Trained in classical painting methods, she avoids stylistic trends, at the same time taking a contemporary minimalist approach to her compositions. Refreshingly restrained, O’Byrne nevertheless uses a loaded brush to layer broad brushstrokes of colour, building up rich, painterly surfaces.
Her subject matter focuses on interiors and her familial life – vases with freshly picked flowers from her local neighborhood, portraits of her family and friends. There is a quiet intimacy in this domestic realism; she distils the essence of commonplace objects and highlights their beauty and poignancy. Her artworks could be seen as meditations on our daily life; a humble celebration of the quotidian.
Based in Melbourne, the artist grew up in regional Victoria, moving to the city to study Landscape Architecture at Melbourne University. Working as a Landscape Architect, as well as raising two children, she didn’t arrive to painting until her mid-thirties. Between 2014 and 2019 she studied under the portrait artist Lee Machelak, honing her technical skills in painting.
O’Byrne has always been drawn to nature and often walks the streets of her home in inner Melbourne, observing plants and flowers that have come into bloom – wattle, eucalypts and other natives – which she then uses as the subject of her still life paintings.
Painting in her home studio, she also uses her immediate family members and inner circle as the subjects of her intimate portraits. Working mostly from life, O’Byrne builds up her images with tone and then colour. Her naturalistic portraiture possesses a sensitivity of expression as well as a psychological realism that comes from her closeness to her subjects.
The artist comments that: “I like to evoke a world of simplicity and harmony, to make people feel calm and appreciate the beauty in the everyday. It is possible for me to paint the same pot or bowl for the third or fourth time. What matters is not so much the variety of the subjects but the intensity with which something is experienced, how it is perceived visually.”
O’Byrne has been a finalist in a number of prominent portrait prizes, including The Lester Prize and the Shirley Hannon National Portrait Award (both in 2020) and the AME Bale Art Prize (2016, 2018 and 2020). She was also recipient of the Norma Bull Portraiture Scholarship in 2015. As well as continuing to practice as a landscape architect in Melbourne, the painter also teaches art workshops in her spare time.
Refreshingly modest and contemplative, Fiona O’Byrne’s artworks offer the viewer a reflective experience, an opportunity to slow down from our busy lives and let our eyes rest and calmly observe. In a social media whirl of Instagram and Tik Tok, where images constantly shout ‘look at me’, her paintings gently draw you in and teach you how to look closely and quietly with your heart and mind.
— THE STILLNESS WITHIN by Victoria Hynes