Almost entirely self taught, Stephen O’Donnell was first “educated” as an artist as a consequence of his great interest in history and biography. Historical portraits have been his greatest ongoing influence. Gender ambiguity has played a large role in his work and, especially recently, it appears in conjunction with his favored genre: the portrait historié. Literally, a historicized portrait, in which a recognizable subject is portrayed in historical or mythological guise, it was a popular conceit employed by many of the great seventeenth and eighteenth century masters.
Not surprisingly, Stephen most often uses the self-portrait as the basis for his work. And by using himself as the model, he feels that he is able to avoid the biggest limitation of the portrait as a form: that it is “about” someone specific. If the portrait is only of the artist, then the viewer has more opportunity to find their own narrative in whatever visual scenario is presented.