‘The World’s Best Artist,’ Mitch O’Connell, Enlightens Young Artists

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Madelynn Prieboy, Phoenix Staff Writer

A David Bowie poster done in O’Connell’s illustrative comic book style. (Photo courtesy of Mitch O’Connell)

 

Meeting someone famous can seem surreal when its really happening, but nothing was as down to earth and educational as being in a Zoom call with Chicago artist Mitch O’Connell in his clown-themed study. On Oct, 7, Dr. Siefert, GSU’s Art History Professor, hosted Mitch O’Connell as a guest speaker in the weekly Zoom call for Art Seminar, a required class for junior fine arts students at GSU.  

Mitch O’Connell is considered a leader of the “low-brow” movement, a style of pop art that often features pin-ups, horror movie monsters, comic books, and hot rods. Kitschy as the style is, it is great fun for viewers. His work has been published in Playboy, Newsweek, Time, and Rolling Stone to name a few. He has also published several books of his artwork, such as “Mitch O’Connell Tattoos” and “Mitch O’Connell: The World’s Best Artist.” 

O’Connell did not always have his iconic style though. 

“I would always say yes and then figure it out,” he said, referring to how he tried many different styles to please clients.  

Finding a job can seem daunting for young artists, and O’Connell admits this while also giving some advice: “You have to be really driven […] never give up and always want to imagine.” He continued on the benefits of completing work despite the difficulties. “The thrill of doing a good job washes out everything.”  

He also said that social media provides an excellent platform for artists to both self-promote and sell their work. Best of all is reaching out to people to get jobs by emailing or calling.  

O’Connell was once an art student at the Art Institute of Chicago and urged students to “soak up all the knowledge you can at school and soak up the basics. Unless you’re a crazy genius, but a crazy genius is one in a million.”  

Motivation and inspiration are other common struggles all artists face, and Mitch has some wisdom for that, too, when asked how he made himself put in the time for commissions. “If it is a paying project you have a deadline. Sometimes the next day! But you are so happy Rolling Stone picked you to do the paintings.” 

Mitch also told students not to wait for inspiration and to keep drawing, even when they aren’t inspired. “Every day I wake up and I’m always moving forward. If you keep moving you are going to get somewhere eventually.”  

The call did dissolve into reminiscing more than once, but in the best way. Stories of secret and potentially illegal art projects resulted in muted but visible laughter across the gallery on the screen. Mitch did not fail to entertain, even bringing his novelty statue of Christ on a crucifix of seashells from the collection of Jesus and Mary statues he keeps in his studio in response to a student’s statue of Jesus as a Soldier.  

He brought the conversation back around near the end of the discussion to impart one last drop of wisdom.  

“If you can breathe, go for it.”