guess. It’s a complete fabrication!
OPP: Does that fabrication relate to art-making?
CO: Yes, both involve illusion masquerading as fact. It is this illusion of nature or representations of that I'm most interested in.
OPP: What does the Sublime mean to you?
CO: It is the awe that ensues when you see something horrible but have that safety net of distance or reproduction. I often paint images of the sun, which is the most constant thing in our lives. It literally gives us life. We gaze upon it in awe and bask under it. . . yet it's a giant explosion in the sky. That is the sublime.
OPP: What is your most memorable experience in nature?
CO: This one is very hard for me. I grew up near the Kisatchie National Forest in Louisiana, and the swampy bayou landscape seeps through in most of my work. I've spent an enormous amount of time hiking and camping. I’ve had so many great experiences, but two memories come to mind. One is the swirling toxic colors in the hot springs at Yellowstone. I was in the third grade, and I couldn't quit looking at those colors. More recently, I hiked to the base of a glacier in the North Cascades in Washington with my wife and some friends. It was incredible, like being on the surface of the moon. We hit the summit right at dusk. Then a full moon rose and spot lit all of the mountains and glaciers around us. Amazing. The next morning we saw an avalanche. It was very far away, but the sound and the sight was an insane experience.
OPP: Tell us about commissioned installation for Immersive Space (2013) at the Alexandria Museum of Art. Is this your only installation to date?
CO: Actually, it is not. I came to painting through the back door. I was making installations and conceptual work most of my academic career. For example, I made large, walk-in gardens with trails that viewers could stroll through, composed mostly of objects bought at dollar stores. My first painted floor piece, composed of hundreds of two inch flowers, included a viewing platform and every wall was painted and collaged with trees.
My work has always been based in nature, and I wanted to translate those ideas into paintings. An installation physically solves or completes everything for the viewer. With painting, the viewer has to complete the experience in their minds. But even while primarily painting on canvas for several years, I continued to make sculpture, particularly the arch sculptures.
Photo credit: Jeff Stephens
OPP: What inspired the arch sculptures?
CO: They were inspired by the mountain forms I was painting. Several years before, I had seen the Delicate Arch
in Utah. That area of the country had a big impact on me. The forms are
so surreal that they almost seem fabricated. You see the arch form as
well as the rainbow form over and over in contemporary signage, and I
was interested in exploiting that idea.
And then, the arch sculptures led me back to creating installations mostly because they needed a place to live and the painted floors were the perfect environment. In turn, the sculptures influenced the paintings, resulting in the more abstracted Rainbow Paintings. It's an exciting conversation between the paintings, the sculptures and the installations. The viewer can have the visceral experience of the installations or the intimate experience of the paintings.
CO: The show was named after our band Dark Carpet,
which played a few shows in conjunction with the exhibition, including
the closing on December 12th. Our music started out as improvised noise
but quickly became more straight-up rock n roll diverging into noise
freak outs. Jeff Byrd comes from an improvisation background. I've done a
lot of that as well, but have also played in several traditional bands.
However, in Dark Carpet I moved from drums, my main instrument, to
guitar and vocals. That was a big change for me. Our third member, Tracy
Grayson, had never played an instrument before, and we convinced him to
try it. We are all pretty limited musicians, but we use that to our
advantage by crafting simple songs and creating interesting sonic
The three of us are all visual artists and musicians. Dark Carpet is our collective music project, but we each maintain separate studio practices. It was interesting to see our visual work together in the show. We spend an enormous amount of time together. We all share a common sense of humor and a love for the history of music and art. We are constantly introducing one another to new music, artists, books and movies. There is a shared aesthetic that is flowing between us.
OPP: How is creating music different than making visual art, aside from the obvious?
CO: They are very different mostly because music is collaborative and art making is usually a solitary endeavor. However, I feel that they have a lot more in common than most people think. Mike Kelly said that even though he didn't know how to play an instrument he realized that he didn't have to know, and that noise and sound could be his instrument. I realized that early on as well. I knew that I wasn't a virtuosos. Virtuosity rarely leads to anything good. It's the approach that matters.
To see more of Colin's work, please visit colinocon.com.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.