new landscapes

We're getting settled into our new home, here in the English countryside. The tiny village of Stanton Prior has welcomed us warmly, and the local winter hasn't been one to complain about (sorry, East Coast friends!).

Astro enjoying daffodils in February!

Astro enjoying daffodils in February!

The scenery consists mostly of rolling fields, hedgerows, Constable skies and farm animals. There are two working farms in our village, and my studio views include cows, sheep, ducks and chickens. It's captivating, entertaining and uncomfortable.

View from the new studio

View from the new studio

Who knew that moving to an English-speaking country could feel so foreign? Three months in, I'm at that awkward stage between meeting new people and forming meaningful relationships. Culture shock is a fact of life, even when you speak the language. Building friendships, not to mention a local network for my work, will take time.

Local traffic jam

Local traffic jam

This will pass, I know - it was like this when we moved to Germany. And as uncomfortable as this phase is, it's also an opportunity. Soaking up my immediate surroundings with fresh eyes will only last for so long before things look and feel more familiar.

I'm trying to capture the moment in some of my recent work. A few new studies, New Country, reflect what's going on, in more ways than one.

studio update: late summer 2014

Kelly O'Brien,  Home is Where You Are  (detail). Acrylic on paper on canvas. 2014

Kelly O'Brien, Home is Where You Are (detail). Acrylic on paper on canvas. 2014

Here in chilly gray Frankfurt, change is in the air already. Where did summer go? This is our fourth one in Germany, and I'm still not used to August days in the 60s and nights that dip into the 40s.

Which means I've been in the studio, making new work! My current focus is on acrylic painting, with some mixed media sculpture to keep things interesting. It feels like acrylics are opening up a whole new level of freedom. I've only scratched the surface and am eager to see where this goes.

Kelly O'Brien,  You Can't Run From Yourself . Acrylic on paper on canvas. 2014

Kelly O'Brien, You Can't Run From Yourself. Acrylic on paper on canvas. 2014

If you're in the Frankfurt area this autumn, you can see the new work in two upcoming exhibitions in October and November. Stateside, I am delighted to have mixed media prints included in The Joint Portfolio Project, with exhibitions at the Providence Art Club and Torpedo Factory in September and November. More on each of these as dates draw nearer.

Kelly O'Brien,  Inside Job . Acrylic on paper on canvas. 2014

Kelly O'Brien, Inside Job. Acrylic on paper on canvas. 2014

Speaking of change, the theme I'm exploring is Geographic Cure. My husband and I are moving to England this fall, so the topic has been on my mind. As much as I love living in Germany and will miss the friends I've made here, I look forward to what lies ahead. I'm learning that with a little conscious effort, you can stay connected and involved, wherever you live.

Upcoming exhibitions:

September 7 - October 3, 2014: The Joint Portfolio Project Exhibition, Moitié Gallery, Providence Art Club, Providence, RI

October 24 - 26, 2014: To Be Continued | Fortsetzung folgt, grassgrün, Frankfurt, Germany

November 1 - December 31, 2014: The Joint Portfolio Project Exhibition, Printmakers Inc, Torpedo Factory, Alexandria, VA

November 2014 - January 2015: She is Herself, Frauenartztpraxis Dr. Med. Seelig, Bad Soden, Germany

whistler: an american in london at the freer gallery

James McNeill  Whistler,  Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights , 1872; oil on canvas

James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights, 1872; oil on canvas

One of the many things I love about my hometown of Washington, DC is the abundant free access to great art. On a recent trip to the US, my husband and I squeezed in one last exhibition at our favorite Smithsonian gallery, the Freer | Sackler, before heading to the airport.

I didn't expect to be so mesmerized by the work - I mean, it's Whistler, so I knew it would be special - but I didn't anticipate what we saw among the etchings, watercolors and oil paintings in the exhibition.

Whistler,  Nocturne Blue and Gold Southampton Water , 1872; oil on canvas

Whistler, Nocturne Blue and Gold Southampton Water, 1872; oil on canvas

His oil Nocturnes are gorgeous. Scenes along the rainy, dreary, industrial 19th century Thames are transformed into abstract, minimalist, glowing color, highly influenced by Japanese woodcut prints. Fittingly, paintings and woodcuts by Kobayashi Kiyochika are juxtaposed in a separate exhibition on the same floor.

