Sometimes we hear about one of EFA's worldwide members who make a splash, a success, or whose achievements are notable for their courage in overcoming obstacles and difficult odds. One such is EFA member Marilyn R O'Brien who recently held an exhibition at the Eastgate Theatre, Madison, and also promoted EFA, having the EFA handouts on her table alongside her works of art. I asked Marilyn about her art, her struggles, and the courage and inspiration she finds around her, including her love for her beloved dog Fritz. Marilyn is honest, gracious and courageous - this is reflected in her interview.
What was it like doing a one woman show in a public space and how did people respond to your work?
I had a ball, although a bit tired and ill at times. My artwork is my passion and I loved showing it. People loved it. I sold 5 pieces and had many hands to shake and had almost every person tell me how beautiful or nice, or pretty or lovely my work is. I started painting initially as a means of coping with grief at my father's death - the results stunned everyone (except my Mom!)
Animals form an important part of your output, and your Etsy store has some lovely images. What is it about animals that you find inspiring.
First of all, thank you for the compliment. It just doesn't matter, it's what I feel at the time. I am pro-any animal or bird. I speak up because they need a voice. I am thinking of a baby Harp seal now, polar bear, rabbit. Everything I do has a reason and the story is within the painting. I am particularly proud of my work on Fritzi who is the subject of a book and portraits in my Etsy store.
Thinking about inspiration - does any artist or medium inspire you. Do you look up to any painter or sculptor in particular?
I had a huge set of National Geographic coffee table books of all the artists, and I lost it in a flood and I can't find another set. I reflect on the tragedy of Vincent Van Gogh who had to die before he was popular. (He only sold one painting in his lifetime), and I really don't want that to happen to any artist. I am inspired in some way by all artists. I am constantly studying new techniques, and gosh there are so many! Michaelangelo, Picasso, etc., even my first art teacher. I see many on Etsy who inspire me with their huge talent.
How long have you been an artist, and do you have a favourite medium you use?
I have been an artist in my mind (see profile for details) since I began puberty but it really wasn't noticed until high school. I was 14-15 years old. I took a college art examine and had 2 wrong on the test which placed me as a junior in college. Then I lost the use of my dignity not my spirit when I sexually harassed by my first-line supervisor. 6 months later my mom I lost my Mom - I was her care person (long before the term was invented!) and I spiralled into a deep depression (PTSS). In 1993 I lost the use of my right (dominant) hand and I couldn't paint until I found a doctor who believed in me and I undertook my own therapy, it took a year for me to make significant progress, but now I try to paint one work per week if illness doesn't keep me down.
I actually can paint in every medium (except water color). Right now it is Oil Paint.
How did you discover the Etsy website?
I research all the time to get my work out into the world and I usually "bump" into a program and research. On Etsy it's the chat line, the artists, and team EFA. Michele Glick especially has encouraged my work. I want to be appreciated and what I do helps me to finance my life work. I am an artist not a tech and but Etsy has been good to me. I sometimes wish they would advertise more for us sellers. Like many I am a lousy marketer, although I hope my work hopefully speaks for itself. I just keep researching. I am lucky I found Etsy. I have a person now called Shannel who advocates for my handicap. Sadly, she is leaving soon and my worry is being alone but Etsy takes away the feeling of isolation with its inspirational and lovely words.
Do you have a quote or saying that you value that you would like to share?
There are sooo many! It's funny you ask because I wrote down about 400 of them and I use them in my greeting cards. I would have to give one "If God is with you, who can be against me..." that is just one. I know that frightens some people and some don't like to hear that but that is what I go by.
Finally, of all the images in your shop, which would you take with you to a little desert island to hang on the wall of your island home?
Without a moment's hesitation is Fritz. I wrote a story and painted a picture of him - it took me a couple of weeks because he wouldn't sit still! Fritz was a pedigree Pekingese and our pet for 19 wonderful joy filled years He reminded me of the joy my beloved my parents instilled in me, to love the little animals and birds who can't speak for themselves (although my parents used to wonder were I found all the homeless little one to bring home!)
When I came home after a rough day out in the world where it seemed no one cared about their fellow-man, I could pick Fritz up and feel comfortable that the tiny and sweet, ball of fur would give me respect, trust, and unconditional love. Fritz always made me feel better. We both knew we loved each other. Here's to you little one--I believe you are romping with glee and making everyone in Heaven love you- until we are together you will always be in my heart.
That is why I would take my painting of Fritz with me. I had a warm bundle of pure devotion, trust, love with a silence between us that was all we needed to speak. His face and eyes were of an old soul. Such a happy spirit. I grieved many years for him because he was so special.