By Emily Tanner

Artwork by William O’Brien

“A Walk in the Woods”

“I’ve been planning this idea for about two years,” William O’Brien notes as he stands before his show, “Never the Same River”. “It started out when I wanted to do a hike of the Gore Range Trail with my dad.”

O’Brien’s love for the outdoors is immediately apparent in his work; which depicts him, his father, and friend, Dylan, hiking through the beautiful scenery of Colorado. Colorado locales like Summit County, Gore Range Trail, Gunnison Valley, and Boulder Lake all inspired the show. Most importantly, however, O’Brien attributes his work to his dad. 

“I had no idea I would be a painter, but I really enjoy it and the process,” he explains. Regarding his decision to attend Western, O’Brien was especially impressed by the Art Department and its professors, “I started out really young like most kids just doodling. I’ve always liked creating stuff and being inspired by things… Art was the only thing I spent enough time doing that I could make into my major.” 

“Summiting Peak One”

In creating “Never the Same River,” painting professor Tina Butterfield played a considerable role in shaping O’Brien’s approach. “Tina was the one that was always around pushing my conceptual ideas… I definitely got most of my critiques and feedback from her.”

The advanced art classes shaped O’Brien’s work the most: “You get more freedom, and you get to pursue the ideas you want. Although, you do get pushed by Tina to do more conceptual work and come up with a really strong idea. That was really helpful for me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way [while] coming up with a series.” 

O’Brien realized that he could merge his two interests of art and the outdoors, adding “It was really therapeutic to get into the routine of coming in and painting.” The art proved challenging as he pushed himself to create art beyond the reference photo through values and layering.

“Flow of the Journey” 

“I thought it was cool that some of the people I talked to recognize the areas or related it to their own experiences in the outdoors hiking. It’s a really cool way to start conversations with people… These are the places I go to deal with stuff, cope, and enjoy. I think it’s something that a lot of people should do [more] because it’s something not a lot of people get to experience.” 

In the future, O’Brien wants his work to be shared in lobbies and public spaces so that everyone can enjoy it. However, he notes: “This was a personal series for me, so it would be hard to let it go.” Though nature has become his main focus, he wants his future work to be more focused on journeys and experiences. 

On a final note, O’Brien adds, “A lot of this series is based around places I’ve hiked around home and [my work] really is a tribute to that. Summit is the place that I go to recharge… it’s made me really happy getting to show how much I appreciate it through this series.”