Detail,   Sumida River by Night,   Kobayashi Kiyochika; Japan, 1881; Woodblock print

Detail, Sumida River by Night, Kobayashi Kiyochika; Japan, 1881; Woodblock print

Whistler's relationship to the Freer | Sackler was another surprise. Charles Freer met Whistler in 1890 when, on his first trip to London, he visited the artist's Chelsea studio. A long and fruitful friendship ensued, and with Whistler's encouragement and cooperation, Freer built the largest collection of his works in the world. Not bad to have a patron build a museum for your work!

Whistler,  Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge , 1875; oil on canvas

Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge, 1875; oil on canvas

An American in London held special significance for my husband and me, as we prepare for a relocation to London this fall. With beauty like this to look forward to, it seems like a good move.

kara walker at the domino sugar factory

Kara Walker,  A Subtlety  (image:  Jason Wyche, Courtesy Creative Time, 2014)

Kara Walker, A Subtlety (image: Jason Wyche, Courtesy Creative Time, 2014)

Like bees to honey, people have been swarming to Kara Walker's jaw-dropping sugar sculpture, A Subtlety, at the Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn since May. My adventuresome mother and I buzzed up the Garden State Parkway from the Jersey Shore to NYC to check it out on my recent visit to the US.

After a two-hour drive and one-hour wait, our efforts were worth it. Words and images don't do the installation justice. The work encompasses a 35' H x 75' L sugared sphinx, with the head of a kerchief-wearing mammy and body of an overly sexualized black woman. She is preceded by 15 five-foot molasses boys carrying baskets of unrefined sugar.

A molasses-coated boy attending Kara Walker's sugar sphinx (image:  Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

A molasses-coated boy attending Kara Walker's sugar sphinx (image: Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic)

As we walked around the installation, I couldn't stop admiring the audacity of the work. In one fell swoop, Walker unflinchingly addresses racism, sexism, slavery, capitalism, hypocrisy, power, oppression, addiction, and more. She discusses the project here, in an excellent video by PBS' art21:

Much has been written about the project, as well as the politics and controversy behind it. People have been taking (sadly) inappropriate selfies in front of body parts, and there's fuss about how the actual sugar for the project was sourced.

But it's because of Walker's installation that people are talking about these things. The conversations that Mom and I had and overheard while waiting in line, inside the warehouse, and well after we left have been testament to the power of art to awaken and move each of us, if we allow ourselves to engage thoughtfully in something that makes us uncomfortable.

For more Kara Walker, including selected works, articles and related artists, check out her dedicated Artsy.net page here.

louise bourgeois exhibition at SNGMA

In the final decade of her long life, Louise Bourgeois was profoundly productive and powerful in her work as an artist. Here was a woman who boldly used her personal experiences, traumas and history to expose universal human truths.

The exhibition is part of the National Galleries of Scotland Artist Rooms collection, major presentations of works by iconic artists such as Joseph Beuys, Andy Warhol and now Louise Bourgeois. From the catalog:

"Louise Bourgeois invites us to think again about creativity, relations between the sexes, youth and age, courage and fear, and the meaning and purpose of our lives. Louise Bourgeois is possibly the greatest of those four dominant female figures of the twentieth century, keeping company with Georgia O'Keeffe, Frida Kahlo and Agnes Martin. She belongs to the tradition of the true modern geniuses: Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf and Susan Sontag."

Two short films do an excellent job sharing the essence of the SNGMA exhibition, plus a concurrent exhibition of Bourgeois' drawings at The Fruit Market. The SNGMA video is an interview with Jerry Gorovoy, her long-time studio assistant and caregiver later on. The BBC's Secret Knowledge features a tour of the exhibitions with Tracey Emin, with whom she collaborated towards the end of her life.

