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

Mending What's Torn

After one of my many trips back to the United States last year, while my father was fighting cancer, I returned to my studio in England and started tearing paper. Then I sewed it back together. Tore some more. And kept sewing. 

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

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

As my father's illness progressed and the trips back and forth from the UK to the US mounted, I sought solace in the act of repeatedly tearing and mending the paper fragments. Some of the paper and thread objects feature watercolored edges, others are taped and then sewn. Some are machine-stitched, others sewn by hand.

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

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

The work that has emerged from this repetitive action is a new series, Mending | Tending. As a close friend observed: “We mend what's been torn, and tend what we mourn.”

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

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

This new work will be shown along with Object (Im)permanence in the annual exhibition with my German colleagues of CKCK artist collective this September.

In the Face of Everything | Stadtgalerie Bad Soden | September 2 - 24, 2017 | Bad Soden im Taunus, 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

New Commission: Scaling Up

A recently completed commission afforded me the opportunity to play with scale, materials and process. The client, a fine art consulting firm, wanted a larger version of a piece they had already placed in another project. I'd not "replicated" my burned paper pieces yet, thinking there was little I could do to control the effects of fire on paper and therefore produce a similar result. Let the challenge begin!

The original: Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 31. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 40 x 28 x .25 inches. ©2016.

The original: Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 31. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 40 x 28 x .25 inches. ©2016.

Earlier this year, I developed a technique to help me accurately translate my sketches to scale. It involves using oversized prints of my sketches, which I then slice into pieces and use as templates for re-drawing the layers at the correct size. It worked well for a Connecticut coastline-inspired piece, so why not use the same process using my own work as the original drawing?

Template for a project underway inspired by Frankfurt. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Template for a project underway inspired by Frankfurt. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

The approach worked nicely and helped to expedite an otherwise traditional, yet time-consuming way to scale-up using a grid system to transfer an image. But what I'm particularly pleased about is that, despite an accurate rendering of the original design, the new version is entirely unique and different from the first. There is happily still not much you can do to control the outcome when taking blowtorch to paper, or when working with materials that are 300% larger than the first time around.

Flattening rolled watercolor paper in my studio. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Flattening rolled watercolor paper in my studio. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

There are several challenges when working at a larger size, in this case 72 x 48 inches. First is workspace. My workbench isn't large enough, so I had to improvise by using the floor and a temporary workshop set up in our dining room (not ideal). The other issue is my Burning Shed, an unfinished outbuilding where I do the things that can't otherwise be done indoors (burning, spray paint, etc.). The Burning Shed was maxed out at this size, so for larger projects, I'll have to find another solution.

Materials take on a mind of their own at this size, especially paper. As much as I flattened the rolled watercolor paper, once you hit it with the blowtorch, it curls and warps as the fibers respond to the heat. I'll continue to explore solutions to this effect, or just work with it - which is what materials are teaching me anyway. 

Who doesn't like a little bling? Gilding with variegated leaf. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Who doesn't like a little bling? Gilding with variegated leaf. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Speaking of learning, this is the first project where I used variegated gold leaf for the gilding. Variegated leaf is a metal leaf that has been heat-treated, chemically-treated or both to develop patinas and unique discoloration. In this case, I love how the subtle coppers, blues, reds and greens add interest to veins of gold that would otherwise be too monochrome and flat for a design of this size.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 60 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 72 x 48 x .65 inches (unframed). ©2017. 

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 60 (detail). Paper, gold leaf, flame. 72 x 48 x .65 inches (unframed). ©2017. 

Overall, I'm pleased with the outcome on this project, with clear ideas on how to continue refining the work, especially at larger sizes - which I hope to do more of!

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

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 Commission: Inspired by the Coastline

When a private collector came to me wanting one of my Playing With Fire pieces for her home on the water, I was excited to see where coastal inspiration took us. I presented three sketches, all slightly different takes on her theme.

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #1 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #1 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #2 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #2 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #3 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

Kelly M. O'Brien, sketch #3 for coast-inspired client commission ©2017

The client and her husband selected sketch #1. This one was actually my favorite, inspired directly by the topography of where their home is located in Connecticut on the Long Island Sound. Place and homeland have featured prominently in my work since moving overseas from the US in 2011, but not necessarily in my Playing With Fire series. Here was an opportunity to marry the two – my more abstract work with themes and inspiration that are close to home.

This has been one of my larger burned paper pieces to date, so safety was paramount in what I fondly call The Burning Shed. I use an unfinished stone out-building on our property to do this kind of work, complete with stainless steel workbench, certified respirator, fireproof jumpsuit, fire blanket, fire extinguisher and ventilation fans. Action video below!

And the finished framed piece:

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 40. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 52 x 47 x 2 inches. ©2017. Private commission.

Kelly M. O'Brien, Playing With Fire No. 40. Paper, gold leaf, flame. 52 x 47 x 2 inches. ©2017. Private commission.

Something that excites me about this piece is that the work is becoming more object-like and sculptural. By floating the artwork inside a larger frame, all sides of the piece come into play. In this case, the object's irregular shape was informed by the state of Connecticut, but the float allows me to be otherwise unconstrained by the rectangular shape of a frame. Stay tuned on this idea!

The path from sketches to finished product was a bit more complicated for this commission. The size of the piece presented some framing challenges, mainly due to color restrictions for the larger mount board (matting) on which the artwork floats. The client's interior designer specified Pantone colors for my framer to match, which meant the board had to be painted. The UK uses a different color system, so we had to visually match Pantone paint sample cards to the RAL system here. All very geeky and boring if this isn't your thing! Luckily, it is mine, and we got it right in the end, thanks to the patience and professionalism of my framer, Ian Pittman and his team at The Framing Workshop in Bath.

Frame check for Playing With Fire No. 40. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Frame check for Playing With Fire No. 40. Kelly M. O'Brien ©2017

Another challenge was creating something interesting and layered without making the final framed work too deep, as the artwork hangs on a wall over which a large flatscreen TV glides up and down. Instead of simplifying the design, I found ways to retain the layering while staying within the client's design specs.

Overall, I'm really pleased with how this piece turned out. Many thanks to the team at The Framing Workshop in Bath, to HMC Logistics for the TLC of their art handlers and expertise to get the final product safely into the client's hands, and a huge thank you to this collector for the opportunity to create something special for their home.

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.