Interview with BATH SPA MAFA

 
Detail of "A Cover for Some Secret Fragility", a wall installation of three small sculptures. Kelly M O’Brien ©2019

Detail of "A Cover for Some Secret Fragility", a wall installation of three small sculptures. Kelly M O’Brien ©2019

 

The grading deadlines for my masters degree in fine art have passed, which means I can focus all my energy on our Final Degree Show. Follow me on Instagram for sneak peeks of my work.

In preparation for the show, I sat down with my MFA colleague Esther Tyler-Ward to discuss my exploration into new-to-me materials, including the challenge of using hand blown glass in my art. You can listen to our chat here:

 
 

Now that you’ve heard about my process, come see the culmination of master's degree research by over 30 students in fine art, ceramics, textiles, visual communications, and curatorial practice.

If you're in the region, you are cordially invited to join me for our MA Degree Show.

Please note that this is a venue change to the Sion Hill Campus. We're hosting an Opening Night that's free to the public, a Closing Night with live music, and events (artist talks, panel discussions, workshops) in between facilitated by the Curatorial Practice students. The main details are below and you can get fresh updates here.

August Studio Update: Final Stretch

August Studio Update: Final Stretch

As this Update goes out, it is mere days from the end of the academic portion of work for my master's degree in fine art (happy dance ensues). Once the grading deadlines pass next week, the fun part begins in preparation for our final Degree Show at the end of September.

July Studio Update: Hot Times

July Studio Update: Hot Times

Who says it doesn't get hot here in England? We are currently wilting our way through a record-breaking heatwave. That hasn't stopped me from all manner of making that involves heat: paper burning, hot blown glass, and welding.

June Studio Update

June Studio Update

While summer weather may not actually arrive here in England this year, there's plenty of daylight for long hours in the studio this time of year. Good thing, since there are lots of exciting things underway.

February Studio Update

February Studio Update

If you can believe it, the light is already rising here in the UK with afternoons growing a tiny bit longer each day before it gets dark. I am always heartened by this, even in gloomy February. It reminds me that Spring is coming with the darkest days behind us.

Which was the theme for my installation at last month'sBlue Monday exhibition at 44AD Gallery in Bath, shown above. 

In the meantime, things are humming in the studio where we're working on 15 pieces for three separate projects that all will be finished before it's officially Spring next month. For a peek behind the scenes and more, read on!

October Studio Update

October Studio Update

It's been a packed October with lots happening with on all fronts, including two exhibitions, new art sales and rentals, a new term at school, and Affordable Art Fair Battersea London. Plus I managed to squeeze in a quick trip to the US to see loved ones!  

September Studio Update

September Studio Update

It's been a month of school-focused commitments, an exhibition to mark the half-way point in my MFA, plus a bit of jail cell magic sprinkled into the mix (no, I didn't commit a crime).

August Studio Update: Wrapping Up

August Studio Update: Wrapping Up

August has been a nice balance between head-down work at my school studio in the thick of research and gearing up for some great opportunities and client work in the autumn.

In the Face of Everything, We Did It

Our fourth group exhibition of the artist collective CKCK opened to a packed house and continues to garner great feedback and support. I couldn't be happier with the look and feel of the Stadtgalerie Bad Soden upon finishing our installation. Once again, despite having four very different practices, our sum is greater than each of us alone. 

Our CKCK colleague Chris Kircher has more images from the show on her blog here.

Opening night for  In the   Face of Everything , Stadtgalerie Bad Soden. Image: Claudia Neumann

Opening night for In the Face of Everything, Stadtgalerie Bad Soden. Image: Claudia Neumann

Here's is an excerpt from our statement about the exhibition's theme:

While the larger context of global events is reflected part of their work, the time since their last group exhibition has been particularly challenging for each of these artists, as they have dealt with experiences such as serious illness, loss, dislocation, and trauma.

The work shown here reflects an unflinching choice to look directly at things, clear-eyed and honestly. It is in turning toward the difficult issues that they are illuminated and given space to be acknowledged.

At a time when a string of unrelenting crises challenge us as a society, what matters is how we respond. We are not immune from life's greatest tests, but we can choose how to navigate through and beyond them.

This exhibition is a story of grit, resilience, hope and love. The choice to continue moving forward with courage and compassion, in the face of everything.

