Tim OBrien
October 2010
Arena Stage and Edward Albee

In the spring of 2010 I was in Austin Texas visiting Marc and Janice Burckhardt.  While there I received an assignment to work on a few posters for Arena Stage.
They were staging two Edward Albee plays, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "At Home at the Zoo."
The way this was going to work out was that they kind of knew what they wanted and thought I would be the right artist for the concepts.  Jobs are like this most of the time.  We have work in our portfolio that brings out clients to us.  We also see amazing work done by other artists.  Somehow when you receive the call the assignment might not seem like the perfect vehicle for a good painting.  The added element was that the due date was around the corner.  Fast work.

For 'Virginia Woolf', they asked for a formal room with a painting of a married couple in a frame.  For 'At Home at the Zoo', they wanted a man in a suit with animal paws holding a book.

Marc had done several posters I think, so I asked him some questions and about what to do.  In his studio I started doing thumbnails while he worked on his piece, I think it was Salina for Texas Monthly.  This is the kind of situation where you better be ready to bring your A game.  I did think of a design but it wasn't until I got home and working with photoshop that an idea popped up.  I always advocate a pencil to find ideas.  I still believe this, because the mere act of pulling that lead across the paper makes shapes that can evolve into new ideas.  In the case of Virginia Woolf, I pulled an image of a married couple across the file and it was upside down.  BAM.
Perfect idea.  The coffee table would turn around an upside-down painting.

The second went in a slightly less powerful direction than I would have preferred but I enjoyed the process nevertheless.
Finally, they asked me to make a poster for their Edward Albee Festival.  This would be a reading of all 30 plays.  The concept was all 30 scripts laid out to form a 30.  
The anxiety of wanting to perform well combined with the notion that it would be seen by many helped me go the extra mile with these pieces.
It was a fun gig and something I aways wanted to have a shot doing; an Arena Stage poster.

This is the first rough for "Who's afraid of Virginia Woolf?"
Figuring out what a formal living room is takes a little imagination but I renovated my home so I knew a thing or two about moldings.
Still, this piece needed an idea.
NOTE:  Some fool wrote to me in all CAPS saying my sketches are really bad, why show them.  I didn't show this thumbnail to the client.  It was done for me to figure out the design and lighting. 
I tried out the concept for "School Play" here but it didn't fly. I did a dozen or so sketches and then finished sketches. Lamp styles, chairs, couches, pillows, wallpaper and color were all considered at length.

When I chose this coffee table and stared to consider the reflection, it dawned on me that by dragging over a place-marker couple, it would be right side up. Bingo.

The hardest part of this piece was duplicating the portraits. Someone mentioned the amazing ability to paint both pair of portraits identically. While I did paint both portraits, I did use photoshop to make sure they matched. I took those compliments without clarifying that.

First sketch for "At Home at the Zoo"

They wanted more of his body so I had to pull back more.

The final poster

This is the poster for the 30 Albee Plays.

Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of EDWARD ALBEE’S WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? directed by Pam MacKinnon starring Tracy Letts and Amy Morton February 25–April 10, 2011 in the Kreeger
You’re invited for drinks with George and Martha. As wickedly hilarious today as when it first shocked audiences, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is an ingeniously funny play that packs a helluva wallop. What starts as verbal sparring at an impromptu cocktail party, devolves into a no-holds-barred of wits and wills. With brilliant writing and some the greatest characters ever created for the stage, Albee set a new standard for American theater this sharp, vicious Molotov cocktail of a play.
Recently expanded masterpiece EDWARD ALBEE’S AT HOME AT THE ZOO directed by Mary Robinson February 25–April 24, 2011 in the Kogod Cradle
American master Edward Albee has outdone himself once again with a riveting new drama that expands on The Zoo Story, the one-act that launched his career 50 years ago. In this meticulous and nuanced look at the lives of three New Yorkers, an everyday conversation between a husband and wife takes an unexpected turn into dangerously personal territory. The revelations and confrontations catapult them from their delicately balanced world onto life-changing paths. With the intensity and honesty for which Albee is known, At Home at the Zoo reveals the cutting truth about the razor’s edge of our humanity.
Edward Albee Festival MAR 5 – APR 24, 2011
a feat never before attempted
In addition to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and At Home at the Zoo, Albee enthusiasts can experience a never-before-attempted feat: a festival featuring staged readings of all 30 works by the master playwright. During the festival, the entire canon of our nation’s greatest living playwright will be featured.
Neil Young for Rolling Stone

I'm late to the game with Neil Young.  In high school I felt he was the favorite of the stoners, along with Floyd and the Doors so I stayed away.  As I continued my education both artistically and musically, I grew to understand and appreciate Neil Young and his amazing catalog and raw energy.  My love of loud, hard rock now shared room with softer, more thoughtful music.
Several of his songs get to me deeply and recently I shared one with Cassius.  It was officially a 'Harvest Moon' a few nights ago and he and I went for a walk in the direction of the large full moon listening to Harvest Moon.  It was a sweet moment and that song will now crush me forever.

Young's fragile voice that carefully plows ahead to me is his most touching and effective talent. 
Recently I was asked by Rolling Stone to paint his portrait for a record review for "Le Noise."  It is produced by Daniel Lanois.   Below I have a link of Daniel talking about working with Young…

At first I was excited because I thought I was going to get to illustrate him in this cool flat, wide-brimmed black hat, but that changed later.  Recently he had been seen sporting a different hat which I added in the final.  I did my rough on a piece of notebook paper with a ballpoint pen on vacation.  Inspired by that, I moved to watercolor and pen and ink.

This is my preferred medium for vacation painting and though an assignment, I gave it a shot.  It's fun to investigate things that way and not be nailed down so specifically yet.  I filmed a bit of me working on this drawing.  At one point you can hear a door slam and see that my niece, Ella Rose had entered the room.  She then has a funny exchange with me.  Kids ask great questions and get you to be honest, don't they?

I don't think I ended up sending this exact sketch but altered it a bit in Photoshop to show how my finish would look.  I did like his tangly hair in my roughs but upon closer examination his hair is much shorter now so I abandoned it.  My sketches are more like portraits of Neil Young as I think of him, not of Neil Young for his new album, Le Noise.

Someday I want to be paid by the brushstroke. This is actually a great shot of how I see a painting as I'm doing it. I work like a pointillist actually, changing the color of an area by putting other colors over it. A hot area can be cooled off with blue and a cool area can come back to life with some red.

In the end though, couldn't this be the portrait of Neil Young? It says it all.

This last clip is for my dear son, Cassius.

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