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Meet Cara O’Brien

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cara O’Brien.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I have been very fortunate.

The public schools I attended in rural West Michigan had really wonderful art teachers who encouraged my interest in the arts. And these teachers were supported by programs that allowed students like me annual group trips to the Chicago Institute of Art, guest artists in my classrooms, overnight art camps, and artist-in-residents that made permanent works for the schools. There were also scholarships available that offset my college education at Central Michigan University. But besides helping monetarily, one of the most important things the scholarship application process did, was introduce me to my long time mentor and friend, Ray Jansma.

Ray was the first person I met who made a living as an artist. And more than setting an example of how to make a living, Ray invited me to work in his studio and gave me the gifts of his time and patience. He really opened up my eyes to new possibilities and instructed me how to make things of high quality and good design. My CMU education was also important but in a different way. This is where the importance of a strong concept or idea behind making a work was introduced to me.

After college, I made a lot of different things, figurative bronzes, jewelry, ornaments, tiles, and took on commissions in a variety of media, generally working in a more realistic style. And while I worked, I was aware that I was still searching for THE idea or focus that I could really sink my technical skills and conceptual teeth into long term. Then one day, I did stumble upon THE idea when I filled an empty knot hole in an old board with some of my hand formed pinch pots. The decaying and worn wood looked as if something like new life was emerging from it.

I began to work more abstractly and look towards my interests in growing things found in lakes, oceans, and on forest floors as inspiration for my sculptures. All of this has led to my current body of work.

Please tell us about your art.
For the last few years, I have been exploring ways in which found driftwood, weathered barn boards, and rusted sheet metal can be transformed into something new by combining them with organic clay forms.

As painters have a palate of colors to choose from, I make a variety of hand formed textural components in porcelain as my sculptural palate. Each mixed media work is an assemblage, I compose as I go, wiring each textured porcelain element into place. I try to make sculptures in which all of the individual parts blend together creating an entire piece that is a purposeful and seamless exploration of organic textures and forms. Most of these pieces are wall hanging sculptures while some are free standing. It really depends on the materials I salvage and what I think I can transform them into. Lately, I have expanded my work to include wall installations made of all clay pieces that explore similar themes of growth and change.

It is my hope that after viewing my work people become aware that interest and value can be found in old rusted metal and weathered wood even if their histories are unknowable. And that where there is decay there is also beauty.

As an artist, how do you define success and what quality or characteristic do you feel is essential to success as an artist?
When I look at one of my finished pieces and see that the idea is solid and the execution of the idea skillful, I call that successful.

But I also give myself permission to try new ideas, explore new materials and see where that will take me. I feel that this time for exploring is essential in continuing to develop as an artist. While some of these explorations may result in something I want others to see, some do not. Innovation does not happen if I only make the same thing over and over, so taking risks by trying something new is important to me.

Also, as a full time working artist, my advice to anyone who wants to try this is, put on your pants, show up at your studio, and work everyday. Investing focused time and thought into your work on a consistent basis is an important part of being an artist, you have to cultivate inspiration and not wait for it to just come to you.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
I am represented in West and Southwest Michigan by LaFontsee Galleries in Grand Rapids and Douglas, Michigan. And people can see my work online by visiting my website or Facebook page. I am currently in search of gallery representation in the Chicago or Milwaukee area so that my work might have a physical presence closer to these metropolitan centers.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Cara O’Brien

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