July Studio Update: Hello Summer!

 Kelly M. O'Brien, MFA summer studio, Bath Spa University. ©2018. 

Kelly M. O'Brien, MFA summer studio, Bath Spa University. ©2018. 

After a low-key month of June, things ramped back up in July with MFA studies (no summer break in this program!) and a bit of client work.

Nonetheless, I can't help but feel the pull of long languid days during Southwest England's real summer this year. In addition to actual heat – the first in this, our fourth summer here – daylight stretches from 4 am to after 10:30 pm.

Read on to find out how I've filled up all this balmy, bright time. Plus two places you can see my work this fall, with details at the end of this post.

New School Term, New Ideas

 Kelly M. O'Brien,  Between You and Me . Paper, thread, tulle, pins, rock. 250x230x90 cm | 98x90x73 inches. ©2018.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Between You and Me. Paper, thread, tulle, pins, rock. 250x230x90 cm | 98x90x73 inches. ©2018.

We moved into our spacious summer studios in my graduate program at Bath School of Art and Design. Suddenly, ideas tried in a smaller space last term call for bolder thinking. Time to step up my game!

The focus of my practice is mixed media sculpture. Since the 1960s, sculpture has moved way beyond traditional notions of bronze figures and plaster busts! Without getting too academic, 'sculpture in the expanded field' coined by art critic Rosalind Krauss in 1979 is an expression that captures what has been the dynamic state of contemporary sculpture for some time now.

My focus this term is to start testing materials and form. The narrative beneath my work is related to themes of home, dislocation, and belonging. This 'pull' between home here in the UK and my homeland in the US has been the basis for much of my work in recent years. Likewise, themes of loss and resilience influence my current practice. To that end, my research looks at how to evoke these ideas through the materials I am drawn to.

 Kelly M. O'Brien,  Between You and Me  (detail). Paper, thread, tulle, pins, rock. 250x230x90 cm | 98x90x73 inches. ©2018. 

Kelly M. O'Brien, Between You and Me (detail). Paper, thread, tulle, pins, rock. 250x230x90 cm | 98x90x73 inches. ©2018. 

I work with ephemeral materials including paper, thread, and tulle. Seemingly fragile, I have been testing their limits – how opposites such as strength and delicacy, impermanence and stability, accretion and disintegration come together and fall apart – and how these paradoxes might be expressed visually through mixed media sculpture.

After discovering an industrial needle felting machine in one of the school workshops, I have been running paper through it with abandon. Not actually meant for paper at all, a felting machine uses a block of 500 needles to rapidly pierce two pieces of fabric or wool so that the fibers become so enmeshed they create a single new textile.

 Kelly M. O'Brien, MFA studio research work in progress, pierced paper. ©2018.

Kelly M. O'Brien, MFA studio research work in progress, pierced paper. ©2018.

Using this machine on paper is another story. Eventually, the paper completely disintegrates - but before that stage, some beautiful effects are possible.

 Kelly M. O'Brien,  By a Thread  (detail). Paper, wood, paint, thread, cinder block. 110x175x10 cm | 43x69x4 inches. ©2018.

Kelly M. O'Brien, By a Thread (detail). Paper, wood, paint, thread, cinder block. 110x175x10 cm | 43x69x4 inches. ©2018.

With this intervention into the paper as a basis for further exploration, I've been experimenting...how much tension can pierced paper withstand? For how long? How many times can it recover or be repaired? Is thread adequate for the job at hand? How might qualities such as tension, failure, and imbalance impact the story the work tells?

 Kelly M. O'Brien,  Stronger Than You Think . Tulle, thread, steel, cast concrete, rock. 213x183x10 cm | 84x72x4 inches. ©2018.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Stronger Than You Think. Tulle, thread, steel, cast concrete, rock. 213x183x10 cm | 84x72x4 inches. ©2018.

 Kelly M. O'Brien,  Stronger Than You Think  (detail). Tulle, thread, steel, cast concrete, rock. 213x183x10 cm | 84x72x4 inches. ©2018.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Stronger Than You Think (detail). Tulle, thread, steel, cast concrete, rock. 213x183x10 cm | 84x72x4 inches. ©2018.

The work emerging so far has been, by and large, completely unexpected. For each piece, I start with an idea to test and a general plan. But then the materials have a mind of their own and I have to do what they want. I suppose that's why it's considered research! 

I love this dynamic, which feels like dancing with a partner who lets me lead sometimes, and then reminds me to relax and just go with the flow.

 Kelly M. O'Brien, Studio work in progress, detail. Paper, thread, tulle, painted steel, rock. ©2018. 

Kelly M. O'Brien, Studio work in progress, detail. Paper, thread, tulle, painted steel, rock. ©2018. 

Upcoming

Line and Point, Centrespace Gallery, 6 Leonard Ln, Bristol BS1 1EA, 26 - 31 October

Battersea Affordable Art Fair via Modern Art Buyer, Battersea Evolution, London, SW11 4NJ, 18 - 21 October

For more studio shots, follow me on Instagram!