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John O'Shea Biography

One of the leading artists in the Carmel area between 1917-1945. A versatile artist painting in oil, watercolor and charcoal, his bold, vibrant paintings of figures, landscapes, fantasies and portraits were very avant-garde.

John O’Shea was born in Ballintaylor, Ireland. At age 16 he immigrated to NYC. He was in his mid-teens or early twenties when he studied at the Adelphi Academy for two years and at the ASL. He worked a short time at Tiffany & Company as an artisan-engraver. In the spring of 1913 O’Shea moved to Pasadena and began his active artistic career. Two exhibitions, one at the studio of Kenneth Avery and another at the Friday Morning Club (LA) were well received and extolled by Antony Anderson describing O’Shea’s works as “wonderfully beautiful interpretations of our landscape, full of vibrating light and color”.

In 1917 O’Shea settled on the Monterey Peninsula. While maintaining a studio in his home, he became active with the art community in both Carmel (served as director-president of the Carmel Art Association) and San Francisco. Two years after his marriage to Molly Shaughnessy in 1922, the couple built a home near Smugglers Cove in Carmel Highlands. The O’Shea’s led a very active social life. One of their neighbors was artist Theodore Morrow Criley who would become O’Shea’s closest friend and painting companion. Other friends included poet Robinson Jeffers, photographer Edward Weston, artists Thomas Parkhurst, William Clothier Watts, William Ritschel and Burton Boundey (who had two one-man shows with O’Shea).

O’Shea continued to paint and having successful exhibititions, often solo, for many years receiving much praise for his work. Probably the highest artistic tribute was paid him by the Director of the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, who was “sure that the gorgeous color and design of Mr. O’Shea’s canvases will make a tremendous impression with the San Francisco public,” and arranged for a showing of sixty-three of his works at the Legion in 1934.

Although trained in the East, it was through his travels in the Southwest, the South Seas, Mexico, and Hawaii, that O’Shea developed his unique style – a blend of American Impressionism, realism, and abstraction. A highly versatile artist, he left a legacy of over five hundred works in oil, watercolor, and charcoal. John O’Shea died at home on April 29, 1956 at the age of eighty.

Member: American WC Society; Bohemian Club; Calif. Art Club; Carmel Art Association (director, 1934; president twice, in 1937 and 1938); Carmel Arts & Crafts Club; SFAA;  The New Group, Monterey (CA); Society for Sanity in Art

Exhibited: Friday Morning Club (LA), 1914 (solo);  Carmel Arts and Crafts Club, 1917; SFAA, 1918; Helgesen Gallery (SF) 1st one-man exhibition; LACMA, 1919-21; Kingore Galleries (NYC), 1921; Annual Exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists, 1922; Grace Nicholson Galleries  (Pasadena), Temple Art Gallery (Tucson), Beaux Arts Galerie (SF), 1928; CAA, 1929; Denny-Watrous Gallery (Carmel), 1931; 1933; CPLH, 1934; E.B. Crocker Art Gallery (Sacramento), 1935; Del Monte Art Gallery, 1936, 1940; William Rockhill Nelson Gallery of Art, Atkins Museum of Fine Arts (Kansas City, Missouri), 1937; GGIE, 1939; Calif. State Fair, 1941 (1st prize); MPMA; Walnut Creek (CA) Civic Arts Gallery, 1986 and Carmel AA, 1993 (retrospectives).

In: Mills College (Oakland); Harrison Library (Carmel); MPMA; Municipal Gallery of Modern Art (Dublin, Ireland); Bohemian Club (SF); Irvine Museum (CA).

Source: Plein Air Painters of California/The North (Weshphal); Artists in California 1786-1940 (Hughes); John O’Shea and Friends/Carmel Art Association, 1993.