"Twenty years ago – to the month – I began my career as a professional artist. I almost began it by accident. I had never gone to art school, I had no slides of my work – I hardly had any work. But at the suggestions of friends – also artists – I made an appointment and went to talk with Victoria Frey, a major figure in the Portland art scene and the owner of Quartersaw Gallery. I was hoping for advice, hoping to get some idea about what I might need to try and get my work into a gallery. Instead, she looked at my work briefly and asked if I'd like to have a show.
So, May of 1995 marked my first exhibition. Five years later, when Quartersaw closed, I was picked up by Froelick Gallery - which had also started out in 1995 – and I've happily been with Charles and the gallery for fifteen years now.
My first exhibited work couldn't be more different from the work I've done for the last several years. Tiny pen and ink drawings, explorations of childhood trauma, they were stylistically graphic and psychologically intense. At the time, I was also heavily influenced by the Hispanic culture I'd been so enamored of in my years in Los Angeles; the drawings were rather Frida Kahlo-esque, honestly. But, pretty soon, I started to include paintings in my shows – I'd always been a painter, primarily – and the work kept changing, growing toward something else. The change happened quite organically. I just did what I wanted to do next, wherever my interest took me. Through the years, as I gained in confidence and developed my skills, I settled into the themes and influences that my work is now best known for: gender reversal; the use of the portrait historié; sexuality; humor; historicism, usually with a strong late eighteenth-century French aesthetic.
At this point in my career – this personal landmark - I thought it would be interesting to look back to earlier work, to see what might still speak to me, and to allow myself to be inspired by some of those earlier themes. As an example of that, this show includes paintings of myself as a child; one is even a version of a piece from that very first exhibition in 1995. In the other paintings here there is, of course, much evidence of the themes that have been a constant in my work: historicism, gender, humor, the male nude, mythology. But I also wanted to look at what I hadn't ever really done - still-lifes, for instance – and see what I might make of that as well. So in several different ways, this body of work is a looking back and a looking forward, a return and a departure."
Stephen O'Donnell, 2015