Brendan Donleavy | Hong Kong Art Tutoring

Artist of the Week – Brendan Donleavy

Posted on June 16, 2014 ยท Posted in Artist of the Week

Brendan Donleavy | Hong Kong Art Tutoring

Bill, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 12″ x 9″

New York-based artist Brendan Donleavy paints portraits that burst from the canvas. His large-scale images that overemphasise and exaggerate the form and fleshy tones aren’t dissimilar to the textures of Ron Mueck’s sculptures. They leave you wanting to touch and feel the curvaceous contours.
As a self-taught painter, Donleavy has developed his own style, incorporating elements of the Dutch masters in conjunction with contemporary techniques and mediums. Donleavy is up and coming, frequently exhibiting in and around New York.

In his own words

Would you please tell us about your background. Was there a specific time when you first realised that creating was something you absolutely had to do?
I have always felt the need to create, even from an early age. Lego was my go-to toy as a child and, by high school, I had learned guitar and ended up playing in a band. In my mind there was never any question as to whether I would be doing something creative as an adult. A friend of mine once asked his rabbi if he should go forth and become a full time artist. The rabbi said “only if you have to…” I can relate to that.
Back in the early nineties I moved to New York to pursue a career in music but, as I got older, I started focusing on visual arts. My fiancee, Dana, was the one who introduced me to painting. She put brushes in my hand, gave me a few lessons and we rented a studio together in Red Hook, Brooklyn. What started as a hobby became an obsession and I wanted to know everything pertaining to painting.

Brendan Donleavy | Hong Kong Art Tutoring

Dave, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 84″ x 72″

Eventually I met a talented portraitist named Yotam Zohar, who became my mentor and is still a valued technical advisor. He has a unique talent of knowing when to teach and when to let you figure something out for yourself.

You use the ‘portrait’ as the focus of your work. What makes you choose certain people for your work – is it their faces, backgrounds, achievements or relationship with you? What do you try to capture when creating a portrait?
The subjects in my portraits are usually friends or individuals that have a direct influence on my life. I am in the midst of painting a series based on Northern European and Scandinavian folklore. My friends and family have been kind enough to lend their likeness and personalities to fit my view of what characters in the Prose Edda would look like in the 21st century.

How has your work grown and progressed over the past few years?
Glazing, though time consuming, allows for greater detail and has become the central technique used in my work. All of the paintings you see took an eternity to finish and each was a journey rife with an array of emotional highs and lows. My technical skills have got better, which has provided the confidence to work bigger and faster, but has made me less forgiving of inconsistencies. My main goal is to encourage a primitive reaction from the viewer, whether it be a simple smile or a recollection of something deeper, such as an underlying demand for obedience analogous to the atmosphere in a church.

Brendan Donleavy | Hong Kong Art Tutoring

Dave 2, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 84″ x 72″

What artists have influenced you, and how?
I really enjoy the Hudson River School painters. Growing up in the Hudson Valley may be part of my fascination with landscapes but my grandfather also painted landscapes and his work was hung all over my house growing up.

Rembrandt is the main artist I emulate regarding color and contrast. His use of light and dark changed the art world forever.

In my opinion, Chuck Close is one of the best living artists in the world and I doubt there are many people who would disagree. His early work is what drove me to paint in the first place and, in a time where art can be farmed out, one must respect that he still paints everything himself. I was recently given the chance to meet him. We had a brief discussion about large-scale portraiture and after viewing my work he kindly told me to “keep the faith”. I walked away laughing because he was right. Collectors rushing to purchase a 7-foot head to tie their new living room together are extremely few.

Brendan Donleavy | Hong Kong Art Tutoring

Wednesday, 2013, Oil on Canvas, 50″ x 40″

Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
My main goal is to finish the series on the Prose Edda at present. There are several more paintings in the works depicting the goddess, Frigg, and god, Freyr. Also, One Mile Gallery will be featuring some of my work in the upcoming Select Fair in May which is something I am really looking forward to. The two ravens that were painted in 2012 happen to be my personal favourites so I plan on expanding the series for the fair.

Brendan Donleavy (b. Nyack, NY 1979) was born and raised in the lower Hudson Valley and currently lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

All images courtesy Brendan Donleavy |

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