My work for this exhibition consists of two sewn-paper series: Object (Im)permanence and Mending | Tending. I began both of these series during the 20-month period of my father's terminal illness and finished several of the pieces after he died in March. Sharing such private themes so publically - both in talking with people individually about the work and during my artist talk - has been part of coming to terms with this loss. The details remain private, but the themes are universal and people responded in kind.

Sewn paper art and installations for the CKCK artist collective group exhibition, "In the Face of Everything," Bad Soden Stadtgalerie, September 2017.

The two-dimensional sewn paper pieces moved from the wall into the room, hinting at where this work might take me next. Likewise, the wall installation of torn and mended paper fragments took on a life of its own, transforming into something map-like, at a scale that reminded me of how moving my body in space to make art feels like home and something I want to do more of.

In the Face of Everything | Jetzt erst recht continues through Sunday, 24 September, with artist talks by Chris Kircher and Katja v. Ruville on that day at 4PM at the Stadtgalerie Bad Soden.

Playing With Fire Now Showing at Galerie Uhn

My exhibition at Galerie Uhn in Königstein, near Frankfurt, Germany opened with an enthusiastic gathering, highlighted by a classical music trio, reunions with dear friends, and a great response to my new work.

I also gave an artist talk on September 2nd, when I had an opportunity to discuss this work in public for the first time, using a Q&A format led by gallery owner Jimin Leyrer.

A very big thank you to Jimin and her family for lots of generous support and hard work to make this a great show, and to Ann-Katrin Sura for hosting a delightful gathering after the Vernissage.

There's also a brief article about the exhibition here (open the link with Chrome and it can translate for you).

The exhibition runs until 28 September.

Exhibition: Playing With Fire at Galerie Uhn

Galerie Uhn's brochure for my upcoming solo exhibition just went out, a copy below. The work is all finished and framed, ready for the long drive to Germany in a couple of weeks. I'm renting a long-ish van for trek, as some of the work that I'm bringing for this show and our CKCK group exhibition is too large for my SUV. Shipping so much work is cost-prohibitive. Eurotunnel, here I come - oh, the glamorous life of an artist!

Save the Dates: August 25th and September 1st Vernissages in Germany

On Friday, August 25th I'll be at Galerie Uhn in Königstein-im-Taunus, Germany for the opening of my second solo exhibition with the gallery. I'm excited to debut my burned paper sculpture series, Playing With Fire, for German collectors. 

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 43 (Orange) , detail. Paper, spray paint, flame. 28 x 28 x .5 inches. ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 43 (Orange), detail. Paper, spray paint, flame. 28 x 28 x .5 inches. ©2017.

I'll be in town until September 3rd, installing another exhibition in nearby Bad Soden with my artist collective CKCK, which opens on September 1st. I'll be showing different work there, including Object (Im)permanence and Mending | Tending.

Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress from Mending | Tending series. ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress from Mending | Tending series. ©2017.

So if you're in the Frankfurt area, we have lots of opportunities to see each other - I would love that.

In the meantime, I've got my head down working on pieces for both shows, plus commissions. It'll be a happy race to the finish!

Playing With Fire | Galerie Uhn | 25 August – September 28, 2017 | Vernissage: Friday, 25 August, 19:00 | Königstein, Germany

In the Face of Everything | Stadtgalerie Bad Soden | September 2 - 24, 2017 | Vernissage: Friday, 1 September, 19:00 | Bad Soden, Germany

New Country at ArtTeaZen in Langport

It's with great pleasure that I announce my second annual solo exhibition with lovely ArtTeaZen, a thriving supporter of local arts that also happens to be a fantastic café. This year I'm showing work from my New Country series of overpainted farm animal photographs - both originals and framed fine art prints.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  She Looks Familiar, But I Don't Recall Her Name . Acrylic on C-print on canvas, 24 x 36 inches. ©2015.

Kelly M. O'Brien, She Looks Familiar, But I Don't Recall Her Name. Acrylic on C-print on canvas, 24 x 36 inches. ©2015.

If you're in the area, stop in for a cuppa, say hello to proprietors Andy and Clare, and get yourself a piece of affordable framed art, or splurge on an original - there are only a few from this series left.

