New Country

"Kelly O’Brien continues to be a keen observer of her surroundings, offering us subtle narratives from the places her life leads her. Instead of documenting with the highest digital speed possible today, she lends us time through her art. Her hand painted photographs contradict the feeling of snapshots as she continues to paint onto them and therefore prolongs the process of capturing the image. Kelly O’Brien gives us more time, turning it back for us to see what she chose to collect and reflect on, a fitting artistic decision in the actual process of re-rooting, transformed into art." —Merja Herzog-Hellstén

Since relocating to the English countryside, I find myself captivated by rural living. Farm animals surround us. We have a paddock full of borrowed sheep, and get fresh eggs from the hens and ducks next door. There is a steady stream of new calves at the local dairy farm.

Initially, the farm animals grounded me to a new normal, something I craved deeply after two international moves in less than four years. The focus has shifted to the animals themselves. They gaze at the viewer with undeniable presence and personality. My interest is in acknowledging their existence as living beings, in the midst of large-scale farming.

I am a vegetarian, although I’m not dogmatic about it. Now that I live so close to the source, the issue is more visible and unresolved than ever. The farmers are neighbors and friends, supporting families for generations with their work. The animals themselves are a source of daily delight and appreciation. Yet I struggle deeply with animals being used as products, even at the highest ethical standards of practice.

This series originally was about dealing with the move to a new country. It has evolved to investigate themes of dissociation, denial, and living with integrity in the face of complex issues. Snapshots from my daily walks make their way into imagined landscapes, mixing the representational with the abstract. Relating to these animals that surround us, I think about what will happen to them when their present usefulness has ended.

The work is firmly grounded in a centuries-old tradition of artists manipulating photographs, which started with hand-tinted daguerreotypes in the early 1840s and continues through today with digital applications. The images are my original C-print photographs on canvas, overpainted with acrylic. The color choices set the animals in a fantasy, dreamlike setting, different from their reality.