Bourgeois' work influenced me strongly when I started making art. My work is based on personal narrative, something I questioned then as being too...well, personal. After seeing the documentary The Spider and the Mistress, I stopped questioning myself and haven't looked back.

Once again, Bourgeois is inspiring, at a time when I've questioned if I started "too late." Some of her most important work was made in her late nineties, thanks to apparent good health and support. To Emin's point, we have plenty of time. It's what we do with it that matters. I would also add, it's the relationships we carry with us that matter just as much.

Quadriennale Düsseldorf

Every four years, Düsseldorf becomes the center of contemporary art in this part of Germany during the Quadriennale Düsseldorf. We caught a small slice of it this week during a short visit to the British Consulate in town for my husband's UK citizenship swearing-in ceremony (yes, I'm now married to a Brit!).

This year's theme is Beyond Tomorrow. What we saw was compelling and provocative: Smart New World at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf. Part performance art, part installation, the two-story exhibition space was transformed into a sensory commentary on digital technology, privacy, the NSA, and Big Data. I knew we were in for something different when we had to sign a declaration affirming our own inauthenticity before we could even purchase an entrance ticket.

Admission Procedure, International Necronautical Society (INS). Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 2014.

Admission Procedure, International Necronautical Society (INS). Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, 2014.

The Quadriennale Düsseldorf runs through August 10th, featuring a total of thirteen museums, art venues and partner institutions. Catch it if you can!

métiers d'art

Something magic is happening this weekend throughout Europe: The European Days of Artistic Crafts. Every year, the first weekend in April is dedicated to the art of fine crafts in Europe. 

Porcelain, paper, lace, glass, perfume, chocolate, violins...you name it - if it's a material or tradition of fine craft, it's being shared and celebrated this weekend in Europe!

Viaduc des Arts, Paris

Viaduc des Arts, Paris

I was lucky to be in Paris this past week to get a preview and small taste of what's happening across the continent. My friend and I spent the better part of a day wandering in and out of the ateliers along the Viaduc des Arts, a four-kilometer stretch of working studios. 

Tzuri Gueta, Viaduc des Arts (image: Maison d'Exceptions)

Tzuri Gueta, Viaduc des Arts (image: Maison d'Exceptions)

Le Bonheur des Dames, Viaduc des Arts, Paris

Le Bonheur des Dames, Viaduc des Arts, Paris

Tzuri Gueta creates patented silicon-infused lace that graces the runway designs of Givenchy, Lacroix, and Gaultier; Creanog has revived the dying arts of gold-stamping and embossing in packaging for Chanel; Maison Fey is a master guilder and upholsterer; Le Bonheur des Dames is heaven for all things embroidery; Atelier du Temps Passé restores paintings and objects d'art. The list goes on.

My current obsession is Métiers d'Art de la Mode, a 5-pound tome packed with photographic eye candy that reveals a bit of the process and technique behind the handcrafts of the couture fashion industry. Even if you don't understand French, the images are worth the <2 minutes it takes to watch this interview with the editor, Hélène Farnault:

hard tryer at Galerie Uhn: You Lead, I'll Follow

"You Lead, I'll Follow" by Kelly O'Brien (2014). Mixed media on paper, 70 x 50 cm.

There's a story behind many of the pieces that I make. During the month of February while new work for my solo exhibition hangs at Galerie Uhn, I'm sharing brief backstories in a series of blog posts.

You Lead, I'll Follow is a mixed media print, part of the Postcards from the Edge: Taunus series. Okay, full disclosure: this image was shot in Obergurgl, Austria, nowhere near the Taunus. Nonetheless, it's included in this series for now.

When we left the US to move overseas, it was an opportunity for me to focus full time on art. It also meant that I was leaving a good career in government consulting. In one fell swoop, my identity shifted from economic equal to financially dependent hausfrau. The adjustment was not pretty.

I'm learning that you've got to take turns in relationships. Sometimes you lead, other times you follow. And money isn't the only way to share responsibility and power. Living abroad has been a great teacher in this regard.

