Pictured, from left (all 2019):
Materials: Collage with wood, acrylic paint on paper, found objects - 23 x 15 ½”, 24 ½ x 23”, and 20 x 21 ½ ”
Location at Summa Health: Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, second floor hallway, outside patient rooms H2-310 and H2-311.
A pileated woodpecker, a blue jay, and a Carolina wren gather on a second-floor wall in Summa’s new patient tower: These are low-relief, mixed-media sculptures created by Cleveland artist Lynn O’Brien in a painstaking technique of collage, painting and building. O’Brien has painted birds as her subjects off and on since high school but several years ago began to experiment by creating three-dimensional works that involve painting in a different way. She has found that birds offer familiar but intriguing organic forms within which to explore pattern, texture, and personal iconography.
For these works, O’Brien begins by cutting and shaping paper on which she has painted repeated figures and colors, as well as collaged bits such as stamps (Picture 1 below). Sometimes she re-uses transparent paper from Japanese printed books (Picture 2 below) and then writes over it further (with Prismacolor pencils) thoughts that she finds meaningful in the moment. These shapes are then layered and glued, often in many thicknesses, onto wooden cutouts in the characteristic bird shape of her subject, keeping in mind those features – form, behavior, color -- unique to each species. In this way, the many layers of feathers (Picture 3 below) that keep a bird warm and give it its distinctive features also give O’Brien artistic license to layer on other visual information. Often, large areas of the painted paper are obscured by overlying layers, though she believes that even the unseen parts contribute to the overall sense of the creature.
The general pose and form of each bird also capture its distinguishing traits, such as the blue jay’s open beak (Picture 4 below), which we can imagine emitting its noisy calls, or the sprightly angle of the wren’s tail as it balances. O’Brien often omits feet, leaving us to understand the birds to be perching. In some cases, however, such as the pileated woodpecker (Picture 5 below), she has added found objects to create a sense of whimsy as well as to characterize the bird itself. And if you get up very close to any of these birds and look at their edges, you will observe that the sense that they “fly” in real space comes from their being mounted on back frames that raise them an inch or so off the wall. Instead of just leaving these frames raw, since they are part of the support system and not easily seen, the artist has instead layered and painted them in the same manner, with the same dense textures and layered color found on their outer surfaces. As an observer, you come to realize that there is more going on here than first meets the eye.
O’Brien’s Aviary series aims to include other familiar subjects such as the junco, the house finch, and the grosbeaks, as well as owls and herons native to our part of the world and perhaps even larger installations of flying flocks. These first constructions in that series were selected for the Summa Collection for their inherent humor and unique approach to a familiar subject, bird-watching.
O’Brien has been making and exhibiting her work since studying art as an undergraduate at Pima Community College and the University of Arizona in Tucson. After completing a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, she found that careers open to her left little time for making art and so went on to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing. Since then, she has worked as an operating room nurse, one member of a team functioning under critical and often highly stressful conditions; she came to Cleveland in 2000. Today she alternates hospital days with studio days, the transition between them requiring considerable discipline. Nonetheless, O’Brien finds the studio’s time-intensive research and experimentation, as well as its solo creativity, complement the collaborative and professional demands of her day job in a satisfying and sustainable way.
Where you can see more of this artist’s work:
Lynn O’Brien [insert portrait] has exhibited her paintings widely in group exhibitions around the country -- Arizona, California, New Mexico, New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania -- as well as in Great Britain. Her work may be seen in the Tucson International Airport and at the School of Business at the University of Arizona, in Tucson, as well as at the Boyer House Foundation in San Rafael, California and the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes. O’Brien has lived and worked in the Cleveland area since 2000 and has exhibited in many other venues in northeastern Ohio since then.