A Lethal Cocktail Proves Artistically Constructive

Toronto based artist Brian Donnelly‘s work spins on an undeniably fascinating axis: what is the breaking point at which destroyed artwork stops being artwork and becomes, well, trash? The unusual visual trail effect seen on these oil portraits is achieved through spraying a cocktail of turpentine and hand sanitiser onto the portraits whilst still wet. The effect is, truly, face-melting.

Blue Hour
All Good Things
Fresh Cut

Since his 2003 Ontario College of Art and Design graduation, Brian’s artistic trajectory has been a “a process of building things up, taking them down, rearranging and reconsidering”. Among other avenues of experimentation, Brian hit upon the process you see here.

Brian’s inspiration was piqued whilst researching vandalised artworks, when he came across the over 50 attacks launched by Hans Bohlmann against various masterpieces – some of which were carried out with sulphuric acid. “While I don’t agree with his actions,” Brian hastens to add, “it sparked an interesting idea for me.”

“I wondered if art that had been corrupted or disfigured could be considered transitory, or if its definition as artwork is washed away with the surface.”


Cue a long process of development, trying to find the elusive chemical that fit the shoe of artistic effect he envisaged: to liquefy the paint structure, but leave it sufficiently intact to leave these rainbow trails. After around two years, Brian landed on turpentine and hand sanitizer, and the rest is history.

It’s an interesting extension of Brian’s artistic preoccupation with how far art can be destroyed, vandalised, or otherwise warped, whilst still remaining art. But how do the subjects of this aesthetic vandalism feel?

THE PLUS: Who are the people that you paint?
Brian Donnelly:
Friends, acquaintances, strangers, myself. Hairstyles will always get my attention, but not always unique hairstyles. It depends entirely on what I hope the viewer will feel when they see it.

and into the fire

TP: How do they feel about their image being liquefied?
I make sure the people I work with are aware of what I do. There’s a mixed bag of responses to it. Generally sitters are enthusiastic after they’ve spoken to me about my work and they know what I’m trying to do.


TP: Do you see yourself as bringing chaos to order? Isn’t it a fairly pessimistic technique?
I definitely encourage those opposites to intersect in my work. It’s jarring. I’m not sure that it’s pessimistic of me to deconstruct my work. I have a lot of questions about art and how we perceive it – this just feels like a logical way to explore those questions.

Half Mast

TP: The badge pins is a interesting variation on the same warping process you do with the hand sanitiser – what inspires your use of these new techniques?
I was thinking about cutting up and rearranging artworks for a while. During that time I watched a documentary about religious practices and got really excited about the relics of Catholicism. The preserved finger bones or leg bones of saints that are kept in these ornate casings and brought out only for high holy days.

Harbinger of Spring

TP: So a similar focus on the human body?
I suppose I wanted the work to take on that same scattering of remains. Human history is filled with all kinds of strange practices that are hard to translate into art unless you’re willing to take them literally.  I suppose I take things too literally.

Heavy Lies The Crown

TP: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you’d be doing with your creativity?
Trying to develop a more efficient system for grocery store check out lines.

Mouth for War
Phantom Sun
Pineapple Express
September 1967
Spring In Death Valley
Swirl and Swoon
Where The Roots All Twist