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Justin O'Brien

In their own words

Recorded 1962

Justin O'Brien
Audio: 2 minutes

When I was in Poland, I started reading many more books that I’d done before. I suddenly discovered the Impressionists and the Post Impressionists, and I started to experiment myself. I think, really, I did develop quite a lot just through this accident, probably, of being in the war, and being captured.

Possibly as subject matter I prefer Christian religious subject matter because it gives me much more chance to use my imagination, to let my head go, in other words, where you can use colour as symbolism, and also I feel that it lets me expand more.

When I’m asked what I really want to express, I’m never quite sure what it is, in words. The only thing I can say is that, when I look at the picture I either know that I’ve got somewhere near it or I have failed, and that’s what I must just keep trying for.

This word inspiration, which I don’t like using very much, I’m never quite sure what it means. But I think perhaps it means that you keep going back to life all the time, that everything that you, that I, am trying to express is coming from nature the whole time. I still have to once a week draw from the nude model. I might spend six months painting, which I have done at times, painting from the model. Then once I’ve got all I think I can possibly get from the model, then I – the model is dismissed, and then I might completely change that picture. But I couldn’t have done it without the model. That’s what I would call the inspiration. I could never have the inspiration without having that communication with something; I can’t reach out into nothingness, I must always keep going back to these solid things. And where they finish up, well they can finish up looking like a man or a woman or a boy, or it might be fish or fruit, it will finish up looking like that, but not like possibly any fish, any man – a special man, special fish, special boy, special girl, whatever it is.

Acknowledgements

This oral history of Justin O'Brien is from the De Berg Collection in the National Library of Australia. For more information, or to hear full versions of the recordings, visit the National Library of Australia website.

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Justin O'Brien

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency