Walk through a Walmart store with Brendan O'Connell, and you may never look at the sprawling superstore (or shopping, for that matter) in quite the same way again.
Somewhere between the frozen foods, the bananas, and the endless rows of snacks and cereals, O'Connell shops for something money can't buy: inspiration. For inside this shrine to bulk sales and bargains, O'Connell finds beauty and immortalizes it on canvas.
By CBSNews.com senior producer David Morgan
Raised in Tucker, Ga., O'Connell graduated from Emory University with degrees in Philosophy and Spanish literature. He moved to Paris to teach language, and to write a novel about painters. But in his early twenties he quit teaching and began painting himself, concentrating on abstract expressionism.
For the last eight years O'Connell has created a series of paintings based on the experience of shopping at Walmart, the world's largest retailer.
"I notice colors, patterns, and then sometimes just the brand image," O'Connell told Erin Moriarty as they visited a Walmart store.
Brendan O'Connell paints from photos he takes inside the stores. "At heart, I'm an abstract painter," he told Moriarty. "I keep thinking about the world from the perspective of five miles per hour, pushing the cart, what you see out of the corner of your eye. You give minimal information, and people know instantly what it is."
"Waiting," by Brendan O'Connell.
"Chiquita Banana," by Brendan O'Connell.
Left: "How May I Help You," by Brendan O'Connell.
O'Connell likened his Walmart inspiration to that of late-19th century French artists. "The Post-Impressionists were painting the commercial boulevards of Paris," he said. "In some ways, Walmart conveniently put those boulevards under one roof."
Left: "Shampoo" by Brendan O'Connell.
It seems the 44-year-old artist has been able to do something few have done: turn the chore of shopping into something of an art -- finding beauty in the ordinary; the mundane, the everyday.
O'Connell says he was thrown out when he first began taking pictures at Walmart. "I took one picture and 20 seconds later, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'If you are going to do that, you're going to have to leave."
Bras at Walmart, as painted by Brendan O'Connell.
O'Connell isn't thrown out of Walmart anymore. In fact, company executives have had a change of heart -- and today, one of Brendan O'Connell's works (at left) hangs prominently in the company's visitor center in Bentonville, Arkansas.
"Catskills," by Brendan O'Connell.
"You come here and you're shopping next to someone who's Asian or someone who is African American or someone who's Latino. And there aren't that many spaces on Earth where that co-habitation exists," he said.
But there's a dark side to O'Connell's work. Depending on your point of view, these scenes inside Walmart are either reminders of a remarkable access to goods -- or an embarrassing excess of them.
"I am not trying to make a political statement to beat you over the head," O'Connell said at his Connecticut studio. "But if you do a painting of eight feet of Cheetos, some people interpret that politically, positively [or] negatively."
"Blond with Chips," by Brendan O'Connell.
One critic described his work as both "sweet and poisonous."
"I have a painting called 'Hats, Hearts and Hoodies,' and one person looked at this and said, 'Oh, those men are buying hearts and candles and flowers for their sweeties,' and she was just touched by it.
"And then ten minutes later, a friend came in and he looked at it and he was like, 'This is the darkest painting. The world is coming to an end.'"