Bradley Rubenstein: Let's get the background stuff out of the way -- the rest will be more interesting. You are from Ohio. Was starting out there influential in any way other than making you want to leave?
Sean O'Connor: I started out experimenting in my hometown just out of high school and was heavily influenced by the music scene at the time. There was a little art scene booming in Cleveland at the time, and there still is, but I was really into artists like Derek Hess and other illustrators like that.
I almost flunked out of high school completely because I just didn't want to do any of the work. I was smart enough and able; I just didn't give a shit. I would skip class, go to the art room, dig through all my teachers' supplies, and just work on my own projects. My parents were pissed when senior year I got a D in art class. I never finished any of the assignments. They were all really boring, like paint a self-portrait or drawing a bowl of fruit. By that time I already had a studio and was working really large. I was also touring in a metal band called Kaligo doing performance art, and that also took up a lot of my attention.
By then I just had no interest in school. My teachers gave up on me and basically labeled me as a loser. I remember the day they pulled me into the office to talk to me about submitting my portfolio to art schools. I was so stoned I could barely keep my eyes open.
BR: The first thing of yours I saw was a music video. You said you did the entire set for it in one room -- fucking impressive. It was a great combination of heavy metal and cute animals. And the more I have seen of your painting, the more it seems that your work has some combination of things that you wouldn't think about putting together.
SO'C: Thank you. Yeah I really enjoyed making that video. I contacted the label for permission to use the song. I told them I didn't want anything; I just wanted them to let me use the song for this idea I had. They didn't take me seriously at all and said, "Sure, go for it." When I finished the video and sent it to them, I got a call from the head of the label and then a call from the members of band themselves. They were blown away that someone would put this much time into something for free and really loved the video. Then they were asking me to use it for promos and sent it all over the place, and we ended up doing a few more videos after that. What I love most are the comments from the fans on the YouTube page. People really dig it in a funny way.
BR: I am reminded of a scene in the movie Fight Club where the Ed Norton character is talking to the Brad Pitt character in the subway. They are looking at a cologne ad, and Pitt says that that is just surface -- not to spoil the plot of the movie or anything, but they were talking about images of masculinity vs. the psychological underpinnings of it, hence the title of the movie...anyway, your works, despite being images, seem to try to go below the surface. You are getting in the ring, so to speak, when you paint. How far off am I here?
SO'C: That's a good question. I was really pissed off for a long time. Still am. I don't know where most of my rage comes from, but it's there. I feel like I used to try to put out some kind of message and see if people responded, but I've learned in the past few years that no one gives a fuck about message anymore. Sure, they want some content and meaning, but I think people just want to see something different these days, and so do I. So that's what I try to do. I try to create something that's different to me, and if people respond, great. I've become much more laid back, so now a lot of it is about the process and where I'm taking my work. Color has always been important in my art, and that's what most people have responded to. So I've tried to work more with colors and patterns to see where it leads. In the end, it's all still exploring and looking for the bigger picture.
BR: You're doing a lot of stuff in Bushwick, where you have lived for a decade.
SO'C: I love Bushwick Brooklyn just as much as I hate it. There's a lot of amazing things going on there that I never thought I'd see. Probably some of the best artists in the world are living and working in Bushwick right now. People come from all over the world to see it and just be a part of it. Almost everyone you meet is an artist or musician. There's an energy there that inspires me but also makes me sick. In any scene you're going to have good and bad. In this scene the good is really good, and the bad is just fucking awful. But again, that's just me. I enjoy working here, but these days I like traveling to other cities to see what's going on in other scenes. It's overwhelming how much great work is out there. - Bradley Rubenstein
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.