Hard Tryer at Galerie Uhn
January 31 – March 15, 2014

Seilerbahnweg 1, 61462 Königstein
Tel: 06174-221750

Opening hours: 

Di. + Do. 14.00 – 18.00 Uhr, Mi. + Fr. + Sa. 10.00 – 13.00 Uhr und nach Vereinbarung

hard tryer at Galerie Uhn: Begin Anywhere

"Begin Anywhere" by Kelly O'Brien (2014). Mixed media on paper, 50 x 70 cm.

There's a story behind many of the pieces that I make. During the month of February while new work for my solo exhibition hangs at Galerie Uhn, I'm sharing brief backstories in a series of blog posts.

Begin Anywhere is a mixed media print, part of the Postcards from the Edge: Taunus series.

The Taunus is laced with hiking trails, stacks of timbered logs, and an occasional mid-hike restaurant or biergarten. Foul weather is no excuse, with the sun shining on average only 36% of the time. Rain, occasional shine, wind, snow – everyone is out in droves walking through fields and forest.

Choices abound for a pleasant outing. This ode to John Cage is a mantra for when I don't know where to start – in or out of the woods.

Hard Tryer at Galerie Uhn
January 31 – February 28, 2014

Seilerbahnweg 1, 61462 Königstein
Tel: 06174-221750

Opening hours: 

Di. + Do. 14.00 – 18.00 Uhr, Mi. + Fr. + Sa. 10.00 – 13.00 Uhr und nach Vereinbarung

hard tryer at Galerie Uhn: Leave Breadcrumbs

There's a story behind many of the pieces that I make. During the month of February while new work for my solo exhibition hangs at Galerie Uhn, I'm sharing brief backstories in a series of blog posts.

Leave Breadcrumbs is a mixed media print, part of the Postcards from the Edge: Taunus series.

In a fairytale forest we hiked in fog so thick, we could barely see the trail in front of us. There's a lot of natural beauty here. I used to think that the illustrations in children's books were imaginary. But now I know that they're inspired by real-life scenery in Germany.

We live about an hour from Marburg, where the Brothers Grimm studied. Art imitates life that imitates art in this neck of the woods.

Hard Tryer at Galerie Uhn
January 31 – February 28, 2014

Seilerbahnweg 1, 61462 Königstein
Tel: 06174-221750

Opening hours: 

Di. + Do. 14.00 – 18.00 Uhr, Mi. + Fr. + Sa. 10.00 – 13.00 Uhr und nach Vereinbarung

hard tryer at Galerie Uhn: Schnell, Like a Bunny!

"Schnell Like a Bunny!" by Kelly O'Brien (2014). Mixed media on paper, 50 x 70 cm.

There's a story behind many of the pieces that I make. During the month of February while new work for my solo exhibition hangs at Galerie Uhn, I'm sharing brief backstories in a series of blog posts.

Schnell Like a Bunny! is a mixed media print, part of the Postcards from the Edge: Taunus series.

The grocery check-out line in Germany is like a competitive sport. There's a certain unspoken pressure to quickly unload your cart, bag your groceries, pay and get out of the way. Like these chocolate bunnies, you've got to be quick.

Unless, of course, you're paying in cash and want to dig out exact change. Then you can take as much time as you need.

Hard Tryer at Galerie Uhn
January 31 – February 28, 2014

Seilerbahnweg 1, 61462 Königstein
Tel: 06174-221750

Opening hours: 

Di. + Do. 14.00 – 18.00 Uhr, Mi. + Fr. + Sa. 10.00 – 13.00 Uhr und nach Vereinbarung

hard tryer at Galerie Uhn: freu dich, trau dich

"freu dich, trau dich" by Kelly O'Brien (2014). Mixed media print on paper, 70 x 50 cm.

There's a story behind many of the pieces that I make. During the month of February while new work for my solo exhibition hangs at Galerie Uhn, I'm sharing brief backstories in a series of blog posts.

Freu dich, trau dich is a mixed media print, part of the Postcards from the Edge: Taunus series.

Frankfurt is surrounded by small towns within a short drive of the city. The contrast between Frankfurt's post-war architecture and the undamaged, well-preserved medieval structures in the Taunus is a stark reminder of Germany's past – recent and distant. Bad Camberg is one such village full of cobbled streets and charming squares.

