A healing sense of awe

Alina Ivan visits 'Affirmations of Life', John O’Donnell’s solo exhibition, at the Bethlem Gallery.

This collection of paintings brings to life the ground floor room of the Bethlem Gallery with a burst of vivid, clean, strong tones. It comprises portraits, landscapes and still life which play with light and candid minimal brushes, depicting some of the artist’s immediate surroundings and people he held dear.

O’Donnell paints instinctively from observation and has been doing so for 50 years. ‘It’s very rewarding to open your eyes to what’s going on around you’, he explains. Standing on the shoulders of giants such as Pissarro, Matisse and Cezanne, the works show incredible visual allure, whilst conveying discrete narratives.

The Golden Hour is inspired by the view from the artist’s studio in Peckham, South London during the hours of late afternoon. Dynamic strokes of rich yellows blend with turquoise blues to form a tree range which generously dominates the foreground of the frame. They give way to windows and chimneys emerging under the clear blue sky, the same energy running through both the animate and the inanimate objects illustrated. Move on and you’ll see this stylistic feature in Jean with Dog Roses, where the graceful depiction of the artist’s mother resonates with the still life surrounding her.

'You can lose yourself – you can lose the self, and turn on, concentrate to something that is beyond you, outside you', O’Donnell adds. Indeed, being at the exhibition felt beyond uplifting – the more the time passed, the more I experienced a healing sense of awe, while intricate connections that were visually referenced in the paintings started to reveal themselves. I felt blissfully absorbed in colour and emotion. No doubt, this has much to say about the role of arts in mental health.

- Reviewed by Alina Ivan, King's College London.

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