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Rising Stars: Meet Rebecca O’Brien

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rebecca O’Brien.

Hi Rebecca, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
Growing up near Washington, DC, I was a self-taught artist from very early on. I was often recognised in local and regional competitions throughout the years for my school-made art pieces. However, I chose to keep mostly as a hobby my sustained explorations of different media and attended art camps or took art classes in my free time growing up. Art was always something I did; I never saw it as a career choice. Entering into adulthood, I committed myself to a life of travel, learning languages at the University and abroad, then fell into teaching at international schools history and language arts to middle schoolers.

In 2013, I began to make street art under the alias of “NFN8” (pronounced: “Infinite”) while I was living in Shenzhen, China. At the time, I was still working as a middle school teacher… so I kept my weekend exploits hidden. I loved the social scene – I was meeting new people every weekend. I got invited to music festivals and other cultural events in the area. I just loved having a purpose and leaving my mark with a spray can.

I had a bike accident in 2015, which forced me to slow down and stay at home to rest. At a time when I felt that nothing was within my control anymore, making art became my outlet and solace. The more I painted and showed my work, the more I was met with surprisingly strong encouragement and affirmation from those in my community. I quickly was invited to join my first group art exhibition in the art district of the city. Eventually, I started also offering sponsored spray paint workshops to adults and older art students several times a year to schools in the area.

I left my job a year later and became a live-in resident artist and communications manager at Jardin Orange Artist Residency in Shenzhen, China. I stayed there for three years, hosting visiting international resident artists and working in my own studio. Before I left China, I was even invited to give a TEDX Youth talk in February of 2019 to inspire others with my story of juggling multiple dreams at once.

Since the summer of 2019, I currently reside in San Diego, California, where my mother has lived for 15 years. I work part-time at a private school, tutor children privately, as well as make commissioned artworks for clients from the U.S. and China in my spare time.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
There have been several obstacles that have at first seemed devastating or caused strong emotions of fear, but these have come to be the driving elements I needed to think ‘outside of the box.’ I believe that it is important to not move towards things directly but rather plant the seeds of intention and follow the opportunities that present themselves and pursue multiple interests and goals. It seems counterintuitive – but, sometimes, letting go of your expectations of exactly HOW/WHEN you want to get somewhere is the fastest way to actually arrive.

There was my bike accident in 2015. I lost out on some opportunities but had time to create my art which opened up new ones for me. In 2019, I broke my right arm, which is what I used to paint (aka my livelihood). I still went to Portugal for an artist residency three months after the accident and was still able to lift my arm enough to work. Actually, I made the pieces of art that I am most proud of today.

When I moved back to this country/city, it was extremely daunting because I didn’t know anyone socially nor have any professional contacts. Two years later, I am now married, play recreational soccer with friends, and I just got an opportunity to paint a prime spot in the center of North Park!

The story of my life so far has been this: Things always work out if you just have faith. Anxieties and worries only come when you are trying to see too far into the future. My hindsight has always given me 20/20 clarity around the “why” of big struggles in my life. Difficulties are there to teach me something or offer me wisdom. I now trust that it (good/bad) will all make more sense looking back in a few years.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
Black and white ink portraits on canvas and paper. I also create murals using spray paint. I just love making something you can look at again and again and lose yourself in it. Through expressive gesture, complex layering and sharp lines using water and ink, I aim to visually portray the ‘art of living’ along a central path: walking the balance between deliberated choices and seemingly ‘infinite’ chaotic and arbitrary events and forces. Each of my subject’s eyes serve as windows to the soul and I strive to carry the intricate deeper messages of my work through them.

Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
Street art has become very commercial and popular and talent is becoming cheaper and easier to find. Fine artworks (like portraiture) are becoming digitalized. What I do by hand on canvas is becoming an obsolete method for many people – a traditional painting in a frame can (and does) expire with time and wear… which may lose its appeal for consumers. I see people wearing reproductions of art and prefer it on everyday items. Artists (including myself) are being pushed to “brand” themselves to make a style that is easy to identify. So many people sharing their work on Instagram and other platforms means that one’s ideas or creations are inevitably touching or intersecting with others’ styles these days. We are entering the age of “crowdsourced” ideas, styles, and aesthetics.

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