Poems, letters, personal stories: paper artist Kelly O’Brien plays with fire

When Torpedo Factory artist Kelly O’Brien moved with her husband to Frankfurt, Germany, in 2011, she started fresh, with few contacts in the European art world—but two ambitious and beguiling projects demonstrate why her work is now in strong demand on both sides of the Atlantic.

Playing With Fire represents an experiment that arose from a set of simple problems. Concerns about transporting and installing large paper artwork prompted O’Brien to rethink her entire process, from the scale of her work right down to her use of basic natural elements. A French poem by Silvia Baron Supervielle tempted her to look past paper and ink, and beyond calm and deliberate simplicity, to find potential in a substance that would ordinarily terrify a paper artist. “Fire is a different story,” O’Brien says, recalling her entry into a realm of abstraction that was at once “dangerous, unpredictable, mesmerizing.”

OBrien’s second spring project, Love Letters from Germany, likewise combines personal concerns with larger social and literary forces. Fascinated by four letters Albert Camus wrote to a Nazi friend to explain why he was ending their friendship, O’Brien wrote four letters of her own about life as an American in Europe and turned them into a hat, a scarf, and mittens. “This work is a continuation of my use of wearable paper objects to explore memory, story, and personal experiences,” she explains. “Wrapping myself in this experience, I am trying on and wearing the expat life for now.”

As for her connection to home, O’Brien is quick to point out that social media and the Internet ensure that she feels connected to our community no matter where she happens to be.

“The Torpedo Factory is very important to me here in Germany on several levels,” she says. “Despite only being juried in for a year at the time we moved, it was really hard to leave what felt like my new ‘tribe.’ Even now, I still feel part of the community, despite the distance. Thanks to the Torpedo Factory, Printmakers, and Target Gallery, the support and opportunities were—and continue to be—abundant.”

Playing With Fire will be part of Papier et Poésie at the Red Door Gallery in Aix-en-Provence, France, in March 2013, and at the AMATERAS Foundation Paper Exhibition at Art Alley Gallery in Sofia, Bulgaria, in April and May. In March and April, Love Letters from Germany will be part of the Albert Camus artist book exhibition at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques d’Aix-en-Provence in France. O’Brien’s installation Hope Blossoms remains on display at the Huntington Mall in Barboursville, West Virginia, through May 2013.

See O’Brien’s work locally at the Torpedo Factory in Printmakers Inc. (studio 325), and follow her blog at TurningPointe Press.

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