New Country | ArtTeaZen, Langport, UK | June 1 - July 31

Material Lessons

This week I was reminded that when you fight with your materials, nobody wins. What's happening in the studio is often an object lesson for currents running deeper below. Some days you find yourself in the zone, things easily falling into place. Others - like this week - the more I fussed with trying to get something to work, the less cooperative the work became.

Over time, I've learned that if I'm not mindful, I use my work to stave off or avoid feeling things I'd rather not address - fear, pain, anxiety. After losing my father in March, I've kept an eye on this with varying degrees of success. Yet in the form of this particular piece, I found my self overworking, overdoing, protesting and insisting I could make it so if I only kept trying to save it.

Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress (or not). ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, work in progress (or not). ©2017

After several days of this silliness, I talked with my mentor, Lisa Kokin, who gently and firmly instructed me to set the piece aside, put it away for at least a month, and revisit it with fresh eyes. Of course this is the wise thing to do - and even then, it may never be something I can fix. Maybe it will become something I'll have to let go.

Even the work that did end up being resolved this week felt like a struggle. A new piece in the Edgy series, this one has a darker, tighter feel to it, and didn't unfold as easily as the previous three pieces in this series of nine.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 50 (Edgy No. 4) . Paper, spray paint, wire. 14 x 14 x 3 inches framed. ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 50 (Edgy No. 4). Paper, spray paint, wire. 14 x 14 x 3 inches framed. ©2017.

I do like it quite a bit. There's something about it that allows a range of elements to co-exist, if not comfortably, then tolerantly: light, dark, irregular, interesting, unruly, contained, with a splash of color.

All of these pieces and more (except, perhaps, the problem child described above) will be available for purchase via Galerie Uhn in September:

Playing With Fire | Galerie Uhn | 25 August – September 28, 2017 | Vernissage: Friday, 25 August, 19:00

Fifty Bees: The Interconnectedness of All Things

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 61   (Andrena Rosae) . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 14 x 14 x 1 inches (framed). ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 61 (Andrena Rosae). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 14 x 14 x 1 inches (framed). ©2017.

Fifty Bees: The Interconnectedness of All Things is a collaborative group exhibition at ACEarts lead by Queen Bee Lydia Needle. Lydia is well known for her beloved and beautiful felted textile art that celebrates the wildlife and critters she is surrounded by in daily life.

I met Lydia when we were both traders at the Bath Artisan Market and I was immediately enchanted by her felted creations. So when she invited me to contribute a piece for Fifty Bees, I jumped at the chance.

The concept is brilliant, mirroring the interconnectedness and dependency everyone has on everything. Fifty artists are creating fifty individual pieces, each one inspired by his or her assigned bee.

Lydia Needle,  Andrena rosae . Wool, thread, tin. 2017.

Lydia Needle, Andrena rosae. Wool, thread, tin. 2017.

My bee, Andrena rosae (Perkins Mining Bee), lays her eggs in a series of deep holes that she digs into the ground, scattering dirt around her nest entrance as she burrows. The patterns she leaves on the ground’s surface inspired this piece. My medium is paper, a seemingly ephemeral material that is quite sturdy when handled. Like this little bee, who must steadfastly dig to protect her only handful of eggs during her short lifetime.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 61 (Andrena Rosae) . Paper, gold leaf, flame. 14 x 14 x 1 inches (framed). ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 61 (Andrena Rosae). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 14 x 14 x 1 inches (framed). ©2017.

While researching and working on this piece, my awareness of these beautiful insects has blossomed. Living here, we can't help but be impacted by wildlife, including a swarm of honey bees that set up house in the outside wall of our home. Daily walks take me through fields and by hedgerows buzzing with activity. This project has inspired me to slow down and appreciate the activity, laugh when a solo bumble buzzes my head, and marvel at the interconnectedness of all things.

In addition to the exhibition, there's also a book in the works. You can learn more and support the publishing project here.

Fifty Bees: The Interconnectedness of All Things | 1 July – 22 July, Private View 30 June | ACEarts Gallery | Market Place, Somerton, Somerset TA11 7NB, UK

UPDATE added July 17, 2017:

We've had some nice press about the exhibition, including an enthusiastic review by Somerset Cool and an article in The Ecologist.