I regret not noting the name of the artist who sculpted this beguiling bronze goat. Does the awning behind her say “freu dich,” “trau dich” or both? Freu dich means rejoice. Trau dich has several meanings, including trust yourself. Either way, I like that you can rejoice in trusting yourself.

Hard Tryer at Galerie Uhn
January 31 – February 28, 2014

Seilerbahnweg 1, 61462 Königstein
Tel: 06174-221750

Opening hours: 

Di. + Do. 14.00 – 18.00 Uhr, Mi. + Fr. + Sa. 10.00 – 13.00 Uhr und nach Vereinbarung

a heartfelt Danke!

Last night's Opening for Hard Tryer at Galerie Uhn was wunderschön! I was feeling the love as friends, new acquaintances and gallery patrons gathered to help celebrate.

Gallery owner Jimin Leyrer did a wonderful job installing the work and rolling out the red carpet, treating us to her special Chinese New Year's rice cakes as we also toasted The Year of the Horse.

It means a lot to me that everyone who came made the time and effort to travel to Königstein, several navigating train schedules and the autobahn. As I was navigating my own limited German in a short talk, it struck me how people's mere presence was testament to exactly what Hard Tryer is about: putting ourselves out there to connect, even when it takes some effort or in the face of unknown results. Last night showed me that the results are indeed good.

All images above by the lovely Julia Schwager, unless otherwise noted.

The exhibition runs through the end of February. Details below.

Hard Tryer at Galerie Uhn
January 31 – February 28, 2014

Seilerbahnweg 1, 61462 Königstein
Tel: 06174-221750

Opening hours: 

Di. + Do. 14.00 – 18.00 Uhr, Mi. + Fr. + Sa. 10.00 – 13.00 Uhr und nach Vereinbarung

Hard Tryer at Galerie Uhn opens tonight!

"Small World" by Kelly O'Brien (2014). Mixed media print on paper, 50 x 70 cm.

My Hard Tryer solo exhibition at Galerie Uhn opens this evening at 19:00. If you can stop by for a visit, I'd love to share the work with you personally. The exhibition runs through the end of February.

If you have a small group of friends and would like to have a private tour, please let me or gallery owner Jimin Leyrer know.

There will be an exhibition catalog available for purchase, or as a gift when original art is purchased.

Throughout the month of February I'll be sharing short background stories about some of the work in the exhibition, including Postcards from the Edge: Taunus, through regular blog posts.

Gallery Uhn details and opening hours, below. I hope to see you on Friday!

"Hard Tryer" (detail). Watercolor, coffee, pencil on paper, 80 x 60 cm.

Exhibition details:

Hard Tryer at Galerie Uhn
January 31 – February 28, 2014
Vernissage: Friday, 31 January at 19:00

Seilerbahnweg 1, 61462 Königstein
Tel: 06174-221750

Opening hours: Di. + Do. 14.00 – 18.00 Uhr, Mi. + Fr. + Sa. 10.00 – 13.00 Uhr und nach Vereinbarung

solo exhibition: it takes a village

The past few weeks I've been preparing furiously for a solo exhibition that I have in February here in Germany. I'm very excited to have this opportunity, and am particularly delighted that it's at Galerie Uhn, a lovely gallery owned by Jimin Leyer here in my "hometown" of Königstein.

In addition to the satisfaction of preparing a new body of work for its gallery debut, it's a real pleasure to work closely with other local artists, makers, and design professionals who are involved in the process of creating the work and producing an exhibition.

Astrid Blasberg

Astrid Blasberg shared her studio and etching press with me last week, where I worked on a new batch of Postcards from the Edge. The new larger-format series will be in the exhibition, reflecting scenes of the Taunus (this rural region where we live just outside of Frankfurt).

Astrid Blasberg in her studio at the Fabrik in Roedelheim (Image: courtesy of Astrid Blasberg)

Astrid Blasberg in her studio at the Fabrik in Roedelheim (Image: courtesy of Astrid Blasberg)

Astrid is a painter with a great eye for color! Working along side her – even though we were each focused on our own work – was real inspiration.

