Get To Know BillyO

It’s always colorful when Billyo O’Donnell comes to town.


Helena Fox Fine Art is pleased to announce that Billyo O’Donnell will be joining us this fall for an opening on November 9th from 4-7pm featuring new works completed in the Lowcountry. On Friday November 9th join Billyo for a painting demonstration in the courtyard of the historic Confederate Home and College. A $10 donation at the door for entry will go towards continuing up-keep and renovation of the home. The event will be from 10-12pm with refreshments following at Helena Fox Fine Art and an early viewing of his show opening later on Friday afternoon. In the mean time, follow us on Instagram @helenafoxfineartchs or on Facebook to find out where Billyo is painting!


12 Questions with Billyo O’Donnell

  1. When did you begin painting?

In high school and it was only because the art department, though limited, had paints, brushes and all that was needed. Otherwise I would have never been able to afford the materials needed.

  1. What are the three most used pigments on your palette?

White, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Yellow light. You will use white to varying degrees with most every color to achieve the right value. The only exception is when making black or using pure color. Ultramarine Blue is all around us. The sky reflects onto all things and it is in the distant atmosphere all around us. Sunlight is yellow and to capture the feeling or warmth of the sun you need yellow in most colors and in your greens. The weakest part of the palette is in the reds so I will include a few different reds only because reds are so varied in nature

  1. What did you want to be when you were a child?

In the third grade we were asked to draw what we wanted to be in life and I drew an artist painting at an easel but then I felt the artist didn’t look tough enough so I put boxing gloves on the artist.

  1. Is there a place you paint that you would consider your muse?

There are three places that have a similar effect on me: The Island of Lana’i, in Hawaii, where I spend a 2 months of every winter, the Lowcountry areas of South Carolina and canoeing and camping on the Missouri River.  Each of these places gives me a feeling of freedom and creativity. Each of these areas inspire me to the point that when I inhale I am breathing in the life force of these areas and it feeds my inner self.

  1. What is your favorite style of music to paint to?

Django Reinhardt, his music has a timeless feeling that is not distracting. It helps me get lost in a painting.

  1. What is a defining moment, or a couple moments, of your artistic career?

It was 1975 I had just spent a year in college on an art scholarship and I felt the dream of becoming an artist was just impossible so my focused shifted to just having a good time while in college with this mind set I flunked out. A couple of the art teachers, the same ones who gave me failing grades, told me they failed me because of my lack of effort even though they had told me I was one of the most talented students they’veever had. Encouraging me to sit out for a year and get my head together and then return. It so happen the year I sat out was during the 1975 recession. My father (who had been a Sargent in the Marine’s and did two tours in Korea) was insistent I go into the Marines. There was little to no work anywhere during this recession. I went through a series of horrible jobs, I paid an ex-con $100 for a job at an iron foundry I then moved onto a local hog farm for a summer who then recommended me for a sawmill job.  I was working at the sawmill when unexpectedly a saw kicked out seriously cutting my hand; I walked/ran a couple hundred yards to the office trailer leaving a trail of blood. As I stood in the office I remember my blood running out the office door and I was getting weak. There was this strange timeless moment that came over me. As my boss examined my hand I felt this similarity with him. He was near retirement and in him I saw a man who was honest and hard working, someone who worked his whole life had nothing and I was on the same path and then the epiphany came to me,since I was to have nothing I could then pursue my passion in life as an artist and I’ll be who I want to be. Since that moment I’ve never looked back.

  1. How do you describe your art to others?

I see with clarity! My work is all about developing the landscape with my own surface language of marks in the paint to describe the world around me using a variety of visual methods to understand the experience. I also want to achieve brightness in color and at times a simplified gesture that can be expressive.

  1. Name the top five artist –living or dead- that have influenced you the most.

Anselm Kiefer, Guy Rose, Birger Sandzen, Edward Willis Redfield, Lucian Freud, William Robinson Leigh, Frank Auerbach

  1. How has your painting style/approach changed over the years?

Change is always moving through my work. When I was doing plein air events my work was about speed and to achieve this my philosophy had to change in my thinking about masses. As I developed my philosophy in terms of masses I started to perceive the importance of the value and intensity/chroma of the mass. Lately I have been fascinated with the texture,and thickness of the painted surface which I translate into my own language of the surface. There have only been a few artists who have been able to develop amazing surfaces through the thickness of paint. It is the surface and my own unique language of the paintthrough abstract marks and how they relate to the whole painting I am currently addressing.

  1. What is your favorite food to eat?

Being from a family of nine kids I eat it all! I am currently building my own large pizza / bread oven made with special firebricks and I am doing all the stonework myself. It will be a one of a kind. The pizza/bread oven came about from all the trips my wife and I havetaken to Italy.  It wasn’t always like this as one of nine children it wasn’t rare for us 5 boys to have a little evening sport for a left over chicken wing or pork chop.

  1. How has being an artist changed your outlook?

It’s turned me into a searcher, I am always searching for understanding knowledge from my own thoughts and philosophy to the big picture around me at times. This searching has increased my desire to teach and understand the complexities of solving a problem.

12.What is the best piece of advice anyone ever gave you about being an artist?

Respect all forms of creativity.

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