New Work: Edgy

In recent months, my Playing With Fire commissions have evolved from dimensional pieces constrained by a mat and frame, to floating sculptural objects, unconstrained by form.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 47 (Edgy 1) . Paper, book thread, flame. 14 x 14 x 2 7/8 inches framed. ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 47 (Edgy 1). Paper, book thread, flame. 14 x 14 x 2 7/8 inches framed. ©2017.

My new obsession has become the edges of these burned stacks of paper. While I give love and attention to every detail of a commission, I've been dreaming of how to celebrate their edges.

Burning down the house. Work in progress. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017.

Burning down the house. Work in progress. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017.

Enter Edgy, a series of small burned paper objects that flip the stacks on their sides and make each object all about this tiny but gorgeous feature. I've only just begun this series and am eager to see where it takes me.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 49 (Edgy 3) . Paper, flame. 14 x 14 x 2 7/8 inches framed. ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 49 (Edgy 3). Paper, flame. 14 x 14 x 2 7/8 inches framed. ©2017.

Edgy will eventually show up as a grid of nine framed pieces – and probably a few special ones left unframed – in my solo exhibition with Galerie Uhn in September, details below.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire No. 48 (Edgy 2) . Paper, flame. 14 x 14 x 2 7/8 inches framed. ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 48 (Edgy 2). Paper, flame. 14 x 14 x 2 7/8 inches framed. ©2017.

Playing With Fire | Galerie Uhn | 25 August – September 28, 2017 | Vernissage: Friday, 25 August, 19:00

New Work: Phases

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire, No. 42 (Green) . Paper, flame, spray paint. 28 x 28 x .5 inches. ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire, No. 42 (Green). Paper, flame, spray paint. 28 x 28 x .5 inches. ©2017.

This coming September I'll be debuting my Playing With Fire series in Germany with a solo exhibition at Galerie Uhn in Königstein-im-Taunus. Plans are coming along nicely for a body of work that both showcases work similar to the PWF commissions that I've been doing steadily for the past 18 months, as well as pieces that take the work in some new directions.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire, No. 36 (Pink) . Paper, flame, spray paint. 28 x 28 x .5 inches. ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire, No. 36 (Pink). Paper, flame, spray paint. 28 x 28 x .5 inches. ©2017.

One such direction is Phases, a small series of six pieces that attempt to categorize and put order to an otherwise uncontrollable, ephemeral combination: paper and fire. Oh, the metaphors! The fact that these works emerged during a particularly stressful time in my personal life is no surprise.

Kelly M. O'Brien,  Playing With Fire, No. 43 (Orange) . Paper, flame, spray paint. 28 x 28 x .5 inches. ©2017.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire, No. 43 (Orange). Paper, flame, spray paint. 28 x 28 x .5 inches. ©2017.

Deep meaning aside, I'm particularly pleased with the experiments using subtle color. Viewed straight-on, the color is a faint glow of pink, orange or green. From an angle, the color becomes more noticable, a reward for looking at things differently.

Playing With Fire | Galerie Uhn | 25 August – September 28, 2017 | Vernissage: Friday, 25 August, 19:00

All images are by Z. Al-Gafoor, Image Centre, Bath

Exhibition: Art+Text 2017

Art+Text 2017 opened this week at 44AD artspace in Bath, co-curated by Sveta Antonova and myself. We had a nice pool of submissions to choose from, ending up with a collection of work by artists from all over the UK, as well as the US, Europe and Australia.

The work spans a range of mediums - video, print, sculpture, installation, performance, painting - and even spills into the surrounding city. It's been so inspiring to see the innovative ways that artists are using text in art!

I'm pleased with the response my own installation is getting, Postcards from the Edge. As an American living in the UK during the 2016 Brexit vote, and then the US Presidential election, I've watched in dismay as events have unfolded on both sides of the Atlantic. For the installation, I created four different postcard designs and printed them as monotypes, with messages to President Trump and Prime Minister May respectively. At the end of the exhibition, I'll collect all completed postcards and mail them to the respective heads of state.

Art+Text 2017 is open through February 26, daily 12 to 6 pm and Sunday 1 to 4 pm. There's a closing reception on Sunday, Feb. 26 at 3pm at 44AD artspace, 44 Abbey Street, Bath, BA1 1NN.