Working on a fresh batch of "Postcards from the Edge" in Astrid Blasberg's studio

Working on a fresh batch of "Postcards from the Edge" in Astrid Blasberg's studio

Heinz Pflug

Heinz Pflug is a fine art photographer and digital printmaker who helped produce the base prints for the Postcards. His expertise and high standards helped me get crisp, beautifully-saturated prints of my photographs.

Heinz Pflug, photographer and large format digital print expert, with his massive Epson

Heinz Pflug, photographer and large format digital print expert, with his massive Epson

Heinz inspecting the work!

Heinz inspecting the work!

Julia Schwager

Julia Schwager is helping me photograph the work for an exhibition catalog. After trying to shoot the work myself with disappointing results, I'm learning it pays to bring in the experts! Her methodical approach is teaching me that there's a lot to getting good images. Plus, Julia's great fun to work with.

Julia Schwager photographing my work for the exhibition catalog

Julia Schwager photographing my work for the exhibition catalog

Katja von Ruville

Katja von Ruville is designing and producing the exhibition catalog. I adore Katja's esthetic (and her gorgeous handmade jewelry), so I'm very happy to tap her talents for this project.

Katja von Ruville (and studio assistant Anouk) is designing the exhibition catalog (Image: Sven Ehlers)

Katja von Ruville (and studio assistant Anouk) is designing the exhibition catalog (Image: Sven Ehlers)

Merja Herzog Hellsten

My local teacher, Merja Herzog Hellsten, has been a catalyst for the direction of this work since I started classes with her last Spring. Not only is Merja a productive, successful working artist, but a highly effective teacher with a gift for honing in on just the right feedback when it's needed.

Merja Herzon Hellsten in action during a group crit in our Staedelschule Adult Education class

Merja Herzon Hellsten in action during a group crit in our Staedelschule Adult Education class

Lisa Kokin

Last, but definitely not least, is my mentor Lisa Kokin. Lisa deserves her own blog post, which I will do. For now, suffice it to say that there would not be a village without Lisa's gentle tough love and steady presence since Fall 2011. I sought her out as an art coach when we moved overseas, knowing that not only did I need a wise guide to help me transition to fulltime working artist, but also someone to help me find the courage to put myself out there in a new town. The fact that Lisa's based in California hasn't stopped us and proves that one's "village" can be global as well as local.

Lisa Kokin, mixed media artist, teaching Bindi how to sew (Image: Lia Roozendaal)

Lisa Kokin, mixed media artist, teaching Bindi how to sew (Image: Lia Roozendaal)

One of my desires in moving overseas was to become immersed in local, everyday life. It's surprisingly easy as an expat not to integrate. You've got to put yourself out there in small ways that can easily become obstacles if you don't face them down: making phone calls in German, working all day through technical details with someone who speaks no English, deciphering a proposal in German (Google Translate does a lousy job), hunting down local resources and suppliers in German, preparing catalog text in two languages. I could go on!

None of this is a complaint, but it is an added layer of challenge. Which is why I'm grateful to everyone involved. They are collaborators, mentors, professionals, and friends. I wasn't sure that I could have this outside the comfort zone of my longtime hometown in the US. This experience is teaching me that, yes – it takes a village to pull off a "solo" exhibition – but that village can be anywhere if you're willing to put down the fear and just connect with people.

printing on the edge

Edginess in all its forms was what we were promised, and Printing on the Edge is what we got! Ten days on the northwestern coast in Scotland in a lighthouse with a group of rocking women artists was bliss to begin with. But wait, it gets better.

Rua Reidh Lighthouse

Led, encouraged, tough-loved and humored by Women’s Studio Workshop co-founders Tatiana Keller and Ann Kalmbach, we tackled printmaking, papermaking and artist books.

Dramatic scenery inspired our work, while Susan Fateh’s seamless coordination of seemingly everything and sumptuous home cooking fueled our creativity.

Never mind that it literally never gets completely dark there at this time of year, we were too engaged to sleep. Even counting sheep didn't help much.

