John O’Reilly: Painting Urban Environments

By Lisa Orgler in Featured Artists > Oil Paintings

There is a subtle difference between just painting an urban scene and painting an urban environment. John O’Reilly successfully does both.

Having grown up in inner city Dublin, Ireland, John has always had a special relationship with the urban landscape. Today he creates oil paintings of alluring urban locations that most people would consider commonplace. . . the back alley, the loading dock or the overgrown stone wall at the bus stop.


Interestingly, John’s starting point in art was painting on buildings, rather than painting on canvas. He became obsessed with graffiti as a teenager after seeing it for the first time on a railside wall in his neighborhood.

When his peers went off to college, John studied street art instead, and in the process learned true independence and self-sufficiency. He traveled the world, met fellow artists like himself, and developed a long-lasting network of friends.

For the past twelve years, however, John has only dabbled in graffiti painting (on legal walls of course). He now focuses on revisiting and painting areas where he grew up, and locations that he experienced as a child.


John also strives to create a sense of calm and beautiful silence within his paintings. Some find peace in the countryside, but for him and many other urban youth, the city’s empty lots and back alleys are their solitude. He achieves the same tranquil environment in his art through simple compositions and dark, soft colors.

John is careful to keep the forms and shapes straightforward by using clean lines and a limited color palette. I’ve noticed that people are often left out of his scenes as well. Maybe that’s his way of keeping noise and clutter out.


So many places within the city are ignored and forgotten. John takes these urban landscapes and turns them into beautiful images—like the painting above, which as you’ll notice is simply a collection of industrial containers that many of us would just walk right without a second thought.

I encourage you to explore the city through John’s eyes by visiting his website at or checking out his blog at


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