Erin McDonald, Artist Interview #2, November 23, 2013

A Chat with Kathleen O’Brien

Erin McDonald: Hi Kathleen, thank you for taking the time to meet with me. You live in a really beautiful part of Kentucky and I enjoyed getting to see your home and studio. To start off the interview I thought maybe we could talk about your childhood and what it was like growing up.

Kathleen O’Brien: Certainly. I was born in Yokasuka, Japan in 1948 into a loving and artistic family. As a child I was lulled to sleep by my father’s piano. My mother’s joy was sewing things for me and also my doll’s clothes. I watched my grandfather paint and was allowed to paint my first oil painting at age 12 under his watchful supervision. I was always coloring, drawing. As a service family we lived in many places around the world – Italy, Germany, Austria, Florida and more. This lifestyle expanded my awareness of aesthetics.

McDonald: It sounds like your grandfather was pretty instrumental to you as an artist- would you mind talking a bit more about that?

O’Brien: Well, my grandfather was a painter and he was actually my first teacher. I had to wait until I was 12 because of the toxicity of the materials. But he was really my hero, and I really looked up to him and so he taught me the rudiments. And then I just kept working at it.

McDonald: I know you said you were in Japan, and you’ve mentioned a few other places, how did those places really impact your work? *See also Artist Timeline at end of paper

O’Brien: Definitely. The scripts you see in the paintings around you are referring to an invented language. They are marks that appear in all my works I do. They are marks that I intend for it to be a language, but one that the viewer can bring their own meaning to. On a deeper level what it represents to me is communication, because actually, when we were talking about inspirations, that really is probably my biggest value. It’s communication. So I use those scripts to represent that. But I lived in Italy also and I really think that had a big influence. A really big influence on my aesthetic. You know, I have this aesthetic in my life. I like everything to be beautiful and I like to have beauty around me. And then just a certain – integrated lifestyle. I mean, that’s – my real art is my life. Because I make pictures, but I also want to integrate that with really good living. And for me that means growing food, cooking food, and having people around to enjoy it. You know, people around to enjoy the art and all of that. So I’m always trying to think of events where I can combine all of those things. And I’m sure I picked that up from Italy (laughs). It’s like, yeah let’s just sit around and talk about art, look at art and have really good food! Another thing was the music. My father was a pianist and I heard that every night. Especially when I was a young artist. I did a lot of portraits of musicians. But I also think that came from Italy. Because music was everywhere and my parents – remember those huge transparent red vinyl records – but my father had all these records. My father was always playing these. We were always listening to operas, arias, concertos and it was just something that was always prevalent. Even today- I’m listening to different things but it’s still a strong driving force.

McDonald: Can you talk a little bit about your studio or the places you reside in to work and how that affects your process?

O’Brien: I built my house, and I was able to design my own space which is based on the Golden Rectangle, a theme that is also relevant in my work. My studio space consists of Northern windows for bright non-direct light, fail safe storage systems and everything is movable. I am able to put things away easily and quickly to change tasks, like move the taboret and set up watercolors, shelves for pencils, etc., clear a space for framing, find materials for shipping. The things that are necessary to have in my studio are a Big flat table, sitting level, workbench tops, standing level, drafting table, metal sheet and magnets for collage, all my supplies, flat storage for paper, storage systems for botanicals and papers, inspirational things, white walls, windows, Epson printer, computers, phone.

McDonald: Thank you again so much for letting me interview you. It really has been a pleasure.

O’Brien: You’re welcome. Thank you for the interview!

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