Our neighbors at the lighthouse

Inspiration came at us from all directions. Weather in many shades of grey, expansive views of sea, rolling hills of heather, tiny wildflowers, craggy cliffs, and tide pools teeming with jellied shell creatures. An afternoon at Inverewe Gardens provided enough imagery to work with for years.

Tide pool

If you’re ever looking for an unusual adventure, go. Our hosts and hostel owners, Roger and Tracy McLachlan, were extremely gracious as we converted their conservatory to our printmaking studio. Rua Reidh Lighthouse is a historical gem, cozy where it counts, and the perfect base for long walks on the edge. You never know what will show up in the water – we spied an otter, grey seal, ships, sailboats, and a nuclear submarine.

Most of all, it was a privilege to soak up the company of the women in our group. Thank you, Alke, Ann, Bev, Halide, Leslie, Ling, Lucy, Susan, and Tana for a memorable and cherished experience. And thank you, Ian, for this gift.

Lucy Gans, Beverly O'Mara, Leslie Fedorchuk, Kelly O'Brien, Halide Salam, Alke Groppel-Wegener (image: Women's Studio Workshop)

As each evening’s pair of artist talks unfolded, we swam in stories of lives richly and thoughtfully lived, now reflected in layered, accomplished art. Our little “exhibition” at retreat’s end was a celebration of our collective output, attended by our hosts and a couple of German hikers that we lured in off the trail that passes by the lighthouse.

hard tryer

"Hard Tryer" series study by Kelly O'Brien (watercolor, coffee and pencil on paper with burn marks)

This Spring, I'm taking a mixed-media sculpture class through the Städelschule Erwachsenenbildungädel (Städel Museum Adult Education Program). The 13-week semester class is in German and attended largely by serious and accomplished German artists and other fluent expats.

Not only am I far from even conversant in German, I was unfamiliar with the ramifications of "German directness" in an art critique. It's actually refreshing to get clear and honest feedback on what people think of your work, but it has taken some getting used to while I wait for my skin to thicken.

"Hard Tryer" series study by Kelly O'Brien (watercolor, coffee and pencil on paper with burn marks)

Add this to a couple of years of sustained exposure to "new" and frequently uncomfortable, and a critical mass seems to have accumulated. It feels like a tightly-stretched wire finally snapped, in a good way. As a result, the work that's emerging feels looser, more playful, and braver.

"Hard Tryer" series study by Kelly O'Brien (watercolor, coffee and pencil on paper with burn marks)

Of course, a little self-deprecation has also been helpful when juggling multiple ego-confronting forces at once. Hard Tryer is the series of 2D and 3D studies that's emerging. The title is a nod to the vulnerable, slightly awkward, determined, yet hopeful part of us that conjures the courage to try new things.

My friend Mandy—witness to a lot in our long friendship—has called me a hard tryer for years. It's a label I used to cringe at, and now (ironically) seem ready to play with.

seeds are sprouting

Image: The Utilitarian FranchiseMy friend Joe emailed me last week with a gentle nudge: "What, no blog posts?" He's right - how did it get to be nearly five months since my last post?! A sign, perhaps, that I've been happily productive in a low-key way.

Also a factor has been the sheer time it's taken for me to settle into life here as an expat, find my bearings in a completely unknown arts world, and establish a rhythm for my daily studio practice.

Quiet frankly, I had no idea what it meant to be a full-time "professional" artist, something that this time abroad affords me to explore. Not that I fully know now, but I'm beginning to gain a sense of what this takes.

It's harder than I thought. Yes, the work is demanding. But that's not the hard part. The big challenges are showing up every day - regardless of inspiration or motivation - to just do the work. And facing down the fear of putting myself out there.

It was very naive of me to think that an artist enters the studio constantly fueled by endless inspiration. And clueless of me to disregard the inner Critic who sits waiting for me any time I do something that feels like a creative or professional stretch.

