>> I’ll start by saying I’m no expert on art. I was the kid who sat in the back of your visual arts class with a particularly confused, glassy-eyed stare as he tried to understand the concepts being thrown at him. So when I signed up to go interview Jacquelyn O'Brien, local sculptor, I knew I was going a bit out of my comfort zone. However, that’s what art is often about, isn’t it? Challenging your ideas and seeing where that takes you. The art of Jacquelyn O'Brien is no stranger to that idea, rather, it embraces this idea and works to express it in many forms.
Starting with the basics, O’Brien is an artist and sculptor based out of Rochester, NY. Her art takes on a few themes, ranging from the relationships between materials to modern gender roles. “The work I’m making is exploring gender binaries based on societal affects and how we support and relate to them.” said O’Brien about her work “When I’m making [art], a lot of the time what I’m focusing on is the dichotomous relationship between men and women’s work”, stating her work focuses heavily on challenging the idea that some things are women’s work and some things are men’s work. Her work is uses sculpture to talk about these serious issues that exist in our world today, and express those abstract ideas in a tangible form.
Now, don’t go thinking that this is going to be all dead serious art. “What I’m trying to do is be funny,” O’Brien stated, “I think there’s a lot of place in art to be funny.” The idea, in many of her pieces, is to bring a touch of humor to an otherwise serious subject of gender identity and issues that exist. And this is, in my however uninformed opinion, important to the art world, which can come across as very serious and at times a bit closed off. This humor has the goal of stepping over those bounds and reaching out to whoever happens to see the art, rather than those with a formal education in the fine arts.
While I was speaking with her, O’Brien talked a bit about a piece called “Build Your Own”. This is an interactive piece where participants use a variety of colorful felt parts to build their own vagina. “When I made this piece, I was really focusing on the fact that talking about the female body, and discussing the vagina, is considered to be very taboo” said O’Brien “Oftentimes we’re told that’s gross, but we see dicks plastered over every fucking wall of every whatever, and that’s funny”. This piece relies on that mentioned humor because, come on, there’s something inherently entertaining about building something with brightly colored felt, to normalize this idea that women should not have to be ashamed of themselves or their bodies.
O’Brien’s work tends to be large, colorful, and made up of many materials that may not go together, “I’m trying to bring things like materiality, color, concept, texture, and scale”, she said, “I like it when textures are really juxtaposed….like fake grass and something like a plastic tube, when those textures juxtapose, I find it so interesting”. This comes across in her art, which is typified by this juxtaposition. Her pieces incorporate concrete, felt, pillows, wood, and much more, blending the hard and the soft in various ways that you may not think about.
The art and sculpture work of Jacquelyn O'Brien covers quite a bit of ground, from gender roles to the juxtaposition of materials in art. Understanding these concepts, and adding a bit of humor along the way to help solidify these concepts. The use of art to address social issues has been a long tradition, and the work of O’Brien is no exception to this ancient tradition. <<