Chicago-based artist William J. O'Brien's idiosyncratic and exuberant forms are born out of an improvised and intuitive studio practice. Inspired by Modernism, as well as the history of material experimentation characteristic of Outsider Art, O'Brien's multidisciplinary practice includes drawing, painting, sculpture, and ceramics. His beautifully textured ceramic objects--part vessel, part body, and part abstract form--are arranged in tabletop installations. His elaborately patterned felt works and colored pencil drawings marry gestural marks with loosely repeated structures. Vibrant shapes, aggressive loops and marks create a palpable tension between order and chaos.
An immersive installation, William J. O'Brien: Reliquary showcases the artist's wide range of material experimentation and reflects his continued interest in challenging the traditional boundaries separating fine art from functional craft. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a tent made from muslin and covered with O'Brien's expressive ink drawings. As suggested by the exhibition's title, this structure is the artist's contemporary version of a reliquary, a container for holy relics. The work includes two life-size ceramic totems that guard the tent's main entrance. Inside, a pedestal displays heavily textured bronze vessels and glazed ceramic sculptures. As a whole, Reliquary translates notions of the spiritual and the secular into a contemporary art context by questioning the preciousness-or sacredness-of the art object.
Generous funding for William J. O'Brien: Reliquary has been provided by the Steinhauer Charitable Trust; Ellen Rosner and Paul J. Reckwerdt; Husch Blackwell LLP; Gina and Michael Carter; John Rallis and Mary Lynn Bergman-Rallis; Mark and Judy Bednar; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers.