Tessa Greene O’Brien has had a great year. Just last summer, she had the chance to turn ideas into action with a $5,000 grant from SPACE Gallery’s Kindling Fund to create large-scale public murals in Portland’s working-class East Bayside neighborhood. By May 2016, the midcoast native not only completed her MFA at the Maine College of Art, but the readers of the Portland Phoenix also voted her the “Best Visual Artist” in the city. The popularity and visibility of her vast, colorful murals undoubtedly helped to sway the vote; they are impressive, ambitious achievements that engage with the community as well as the industrial cityscape. But O’Brien is also a traditional easel painter and spends plenty of time alone in the studio. Her most recent paintings, which she calls “Structures,” reflect her interests in architecture and vibrant color.
“The traditional structures are solidly built and logical,” she says. “But in their unfinished state they can be seen as abandoned or as works in progress.” She ties that idea to urgent social concerns, including the struggle experienced by many people in Maine (and elsewhere) to establish a home and to nurture the earth “that is home to all of us.”
LOOKING FOR SOMETHING FUN TO DO THIS SUMMER?
Grab a friend, pack a picnic and head over to East Bayside to enjoy a walk on the Portland Trails and take in the new colorful view.
Tessa O’Brien started the Portland Mural Initiative with partner Will Sears in 2015. Their goal was to add more public art to the streets of their community while creating opportunities for artists to envision their work on a larger scale. The initiative works with artists and property owners to create murals in areas with large expanses of blank concrete walls, thus enlivening the spaces and contributing an alternative way for people to interact with contemporary painting, outside of a gallery or museum setting. So far the Portland Mural Initiative has worked with six Maine-based artists to paint five murals in the East Bayside section of the Portland Trails, and one mural in Kittery. Three more murals are slated to begin this summer. The murals are funded by grants, sponsorships and donations.