Paddy Gunn O'Brien

Other Name: Patricia Dorothy Gunn O’Brien

“For me, the water and sky are perfect metaphors for time itself; waves and clouds become markers of its passage and establish two speeds of time,
as it were, in one image.”

Paddy Gunn O’Brien, Artist’s Statement,
Paddy Gunn O’Brien: Visions on Time. Woodstock Public Art Gallery, February 20 – March 14, 1993

Paddy Gunn O’Brien was born in England in 1929. During World War Two she was evacuated to Canada and would spend five years (1940-1945) at Ovenden Ladies College, a boarding school in Barrie, Ontario. After returning to England, O’Brien trained at the Hammersmith School of Art, and continued her art education at the University of Reading, where she earned a Fine Art Diploma (1949) followed by a Ministry of Education Diploma in Painting and Design (1951).  

During her time at Reading, O’Brien was a track athlete, continuing a family tradition of exceling at the sport and participating in national events. O’Brien also competed at international events and even had the opportunity to join Britain’s track team for the 1952 Olympic Games. She declined, marrying in 1951 and moving with her then husband Richard to London, Ontario, where he would pursue a Ph.D. at Western University.

In London, O’Brien began working at the Public Library and Art Museum, a forerunner to Museum London located in the Elsie Perrin Williams Memorial building (the old Central Library), initially staffing the library’s circulation desk for six months before becoming the assistant to art curator Clare Bice. During her time as assistant curator, O’Brien served as acting curator on a number of occasions, including nearly a year in 1958 when Clare Bice was painting in Paris. In 1973, upon Bice’s retirement, O’Brien assumed the position of curator.

Paddy Gunn O’Brien began exhibiting her artwork at the annual Western Ontario art show in 1952, and throughout the decade gained repute in London circles as a talented artist. From 1955 to 1956, on sabbatical from the London Public Library and Art Museum, she traveled to Paris to study art at the Académie de la Section d’Or. In 1959 she was among the artists represented in The University Art Show held at McIntosh Gallery – the gallery’s first exhibition to showcase professional contemporary work.

O’Brien’s work was shown in numerous solo and group shows, among them, at: the Shute Institute, London, Ontario (1953); Thielsen’s Gallery, London, Ontario (1956 and 1992); Robertson Galleries, Ottawa, Ontario (1954), McIntosh Gallery, Western University (1957, 1959, and 1963); the London Public Library and Art Museum (1958, 1962, and 1965); Hamilton Art Gallery (1965); Nancy Poole’s Studio, London, Ontario (1971 and 1972); Forest City Gallery, London, Ontario (1991); and Woodstock Public Art Gallery (1993). O’Brien also exhibited her work at Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), with the Ontario Society of Artists (OSA), as well as with the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts (RCA) several times between 1953 and 1970. In 1976, she was elected a member of the OSA and in the same year was named director of the Ontario Association of Art Galleries (OAAG). From the mid-1970s onwards, O’Brien shifted her focus from her art practice to her duties as curator.

After a 38-year career in the art gallery administrative world, Paddy Gunn O’Brien retired in 1990, returning to her art and new work as an editorial consultant. An important figure in London’s visual art community, she had not only curated 1280 exhibitions, but also played a key role in building the London Public Library and Art Museum’s permanent collection as well as the institution’s national reputation (at the time of her retirement, the museum – which is today Museum London – had undergone changes in both location and name, and was known as the London Regional Art and Historical Museums).

As an artist, O’Brien was influenced by the Surrealists, Cézanne, and fellow Canadian artists such as Jack Chambers. O’Brien’s practice included portraits and landscapes, and she especially loved to paint Lake Huron. Today, Museum London and McIntosh Gallery, Western University both hold examples of her work in their collections.

Paddy O’Brien received many accolades throughout her career as artist and supporter, including: the “Young Artist” Award at the Annual Western Ontario show, London Public Library and Art Museum (1957); an honourable mention at the Winnipeg Biennial exhibition, Winnipeg Art Gallery (1958); the Seagram Trophy for Best Set Design, Dominion Drama Festival (1963); the Curry Award, OSA Annual Exhibition(1969); and the Junior Women’s Committee Award at the 32nd Annual Western Ontario Exhibition, London Public Library and Art Museum (1972). She also was awarded the Ontario Association of Art Galleries “Colleague” award in 2007.

Paddy Gunn O’Brien passed away in London, Ontario in 2012.

Biography by Natalka Duncan and Luvneet K. Rana




O’Brien, Paddy Gunn. Resume. May 1997. Curatorial Study Centre, McIntosh Gallery.

O’Brien, Paddy Gunn. Resume (as practising artist). May 1997. Curatorial Study Centre, McIntosh Gallery.

“Awards: 2007 Winners.” Ontario Association of Art Galleries, 2007.

Baker, Michael and Hilary Bates Neary. 100 Fascinating Londoners. Halifax, Nova Scotia: James Lorimer and Company Ltd., 2005.

Crawford, Lenore. “O’Brien Art Show Worth the ‘Wait’.” The London Free Press, 1972.

Fleming, Marnie. “London Loses a Legend with Passing of Paddy O’Brien.” Canadian Art, December 31, 2012.

Fleming, Marnie and Thelma Rosner. “Lives Lived: Patricia Dorothy Gunn O’Brien, 82.” The Globe and Mail, February 6, 2013.

McMann, Evelyn de R. Royal Academy of Arts: Exhibitions and Members 1880-1979. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1981.

O’Brien, Paddy Gunn. Paddy Gunn O’Brien: Visions on Time. Woodstock Public Art Gallery, February 20 – March 14, 1993.1993. Exhibition catalogue.

Poole, Nancy Geddes. The Art of London, 1830-1980. London, Ontario: Blackpool Publishing, 1984.

Macdonald, Colin S. “O’Brien, Paddy Gunn (Mrs.).” A Dictionary of Canadian Artists, Volume 5 (Nadeau – Perrigard). Ottawa: Canadian Paperbacks Publishing, 1977.

Malone, Judy. “Paddy Ready to Battle Ontario Over Contentious Cultural Issues.” The London Free Press, September 25, 1976. Reprinted in At Your Gallery and Historical Museums, Special Edition, Oct. 13, 1989. London Regional Art and Historical Museums.

Reaney, James Stewart. “Life of 82-year-old Paddy O’Brien, Who Died Oct. 4, Will Be Celebrated Saturday at Museum London.” The London Free Press, November 28, 2012.

Reaney, James Stewart. “London loses much celebrated friend of the local arts scene.”
The London Free Press, October 6, 2012.

University Art Show. Mcintosh Gallery, January 26 – February 1959. 1959. Exhibition catalogue.

See also: Margot Ariss; Lenore Crawford; Doreen Curry, Marnie Fleming


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