MARI O'BRIEN
ISAP, UWS, CCWS

Exploring the Edges
My art works are rendered mainly in acrylic, collage, and mixed media. In general, the impetus for my paintings is primarily intuitive, adventurous, and experimental, resulting in abstract or non-representational pieces. Some folks describe me and my work as eccentric and eclectic, and I freely admit that I like these descriptors!

When facing a blank sheet of paper, canvas, or wood panel, I frequently begin by making gestural and shape-making marks with color--sometimes in several mediums--adding stampings, textures, lines, and drips, as my subconscious "inner child" directs me to do, resulting in an under-painting that might appear to anyone else as complete chaos. Eventually, this chaotic under-painting “speaks to me” and tells me where it needs to go. In other words, I most often prefer to let the subject emerge on its own from the beginnings that peer up/out at me. I revel in creating paintings with multiple layers, resulting in a rich, complex tapestry. Complexity in a painting, I believe, echoes an essential element of human nature: every individual on Earth is, inherently, a unique and highly complex creature, who exists in a world of dizzying complexity.

For a great many humans, complexity includes words. In the past, I taught language and literature, and I myself strove to be a wordsmith, doing both left- and right-brained writing. Poets, poetry and words in general inspire me still--and I write poetry myself--so you will sometimes find that my paintings reflect my love for poetry and language (both English and French).

All in all, my painting is about "exploring the edges" of the painting universe, both the inner universe and the one surrounding the tiny speck we live on. That's huge territory, I know: it must be done tiny piece by tiny piece. I have help, though, from artists whom I count among my influences: Edvard Munch (for psychological themes and symbolism); Wassily Kandinsky (for line and gesture); Gustav Klimt (I have a distinctly decorative bent that emerges in some paintings); Piet Mondrian and Mark Rothko (both for color and simple shapes); and many others. More help comes from some outstanding contemporary artists who have taught me so much: Mark Mehaffey; Christopher Schink; Carla O'Connor; Robert Burridge; Linda Kemp, and David Limrite. I am grateful to all these artists who remain present in my mind and who continue to impact my work, in some form or another.

Working in Series
It was Robert Burridge (thanks, Bob!) who convinced me of the value of working in series and who taught me an effective way to approach doing this. I do my best to follow his example. I am enamored of color, and my  series "Dreams of Africa"  reflects my love of color. Another series explores the theme of wab- sabi, i.e., the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection; of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death and finding beauty therein.  This focus finds me working with a very limited, much quieter palette of browns, tans, grays, rusts, and muted greens. My special challenge with this series is to infuse a bit more color—and thus, more of my own style and personality--into my paintings while still respecting the constraints of the aesthetic principles that inhere in wabi-sabi.  My 2016 efforts include a series exploring the use of line in a more profound way and another called "Abstract Florals." 

Beyond Painting
A Photoshop junkie, of sorts, I often manipulate digital images of my paintings for use as collage materials, as well as for my silk scarf and note card designs. You will find some of my images on ceramic tiles as well. I also create holiday ornaments using my hand- painted rice papers and other, hand-made papers, acrylic mediums, glitter, and alcohol ink. In addition, I find great joy in creating unique jewelry designs -- color, texture, and composition also come into play here.  Art has become my life, my joy, my raison d’être.  I am blessed to be able to indulge myself in all the possibilities for creative expression that this existence has afforded me!