Chicago-based multimedia artist William O’Brien’s newest exhibit at the Renaissance Society examines the origins of creativity through the use of ceramic, metal, wood, and other materials.
Multimedia works, mainly ceramic, are arranged in such a way that when you walk in, each piece reminds you of a child begging for attention. Formed in the shape of a “T” and filled to the edges with O’Brien’s pieces, the exhibit falsely conjures familiar memories of craft shows at local organizations or schools.
O’Brien is a multi-disciplinary artist, working in everything from ceramics to tapestries. It’s as if O’Brien can’t keep up with his conscious and subconscious thoughts, and, in order to process them, turns them into works of art through a cathartic process. Each piece is a manifestation of subliminal thoughts and memories pulled to reality and made physical. Inside the gallery of the Renaissance Society, O’Brien’s Freudian states are turned inside out.
While the exhibit may seem to be just a chaotic set up of O’Brien’s works, the pieces on display try to achieve a balance. Masks, vases, and distorted forms are scattered throughout the display, while similar works in each section unite the exhibit and pull the viewer from one end to the other. O’Brien’s unconscious must skip and hop around itself, trying to find a connection from one thought to another.
The works comment on maternal forms, sexuality, and structures of information and understanding, showing an authentic relationship between art and life. O’Brien is working to show not only an artistic signature (though it is certain he has one), but to present proof of an origin of creativity. The exhibit asks many questions it doesn’t necessarily answer, like “Where do ideas come from?” and “How do they manifest and become products, regardless of their aesthetic value?”
Meaning is found in repetition in this exhibit. Associate Curator and Director of Education for the Renaissance Society, Hamza Walker, points out in the exhibit’s accompanying essay that repetition is the process by which repressed memories achieve representation. O’Brien’s works display a wide variety of scale and texture; some are large, bulbous, and wrapped in string, while others are smaller and more self-contained. What is interesting about the works is that each piece is covered in impressions, lines, and incisions underneath twine, wood, paint or plaster. The exhibit’s lack of impulse, as noted by Walker, can be seen very clearly.
O’Brien makes no attempt to hold back from creation, subverting each material from its original use in a chaotic and exuberant manner. Carpet is wrapped around ceramic forms and then tied with pink string after being covered in plaster and glitter, while other ceramic works twist and turn upwards and back into themselves.
A collage of narrative, accidents, hypotheses, and propositions, O’Brien’s works hover somewhere between chaos and control. The distorted, odd, and abstract creations of William O’Brien seek balance and understanding of the unconscious, if only through the act of creation and display.