Visual Arts Profile

The Arts > Visual > Billyo’s Lowcountry

Billyo’s Lowcountry


Billyo O’Donnell, Little Blue Houses for Everyone, oil on panel, 11 x 14”

With his current solo show Billyo’s Lowcountry hanging at Helena Fox Fine Art, we’re getting to know a little more about what drives the artist.

1. When did you begin painting?

In high school, and it was only because the art department, though limited, had paints, brushes, and all that was needed. Otherwise, I would have never been able to afford the materials.

2. What are the most used pigments on your palette?

White, Ultramarine Blue, and Cadmium Yellow light. You’ll use white to varying degrees with most every color to achieve the right value. The only exception is when making black or using pure color. Ultramarine Blue is all around us. The sky reflects onto all things, and it is in the distant atmosphere all around us. Sunlight is yellow and to capture the feeling or warmth of the sun you need yellow in most colors and in your greens. The weakest part of the palette is in the reds, so I’ll include a few different reds only because reds are so varied in nature.

3. Favorite style of music to paint to?

Django Reinhardt. His music has a timeless feeling that is not distracting. It helps me get lost in a painting.

4. What is a defining moment in your artistic career?

It was 1975. I had just finished a year in college on an art scholarship and felt the dream of becoming an artist was just impossible, so my focus shifted to just having a good time while in college. With this mindset, I flunked out. A couple of the art teachers, the same ones who gave me failing grades, told me they failed me because of my lack of effort, even though they told me I was one of the most talented students they’d ever had. They encouraged me to sit out for a year, get my head together, and then return. It so happened that the year I sat out was during the 1975 recession. There was little to no work anywhere during this recession. I went through a series of horrible jobs. I paid an ex-con $100 for a job at an iron foundry. I then moved on to working for a local hog farmer for a summer who recommended me for a sawmill job. I was working at the sawmill when unexpectedly a saw kicked out, seriously cutting my hand. I ran a couple hundred yards to the office trailer, leaving a trail of blood. As I stood in the office, I remember my blood running out the office door and I was getting weak. There was this strange timeless moment that came over me. As my boss examined my hand, I felt this similarity with him. He was near retirement, and in him I saw a man who was honest and hard-working—someone who worked his whole life, had nothing, and I was on the same path. This epiphany came to me—since I was to have nothing, I could then pursue my passion in life as an artist, and I’d be who I want to be. Since that moment I’ve never looked back.

Billyo O’Donnell,The Pink Door, oil on panel, 16 x 12”

5. How do you describe your art to others?

I see with clarity! My work is all about developing the landscape with my own surface language of marks in the paint to describe the world around me using a variety of visual methods to understand the experience. I also want to achieve brightness in color, and, at times, a simplified gesture that can be expressive.

6. Who are the artists that have influenced you the most?

Anselm Kiefer, Guy Rose, Birger Sandzén, Edward Willis Redfield, Lucian Freud, William Robinson Leigh, Frank Auerbach

7. What did you want to be when you were a child?

In the third grade we were asked to draw what we wanted to be in life. I drew an artist painting at an easel, but then I felt the artist didn’t look tough enough so I put boxing gloves on the artist.

Billyo O’Donnell, Red and Blue, oil on panel, 9 x 12”

8. Is there a place you paint that you would consider your muse?

There are three places that have a similar effect on me: the island of Lānaʻi in Hawaii where I spend two months of every winter, the Lowcountry areas of South Carolina, and canoeing and camping on the Missouri River. Each of these places gives me a feeling of freedom and creativity. Each of these areas inspires me to the point that when I inhale I’m breathing in the life force of these areas and it feeds my inner self.

9. Favorite food?

Being from a family of nine kids, I eat it all! I’m currently building my own large pizza oven made with special firebricks, and I’m doing all the stonework myself. The pizza oven came about from all the trips my wife and I have taken to Italy. It wasn’t always like this—as one of nine children, it wasn’t rare for us five boys to have a little evening sport for a leftover chicken wing or pork chop.

10. How has being an artist changed your outlook?

It’s turned me into a searcher. I’m always searching for understanding knowledge from my own thoughts and philosophy to the big picture around me at times. This searching has increased my desire to teach and understand the complexities of solving a problem.

11. What’s the best piece of advice anyone has given you about being an artist?

Respect all forms of creativity.

Billyo’s Lowcountry, featuring work from Billyo O’Donnell | Helena Fox Fine Art

Stay Connected t0 the Arts:



Posted in Visual on November 1, 2018 (Fall 2018) by Matt Mill.

Comments (0)

No comments yet

The comments are closed.