April O’Connell has always had a passion for creating and making art. In high school, she was nominated for Art All-States, the prestigious program for exceptional high school artists. While attending All-States, however, she began to harbor doubts about her future as an artist.
“They told us the truth, the hard truth,” O’Connell said, of the prominent artists presenting at the program. “It’s tough to become an artist. You have to keep trying and trying, and maybe you’ll succeed, but there are no guarantees.”
The Millis resident went on to college at the University of New Hampshire, but to hedge her bets she decided to major in recreation management and minor in art. It was during her semester abroad in Barcelona, Spain, that O’Connell began to re-think her path.
“I was so inspired by Dali, Picasso, and Frida (Kahlo),” she said of the legendary artists. “I was literally seeing where Dali and Picasso were making their art.”
O’Connell says she never considered herself particularly talented, and her perfectionism was getting in the way of artistic expression. The time in Spain, however, was a turning point for her.
“I went to Barcelona with a sketchbook and a sharpie and would just sketch away with no eraser, everything I saw. I was just free-flowing with my pen and it was amazing.”
After graduating from UNH in May, O’Connell decided to immerse herself in art and try to make a go of it after all. Her work was exhibited for the first time at Cilla’s Coffeehouse in Norfolk during the month of October. It was daunting, she said, because her work is intensely personal.
“I am expressing myself with my art and I am showing people how I feel with color and lines. The way I color in a line can scream an emotion,” she said. “You can see it if you look hard enough. If someone really wants to appreciate my art, maybe they’re going to have to squint to find the lines that make up that space. And sometimes people look and then look away. And that’s okay too.”
On October 6, O’Connell did live portraits at the coffeehouse while her favorite band, Phatt James from Durham, NH, entertained the patrons. Half of her artwork on exhibit at Cilla’s has sold, and she has received several commissions for more art.
O’Connell uses a variety of media in her art—oils, pastels, charcoal, gouache--and that experimentation is important because she is young. She has wondered if focusing on just one medium might help her become better, but has so far resisted restrictions and narrow parameters while she creates.
She describes her creative process as messy and unplanned, preferring to let her emotions and the feeling of the paint and the color lead her. Her favorite works have been self-portraits, because she does art for herself.
“I’m a little selfish,” she admits.
Still, she views her art as a way to communicate with others, likening it to a new language. She says sharing her art is a way to teach people about herself and about themselves in a judgment-free way. Her favorite quote is by Picasso: “The meaning in life is to find your gifts. The purpose in life is to share them.”
Her exuberance, passion, and curiosity will likely drive O’Connell to grow as an artist, even though she is quick to point out her goal is simply to learn more and express herself, not to make a name in the art world.
In fact, she shies away from describing herself as an artist, as if it’s a designation she is not yet comfortable with.
“I want to develop my skill or gift. I don’t even like to call it a skill or gift, because it’s just something that I do.”
To see more of O’Connell’s artwork, follow her on Instagram at www.instagram.com/apriloconnell. Her next art show is planned for early 2019 in Newmarket, NH.