Patrick O’Donnell: Brighton Artist
Patrick O’Donnell: Frida
You Make Me Gay’ are personal icons painted by local artist Patrick O’Donnell.
These comprise a selection of figures from his life, both real and fictional, who have influenced his gay identity. His subjects range from school friends who danced to Madonna with him in the playground, characters from 80s television programmes, figures from the music industry and performers from the Working Men’s Club circuit in Yorkshire where he grew up.
Shown at The Oriental Hotel in Brighton from 1 to 31 May, the show questioned the notion of the gay icon. Do they have to be gay? Do they have to be real people or fictional characters? O’Donnell does not restrict himself to the classic roll call of divas à la Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe but delights us with his personal take on the gay icon – characters with whom he shares a particular empathy, real or projected. Mixing one-time celebrities with civilians (as Liz Hurley would say), all his subjects, in one way or another have affirmed or reaffirmed his sense of self.
Deliberately traditional in execution, this work is, nevertheless, very much conceptual. O’Donnell works exclusively from photographic images, not even his closest or most easily accessible sitters is painted from life. Working from images in this way, he knowingly negates the chemistry that exists between the painter and their muse in favour of focusing more on his own ideas about his chosen icons and how their presence in his life has informed his sexuality. The show offered the viewer telling insights into O’Donnell’s psyche and way of working, questioning the relationship between gay iconography and identity.
You Make Me Gay was originally intended as an installation piece where all the icons would be presented on one wall. Nodding to the great Byzantine altar pieces found in orthodox churches that offer a window into heaven, the icons were conceived as an shrine to these figures to which viewers could bow down and worship, acting as beacons of light throughout the artist’s life. Also significant are the compositions of several of the paintings that, again, echo the deliberate symbolism within the Byzantine icons. O’Donnell leaves significant spaces around certain icons that were largely recognisable as part of a double act or group, the portrait positioned off centre with a large expanse of empty background symbolising these invisible associates.
O’Donnell is currently looking to take this exhibition elsewhere and install as originally intended.