Connecticut-based artist Brendan O’Connell specializes in paintings of “everyday life” and “everyday activities,” and he found plenty of both at Walmart, the nation’s largest grocery retailer as well as the biggest company on the planet. Inspired by what he saw in these big box stores, O’Connell took to capturing Walmart moments on canvas, immortalizing the shoppers, the employees, and the aisles of colorful, discounted merchandise. This painter’s unusual work is the subject of a thoughtful and engaging short film called “Brendan O’Connell Is Blocking The Bread Aisle,” directed by Julien Lasseur. Contrary to viewers’ expectations, O’Connell is not using his paintings to mock Walmart or its customers. Instead, he attempts to find the beauty and humanity inherent in these ubiquitous retail centers. With over 11,000 locations worldwide, the chain certainly provides the artist with plenty of material. These stores are everywhere. Why not paint them? “It became clear to me,” O’Connell says, “that this is probably the most-visited interior space on the planet.”
But O’Connell’s path to becoming a Walmartist was not always an easy one. Almost immediately, after taking a single photo of an actress he had hired to “pretend to shop,” the artist was summarily thrown out of the building. Since then, he’s probably been ejected from more Walmarts than any human in existence. But the artist and the chain have since made amends, and the film shows O’Connell actually setting up an easel and making one of his paintings right there in the store. The film’s title, then, is extremely literal. Through narration, the painter talks about what he’s trying to capture in his work.
Whatever your views are, positive or negative, related to Walmart, it just is. And from an artist’s perspective, the idea of addressing this environment that is an undeniable component to contemporary life is exciting.
Besides, O’Connell says, people will be nostalgic for Walmart when it becomes obsolete and disappears from the face of the earth. His paintings are a way of capturing the retail empire in its Rome-like prime.