Seamus Liam O’Brien (BFA Drawing ’97) had been applying for the New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) fellowship for the last six years and it seemed as though he wasn’t making any headway. With rejection letters piling up, he decided his 2014 application would be his last. Obtaining artistic recognition in New York began to seem out of reach, so O’Brien started to consider other avenues while waiting a year before finally hearing from NYFA.
“I had just gotten off of work at an artist's studio when I saw on my phone that I had received an email from NYFA regarding my application,” says O’Brien. “There were a lot of things going on at the moment so I didn’t have time to actually look at the email…I was prepared for a rejection letter.”
On a crowded 4 Train to Brooklyn, he finally read the email. Despite the audience of strangers, he shouted for excitement. As one of more than 4,100 applicants, O’Brien had finally won the fellowship award.
O’Brien’s artwork is a reflection of his life.
“In the case of my sketchbooks, for which I won the fellowship, I create artistic parameters for each book in order for me to stay focused on the main idea and see it through to its completion,” says O’Brien. “For example, one sketchbook is only observational studies, another book is portraiture, another is about a snowman, etc.
Creating such restrictions helps me to fully explore an idea, stay on task and/or be creative with a limited palette.”
As for the funds O’Brien won with the fellowship, he plans to properly document his sketchbook art.
“My first priority is to use the award money to hire a professional photographer to shoot my work,” says O’Brien. “The rest of the award will probably be used to cover my art supplies and living expenses in New York when I participate in a three-month artist’s residency over the summer.”