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I search and search for artists and finally one finds me.   Michael showed up in an email the other day expressing interest in oldartguy.com.  I swear I heard a chorus of “hallelujahs” as I read the email.  I had never heard of Michael as an artist; I guess that architecture thing keeps him pretty busy.  Welcome aboard, Michael.


Michael O’Brien is a Professor in the Department of Architecture at Texas A&M University.  He is also an artist, photographer, and sculptor.

Michael has a Bachelors of Architecture from North Dakota State University (1976) and a Masters of Architecture from Virginia Tech (1982).

He taught at North Dakota State University and the Myers-Lawson School of Construction at Virginia Tech before coming to Texas A&M.

Michael has won a few design awards for architectural design with the firms with which he has worked. These include the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of the New River Valley, Blacksburg, Virginia, and the Casselton State Bank in Casselton North Dakota.

He was named President of the Architectural Research Centers Consortium, editor for their conference proceedings and has been similarly honored to be a recipient of the NCARB Prize for Creative Integration of Practice in the Academy as part of the Virginia Tech Solar Decathlon I team.

Michael has published many books related to architecture, but the following books are those related to art and photography: Finger Paints 2013: Images of the Texas Landscape. 57 paintings and drawings, Finger Paints: Envisioning...a series of digital paintings, Book two...a scriboled world, curious creatures in curious seasons, Leaves in Life ... a collection of little daily things that became present, ...a scriboled world, curious creatures in a curious place....  See “Bookstore” for more details.

“I started painting in 2009 never having done it before (it shows) and limited myself to a single subject, leaves. The single subject let me explore color, pattern, structure, and texture. I painted every morning, small paintings, and limited my time to about an hour apiece; it was all the time I had back then, and it helped me to not fuss over technique I didn't have. After a hundred or so leaves, I branched out, studying heavy masses of color floating over a surface; I'm not sure why. The pile of paperwork on my desk was pretty heavy, but it didn't float. I started letting the things that caught my eye or ear guide the painting: the anniversary of the Columbia disaster, a radio story on Karst geology, a news story about a hollywood breakup. If it stuck with me, I tried to use it. The sculptures started about this time, using bits from the shop and the kitchen, finally casting plaster in discounted glass vases, removing the glass and letting the mass float in fields of wire---again, the heavy thing floating....

“The Texas countryside entered my awareness about that time too; I was driving south each weekend to be with the one who holds my heart, and leaving work at 5, I'd drive through the sunset where I'd see the clouds get dark and the laser light of the sun on the horizon separated the earth and sky. Sometimes a stand of trees would be in silhouette; sometimes the understory of the tree canopy would leak orange light as the sun set. This big sky, big sunset, big landscape became a major subject of my work. I drove south each friday and north on sunday; often in that time, I’d see wildfires and smoke from distant fires. These fire scenes made a big impression; lines of smoke and fire would fill most of the panorama of landscape. I'd never seen anything that big before. The news photos about Bastrop's fire were similarly startling.

“A bit later the one who holds my heart moved north with me, we still made the south drive on weekends but added an annual drive west to Hobbs, New Mexico. The landscape on that trip, especially the landscape from Lamesa and Seminole to the Hobbs city line, looked to me like huge paintings--- blue blue skies, red and yellow soil, impossibly green fields, and all huge, extending from the highway to horizon with almost no trees, houses, or tank batteries. We still make that journey, I still drive the first shift just so I can be a passenger when we drive through that part of West Texas, I'm sure Mark Rothko must have also seen it at some point.

“I've shifted a little in media: from acrylics, to watercolors, gesso, and I'm doing a lot of digital now. The tablet lets me paint in bed without making a mess of things so that’s good, and I paint from memory mostly, sometimes looking at the photos I took from the passenger seat between Lamesa and Hobbs; those thousand mile weekend drives give me subject material for about a year.

“The thing about the digital painting is that it’s not "real" in the tactile ways of the acrylic works or watercolors. I've tried having Giclee prints made, and they do an amazing job with color fidelity, but I miss texture. I might try overlaying glazes on them when I work up the courage. The other thing about digital media is that it’s too easy to make lots of paintings...lots and lots...while they don't fill up the house and closets so fast, kind of a good thing, they become maybe too much when viewed as a body of work.

“I still work in watercolors a little, The Watercolor Society in Houston has been kind in accepting my work from time to time in member exhibits---no awards of course. I'm a bit below rookie status compared to the masters who show works there. One day I hope to take a class.

“There's a book in the works that will include the photos from the thousand mile weekends along with some of the digital paintings inspired by them. I hope to have it done early next year.”