At only 18, Jacob O’Brian is already an accomplished artist, with much to look forward to.
When asked to describe himself, he chose a comparison to a chocolate-covered almond. Laughing, he explained that like the almond on the inside, he considers himself to be wholesome and good, but he likes to ornament himself with more decadent things.
This ‘ornamenting’ is an extension of his art. O’Brian is unconventional in his dress, his art and his attitude.
Though he does not describe himself as transgender, he does like to explore femininity in his appearance, through makeup and clothing. It was photos on his Instagram account that caught the attention of John David, a photographer from Halifax. Liking the gritty, angsty, gender-bending persona O’Brian presents on Instagram, David contacted him, looking to set up a photography session. They planned it together and the photo shoot took place in Antigonish. For O’Brian, makeup and clothes are a way of story-telling, presenting a character through the outfit and setting. It is like a still in a movie, but the still is the entire narrative.
This is O’Brian’s version of story-telling; he doesn’t think of himself as a writer. He once considered film school, but has decided to go to NSCAD (Nova Scotia College of Art and Design) in the fall. Ultimately, he will be studying fashion design but, in the first year, he is looking forward to foundation courses in a variety of mediums. For most of his life, his medium was sketching, beginning when he would create his own fantasy worlds as a child. As a student at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School, he was fortunate to take the IB art program, with Brad Puskas, and said it was the most validating subject he had ever taken, pushing him outside his comfort zone.
O’Brian’s favorite art pieces demonstrate his efforts to grow as an artist. The first he described were self-portraits, with both charcoal and pastel – new mediums for him. Both tools being so imprecise, he was forced to loosen up a little. He also had to study his own face, in order to do this, and became more aware of his own features, which helps when experimenting with make-up. He said he felt that, prior to this, he was trying to put someone else’s features on his own face.
The second piece, which was included in the IB art exhibit at the People’s Place Library in May, was a sculpture. Somewhat morbid and disfigured, it featured a head coming through a bandaged canvas. Also visually interesting, it was an attempt to help him conquer his own prejudice against plastic surgery, so often exemplified by the extreme lengths to which some people will go. Much as he appreciates having the freedom to express himself, he recognizes that he needs to extend this same spirit to others.
Self-aware and committed to growth, Jacob O’Brian is an artist to watch for.