Rosie O’Brien on Being Drawn to Colour

“I have always had a big atmosphere for colour.”

Across her practice, Rosie O’Brien sensitively experiences colour. It’s an almost chromesthesia sentimentality: when asked about an exhibition, she recalls the yellow of the walls, and as she talks about selecting materials, it’s all about their ability to conjure the colours she wishes to imbue in her art. 

O’Brien (b 1974) is an emerging artist working on paper, digital animation and textiles. The vibrant use of pattern and placement of soft vessel-like flowers demonstrates her observant style, the soft palette reminiscent of spring. O’Brien has worked in the Arts Project Australia studio since 2015 and has exhibited in several recent group exhibitions in Sydney and Melbourne.

In this interview, O’Brien reflects on a 2019 artwork depicting a bouquet of purple flours spatially composed against a yellow background and speaks on her draw to the botanic and use of specific reference points and materials. She also reflects on her inclusion in and on the eyes, black sleep of night curated by Sarah Brasier. The exhibition, which showed at First Draft Gallery in Sydney and Seventh Gallery in Melbourne, included the work of artists – some of them O’Brien’s Arts Project colleagues- who had experienced the premature loss of a parent.

Rosie O’Brien, Not titled, 2019, gouache, greylead pencil, ink on paper, 28.5 x 19.5 cm


I love your floral drawings. You certainly have an eye for colour. Do you work from reference material? 

They are very colour coordinated. My reference material for this work has mainly been a Joseph Banks’ Florilegium book I’ve been working with for maybe two or three months. 



Can you tell me about the materials you’ve used in this artwork? The selections of colours together seem to be an essential part of your practice.

It’s gouache; I always use it. It’s a really nice paint to work with, and it’s really rich in colour. I have always had a big atmosphere for colour. When I look for images, I am often drawn to colour first. But I mean, the botanical drawings I am doing at the moment are in just black watercolour pens, which is really nice to work with too. 

This work was part of an exhibition curated by Sarah Brasier. I went to it when to it in Melbourne at Seventh Gallery, and your work was displayed in a beautiful room. What was it like to be involved? 

Oh, it was a lot of fun. I got to go to the exhibition in Sydney. I was there at the beginning, and I was there at the end! 

I remember the room was painted yellow; I associate really strongly with yellow. It brings up a nice feeling. There were nine paintings that I had in that exhibition, but I think there is only six left now because three of them sold when I came back. When it was in Melbourne, I had a few people who came and looked at it. 

ROSIE OBRIEN (WALL), ON THE EYES, BLACK SLEEP OF NIGHT, first draft GALLERY, 2019. IMAGE COURTESY OF Guy Grabowsky and first draft gallery

Love from the Studio is a series of interviews and articles bringing you behind the scenes of Arts Project Australia.  Interview by Margaret McIntosh, Gallery Technician.