Shawn O’Keefe’s journey as a visual artist – Vancouver Island Free Daily

Shawn O’Keefe is a graphic designer from Maple Bay with a fondness for the Group of Seven and a fascination with the natural wonders of Vancouver Island and beyond.

Coming out of high school, O’Keefe knew he wanted to pursue the visual arts. His Saskatchewan-born father steered him into design work to ensure he wouldn’t become an artist selling prints from a van.

From 1990 to 1994, O’Keefe completed a degree in applied arts at Vancouver Island University, formerly Malaspina University College. With his girlfriend in Bachelor of Science and Nursing at Camosun College and UVic, O’Keefe decided to move from the Cowichan Valley to Victoria. He found work in a screen printing workshop and during his 10 years there learned to screen print.

O’Keefe then became a freelance graphic designer and illustrator, a highlight of which was designing logos for the Great Canadian Beer Festival. He then connected with Matt Phillips around 2001 and designed the first logos for the new Phillips Brewery.

O’Keefe is also a freelance clothing design artist, working for Friends and Magazines in California and, for several decades as an artist, also produced album covers, concert posters, graphics for the surf and skate industries, magazine illustrations and various other beer label designs. It was a long period of immense development and diversification for O’Keefe, who was originally just a pen and paper illustrator.

He then formed Woodpile Collective in 2003 with good friends Blythe Hailey and Sean McLaughlin. O’Keefe described their collaborative work as “a mixture of graffiti, abstraction and surrealism that results from unplanned expression and the reaction of another artist”.

O’Keefe traveled to Ontario four years ago to see a childhood friend in Barrie, visiting many famous Group of Seven drawing and painting sites around Algonquin Park and Georgian Bay for inspiration. for his own work.

“…I usually let the scene in front of me dictate how I portray it. The landscape will inspire, and through that inspiration the process becomes apparent.

Especially for his work on Vancouver Island, O’Keefe found great pleasure in walking along the many forest trails, often taking mental snapshots of the stunning landscapes he encountered for later use.

“I always find that working there gives you a better painting in the end. There’s something about working only from a photo that you lose something of it.

Favoring contemporary work in his youth, O’Keefe first became interested in cartooning, graffiti and street art. But, as he later became interested in the visual wonders of Vancouver Island, something changed for him.

“I found myself fumbling through the process with little formal training, and by creating my process organically, I began to find some success…”

In particular, O’Keefe found his creative process and work to have much in common with that of the late Tom Thomson of the Group of Seven. He was also delighted to learn that the Group of Seven also came from backgrounds of graphic design, some members having collaborated with Grip Ltd.

O’Keefe said each member of the Group of Seven inspires him differently, and his interest in each changes as he develops his own process and undergoes his own phases of artistic transformation.

“I guess I’m both a fan and I feel a kinship [to the Group of Seven] as I continue to discover similar painted conversations with the earth.

O’Keefe felt deeply honored to be nominated for the award and recognized for his art in a city he deemed “rich in artistic talent.”

“I guess the nomination suggests that a prolific artistic career will eventually shine a light on your work and that is much appreciated.”

Now married with two children, O’Keefe said he looks forward to “continuing to be a better artist”.

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O’Keefe helped Matt Phillips design the first logos for his own Phillips Brewery. (Courtesy of Shawn O’Keefe)

O'Keefe enjoyed a range of natural landscapes, both on Vancouver Island and in northern Ontario.  (Courtesy of Shawn O'Keefe)

O’Keefe enjoyed a range of natural landscapes, both on Vancouver Island and in northern Ontario. (Courtesy of Shawn O’Keefe)

O'Keefe has been part of the Woodpile Collective with friends Blythe Hailey and Sean McLaughlin since 2003. (Photo by Evert Lindquist)

O’Keefe has been part of the Woodpile Collective with friends Blythe Hailey and Sean McLaughlin since 2003. (Photo by Evert Lindquist)

Briana R. Cross