Painted Blue: Beyond the Walmart Aisles

Painting by Brendan O’Connell. Courtesy of

I spent the night in a horse barn.

Years ago, I dated a guy who worked with horses. He  built an apartment within a barn of six stallions.

“Most of the girls where you come from would never spend the night out here,” he told me.

Most of the girls I knew – and I – grew up privileged. Going to Walmart was something to do on a late night when we were not ready to return home.

But, as artist Brendan O’Connell said on CBS’ Sunday Morning, the large shopping center is a place where you cross paths with people of all ethnicities and backgrounds.

According to Sunday Morning, O’Connell said he was attracted to the different colors you see when you walk through the aisles. He called it abstract expressionism or contemporary art.

The reporter asked why he was interested in painting the “mundane?”

The answer to the question is simple: the mundane, or everyday life, is not simple at all. Often, stories in people’s lives are – pardon the cliché — stranger than fiction.

O’Connell’s paintings do more than show vivid colors. It shows real people on an artscape.

“Everyday Vegas” painted by Brendan O’Connell.

On the nights I spent in my ex-boyfriend’s apartment within the horse barn, I did not look down on him. Instead I admired the work he did.

In my history, I was often disgusted by rich boys and admired the blue-collar boys who rolled up their sleeves, went to work and showed that off-color smile. Beyond personal experience, I saw people doing work a way in which I’d never experienced.

When I sat down to write a story entitled Mismatch in Apple Valley, it became my first look in contemporary writing about blue-collar people.

“You’re not blue-collar,” my mother argues. “You have a college degree, and by definition, you are white-collar.”

“You’re not quite blue-collar yet,” my husband adds.

Whether or not I am blue-collar does not matter. I am inspired by those ravaged by the economy, those people who pull up their sleeves and work in the rain and those who are still shoveling snow off the roads in the Midwest U.S.

I wanted, like O’Connell, to pick up a camera and zoom in on the everyday stories. There is plenty of drama and action for the pages:

Jo was laid off and thought about going to Tech. When they accepted his application, he found out he could not receive scholarships.


You create the reason.

Mary worked in the school district for sixteen years. The district closed three schools to meet its budget, and because those three schools did not meet testing standards.


Susie and Robert had a baby when they were seventeen. Six years later, she almost completes a two-year degree for administrative assistant work, and he begs her to drop out.


At first, the above situations sound mundane.

What does it all mean?

Dig beneath the surface and find out what the teaching job meant to Mary. What if she could not find a job anywhere else? What if the bank foreclosed on her house?

Who will come to put her furniture and pictures in the yard as if they never mattered at all?

O’Connell began taking pictures in a Walmart eight years ago when a member on staff “asked him to leave.”

Now he is a successful American artist from a town in Georgia.

Some writers and artists want to escape into another world while others want to take a closer look at a world painted blue.

Words by Rebecca T. Dickinson

For more information about Brendan O’Connell, visit:


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