No different, really, than what I faced in my professional consulting work back in the states. And those business skills definitely help now. But the stakes feel much higher now, especially as good things start to happen. Julia Cameron captures this feeling well in her book Finding Water:

When the odds start to shift, when the dominoes are falling in the right direction, we can suddenly feel out of control. Where before we knew how we felt - frustrated - now we feel something worse - vulnerable. And we hate to feel vulnerable. Once more our dreams have been nudged awake. Once more our dreams have the capacity to break our hearts.

Seeds that I've been planting are beginning to sprout. This thrills and terrifies me. There are some opportunities on the horizon that feel pretty awesome. But I'm learning that the sanest thing I can do is just show up every day and make art. Do the next right thing. Protect my time from things that could easily distract me from what keeps me grounded: being in the studio. Connect with people here. And keep putting myself out there.

At the end of this month, it is one year that we've been here. In the past, major transitions have taken about a year for me to assimilate, so I'm right on schedule. Bloom where planted? Why, yes, don't mind if I do.

alpine installation art

"Horizon Field" by Antony Gormley, Vorarlberg, AustriaWe just returned from a week of alpine activities in the breathtakingly beautiful Vorarlberg region of Austria. The last thing I expected to encounter in this winter wonderland was installation art, but encounter it we did.

Antony Gormley's Horizon Field is a "landscape intervention" comprised of 100 life-sized cast iron human figures, all placed 6,689 feet above sea level in an area of over 93 square miles. The sculptures were scattered throughout the areas we skied, bearing silent witness to the extraordinary snowfall of this particular winter.

Mother Nature seemed to play along. Some sculptures were buried up to their shoulders in snow. Others were surrounded by ski tracks, left by visitors gliding by for a closer look.

Antony Gormley's "Horizon Field," (embellished)Humans played along, as well. I had mixed feelings when I visited this festively decorated sculpture. Fun? Sure. Disrespectful of the work? Perhaps.

Apparently the local authorities think so too, making regular runs to patrol for and remove these human interventions.

For more images, details, and an FAQ with the artist, click here.

Gormley's two-year installation remains in place through April 2012.

For a comprehensive list of things to do in the region, check out Jacky Miller's blog post 100 Best Things to Do in Austria.

grace finds home

The last project I did before moving from the states was an installation for Art Whino's G40, called Grace in Full Bloom. Shortly after deinstalling, Grace got packed up in her very own custom box and tucked into our shipping container for the ride across the ocean.

Since landing here in Germany on July 1, she's remained in her box, up to her shoulders in pink packing peanuts, waiting patiently to come out and take her rightful spot in my studio. A couple of weeks ago - box cutter in hand - as I started unpacking her, I stopped mid-cut. It suddenly occurred to me: that's me in that box.

"Grace in Full Bloom" up to her neck in packing peanuts.Okay, not really me. But the part of myself that I consider the most sacred and core to who I am. Clearly, we (Grace and I) haven't been ready to come out of our box and settle into this new house. How could we, with all the chaos of the move and challenge of starting over, not to mention a dog bent on destroying anything he deems mine every time I leave the house?

Until that moment, I hadn't been able to put my finger on why I was keeping Grace under wraps. Nearly all of the unpacking was finished, but she remained safely ensconced. Once I realized this, it became very clear for me what to do: I needed to welcome Grace home. But first, I had to create a suitable environment for her.

Last week, I unleashed a swarm of book paper butterflies on my studio. They fly in from our front door, down behind the stairwell, and down to Grace's feet...

"Grace Finds Home" (installation in home studio), with Beverly Ryan's oil paining, "Dancing Through.""Grace Finds Home" (paper installation in home studio), detailAnother batch flies up out of a light fixture, across the wall and into our guest bedroom.

"Grace Finds Home" (paper installation in home studio)"Grace Finds Home" (paper installation in home studio)A fellow-G40 artist inspired the light fixture idea - he had metal butterflies made from spray paint cans swarming from a light fixture on the first floor.

"Grace Finds Home," paper installation in home studio (detail)The butterflies are die-cut from vintage French book texts. I had two copies of Le Mariage de Figaro Tome II, making serendipidous use of black and white photography in the book.

"Grace Finds Home," paper installation in home studio (detail)"Grace" now home