Frame 61

Kelly O'brien

Frame 61
Kelly O'brien

Background: I have been a sculptor for about 10 years. Growing up I was fascinated by “B” horror films, so sculpture was a natural place to study while I tried to replicate flesh and body parts. I quickly found that my love of sculpture was intrinsic rather than the means to an end that I had anticipated. I gravitated towards conceptual and installation work, and have not strayed since. I currently live and work out of Minneapolis, MN, but had been exhibiting in Atlanta, GA. I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY.

Bulges and lumps: That material is none other than the glorious spandex we all know and love/hate. 

Spandex is inherently associated with the body, since its only use is for apparel. When I stretch, sag or bulge the material for my sculpture, it immediately speaks about the body because of this cultural recognition. There is a cheapness that mimics our often-superficial values in our privileged society in this fabric, yet it is costly to purchase. The energy, effort and expense towards a gaudy outcome mirrors actions I see regularly in social media. Immediate feedback is the goal, and “likes” are our new cultural currency. People put their image out into the world for praise or, more often, judgment, and my sculptures follow suit.

Use of materials: Since I am walking a fine line of cheesy material usage, the conceptual consideration in my work is of great substance. As a sculptor, I do not have a strong attachment to the materials/objects that I produce, rather the ideas they serve as vehicles for. A studio only has so much space, so I document work and move on, but the lingering concepts are where value lies.

The viewer: A thoughtful one. I am hoping the viewer can get over the magpie effect after being lured towards my work, and consider the implications I suggest to reflect on their role in society.

Process/inspiration: I consume trashy pop culture, then I digest. My guilty pleasure is reality TV, and I watch the worst of it. With a critical eye, I have become concerned with what media trains my generation to value. My morals and decompression tendencies collide, and my work is an attempt to resolve this conflict. By utilizing the entertainment strategies that my shows trap viewers with, can I deliver a hypercritical message about becoming more aware of the lemming-like followers we could become? 

Studio/routine: Studio days are staggered between teaching, as I am currently an Assistant Professor of Sculpture. I kick on the jams, and go. The garage is for messy woodworking and the basement studio is clean for spandex stretching and painting. Oil painted cats can be found in my studio as art judging protagonists, but please keep all living ones out. My vicious attack goldendoodle, Dwayne, will enforce this request.

Titles: Naming my work is an integral part of my process. While the flashy materials act as the lures to captivate attention, the titles assist in hinting towards the bigger concept. With names like Role Model, Standards or Hierarchical Stereotypes, I hope to trigger connections to popular culture topics like standards and values.

Influences: Philosophically, Robert Irwin is my hero. I love his sensitivity to space and optimism towards art in general. Aesthetically, Jessica Stockholder and Katharina Grosse are my art crushes with their plastic, luscious and infections colors. Satirically, Cheryl Donegan’s video wit cannot be topped. Lately and linguistically, Ed Ruscha of course, with his dramatic phrase-over-landscape pairings. 

Future/shows: You can find me in the next Midwest edition of New American Paintings #125. Currently I have a solo show in Minneapolis, MN at Ditch Gallery called Role Model, and I am building an installation for babies! At The Alliance Theater in Atlanta, GA. Babies in Space is an immersive, educational installation commissioned to foster developmental learning.

Children are curious and engaged with my sculptures inherently. Using these qualities as a tool for teaching is a natural, useful step towards this research into early tactile development and recognition. Equally terrifying and exciting as having babies crawl on my sculptures, someone has to teach them about our planet's small place in space! Overall, less ego and more looking is my aim.

Artist website

Publishing date of this interview 29/04/16