"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 in 2014, 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.
The geographical pilgrimage is the symbolic acting out of an inner journey. One can have one without the other. It is best to have both.—Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk
A geographical cure is the idea that we can leave problems behind by changing location. Be it a new town, job, or even a new partner, doing a “geographic” is a powerful force for temporary, distracted relief, yet solves nothing. As soon as normal life resumes, the problems return.
When we moved from Germany to England, I reflected on the consciousness of this choice, observing the spectrum of feelings that an internaltional relocation stirs. Deciding not to return to the United States was the biggest struggle of all. It's one thing to tell loved ones that you're moving overseas for a few years – quite another to choose to stay indefinitely.
Geographical Cure is a reflection of my internal journey. The colors and forms started out somber and somewhat contained. As my feelings about the move evolved, so have the paintings, incorporating brighter colors, playful forms, secret text and multiple horizons.
This work is the continuation of a trajectory. The landscapes I've navigated these past few years – geographic and internal – continue to challenge my assumptions about where I should live and who I can be.
"Inside Job" 2014, 70 x 50 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas
"Home is Where You Are" 2014, 70 x 50 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas
"It's the Little Things (that I Miss)" 2014, 70 x 50 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas
"They Decide It's Time to Go" 2014, 50 x 40 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas
"You Can't Run From Yourself" 2014, 50 x 40 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas
"He Didn't Even Say Goodbye" 2014, 50 x 40 cm, acrylic on paper on canvas
"Journal Entry No. 2" 2014, 10 x 10 inches, acrylic on cradled board
"Journal Entry No. 3" 2014, 10 x 10 inches, acrylic on cradled board
"Journal Entry No. 4" 2014, 10 x 10 inches, acrylic on cradled board
"Journal Entry No. 1" 2014, 10 x 10 inches, acrylic on cradled board
"Bloom Where You're Planted" 2014, 120 x 100 cm, acrylic on canvas
"We Miss You" 2014, 40 x 120 cm, acrylic on canvas
"A light touch for heavy work." —Punggyeong, Korean Culture Magazine
Hard Tryer is a nod to the courage it takes to be vulnerable - to put yourself out there, even when unsure of the outcome. These paintings were started shortly after an overseas move, at a time when I felt way out of my comfort zone.
This work explores the tension between vulnerability and façade. What we share of ourselves with the world, and what stays hidden. What we are aware of, and what we remain blind to in the unconscious. My belief is that vulnerability takes great courage. Yet it is required for real connection with the world around us.
"Hard Tryer" (2013) Watercolor, coffee and pencil on paper. 80 x 60 cm
"Real Story" (2013) Watercolor, coffee and pencil on paper. 100 x 70 cm
"Just Fine" (2013) Watercolor, coffee and pencil on paper. 100 x 70 cm
"We Three" (2013) Watercolor, acrylic and pencil on paper. 100 x 70 cm
"Beneath the Surface" (2013) Watercolor, acrylic and pencil on paper. 100 x 80 cm
"She is Herself" detail (2013) Watercolor, coffee and pencil on paper. 100 x 70 cm