In the Garden of Externalities

David O’Brien



The difficulty with anything familiar is that over time it stops being something that one can actively experience. It goes quiet, like when you stop waking up to your alarm because you’ve grown numb to the sound. It takes artists like David O’ Brien to break into that invisibility and make the familiar and discarded world completely new, even strange.

It would be an oversimplification to say that O’Brien’s “Disc Paintings” are pictures of trash. Each piece is a carefully articulated screen-print, involving a multitude of layers of acrylic, metallic pigment, and resin. These pieces are slow to view and are slow to make. The moon-shaped discs remove the easily regurgitate scanning one might do with a rectangular photograph and decelerates the viewing, spins the viewer’s eye into a cyclical rotation, estranges the context, and throws us out into the cosmos.

The slow, meditative quality of his work is heightened when you consider their subject matter. O’Brien’s paintings are abstractions of earth and the discarded monuments of human presence. Waste has embedded itself into the natural space and systems around it, becoming a member of the natural system while maintaining the undeniable otherness that plastic and modern material has in comparison to the natural world. Each composition is an abandonment, a reconfiguration, an aesthetic sense of beauty, a reverie, and a documentary. In this other worldly state that O’Brien creates, the viewer can transform their daily passing of litter and trash into a ruminating, spiritual space where one can consider the effects of time and the everyday monuments we leave behind.


David O’Brien currently lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He has had solo exhibitions in Los Angeles, Berlin, and Santa Fe, as well as numerous group shows. His current practice makes use of video, photography, painting, and printmaking. David travels extensively and primarily documents found natural phenomena in unexpected ways. His work questions traditional views of waste, nature, human intervention in the landscape, and the passage of time.