At first glance, there was nothing unusual about the Walmart on Wilkinson Boulevard Wednesday morning – shoppers browsed quietly as employees restocked shelves, a typical weekday at the west Charlotte superstore.
But in the produce section, Brendan O’Connell was painting.
O’Connell has traveled to Walmart stores across the country for more than a decade, painting as he goes. What began as a simple personal project has now garnered national media attention and earned Walmart’s blessing, and O’Connell’s work has become well-known for its unique portrayals of normal life. The stores serve as both his studio and his inspiration, and on Wednesday, Charlotte was the setting.
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“It’s a chance to paint the everyday, ordinary things that most people overlook,” he said.
He set his easel next to the bananas. The fruit has lately been a staple of both his diet and his art. O’Connell, who takes inspiration from Andy Warhol’s work with bananas, likes the healthy energy they provide.
O’Connell spent two hours at the Wilkinson Boulevard Walmart, painting a bunch of bananas on a green background. A number of shoppers passed by with hardly a glance as he worked, but others stopped to watch or ask questions.
“I just really enjoyed hanging out,” he said after he finished, noting that he appreciated the chance to speak Spanish with a number of Latino shoppers.
Although some might assume that a corporation as large as Walmart wouldn’t have much variety in its stores, O’Connell said each store is different, with variations in layout and products, as well as people and personalities.
“Walmart’s like the Catholic church,” O’Connell said. “If you go to Mass in the Caribbean, it’s very different than if you go to Mass in New England.”
He was initially drawn to Walmart by an interest in how modern society interacts with brands. His paintings are not meant to be a political statement about the company, O’Connell says, but instead a look at the ordinary people who enter the stores as well as the products they buy.
Painting in the stores allows him a chance to “see the artful in the everyday,” he said.