I joined the Kathleen Oâ€™Brien fan-club this summer the moment her Garden for Summer Tanager (right) stopped me in my tracks with it intriguing and eye-catching use of watercolors, hand-drawings, and botanicals. This was just one work in Gardenshapes, the exhibit on display at the Arts Center that month. For weeks I would peer deeply into her pieces, discovering ever more layers of meaning and color, seeing different shapes, and understanding more of her artistic vision. It was an intoxicating and addictive experience, and Iâ€™ve been a devoted Kathleen Oâ€™Brien groupie ever since.
My groupie-senses got tingling when I got word that Kathleen (who, by the way, is the Kentucky Arts Council’s featured artist this month!) has a new exhibit at the MS Rezny Gallery in Lexington through April called Realms of Wonder. She explained to me that the collection evolved out of what began as abstract landscapes. The more she worked on them the more she felt she was actually portraying realms and imaginary worlds. She asked me, â€œWe go to all different places in physical reality, but where do we go when we want to be centered and at peace with ourselves?â€ The answer: Realms of Wonder!
The collection on display has over 45 pieces, ranging from very recent to decades old. The pieces along the walls overflow with swirling shapes, detailed maps and printed objects, colorful hand-drawn birds, and Kathleenâ€™s uniquely-tempered color palette, which ranges from atmospheric blues to rich sunset oranges and tropical greens.
One of the centerpieces of the exhibit is called the â€œTraveling Shrine for World Appreciation,â€ an installation composed of three boxes, all open at the top. The interiors of the boxes are mirrored on all sides, creating a dazzlingly disorienting space for miniature installations, each of which is devoted to one of the three basic shapes: circle, triangle, and square. Connected to each shape is a corresponding earth element.
This kind of layered meaning and symbol is something Iâ€™ve come to love and expect from Kathleenâ€™s work, and is much of what keeps me coming back to the same pieces over and over again. Every single color choice, brush-stroke, botanical, found object, and shape is replete with many-tiered significance, making each piece a highly
complex web of interconnected meanings. Ask her about any piece and she can begin to unravel its many threads, teasing out the various geometrical, astrological, mathematical, elemental, spiritual, and visual components. In other words, if youâ€™ve ever wanted to get lost in a piece of artwork, seeing Realms of Wonder is the way to do it!