Father series:

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men make quilts / women make sculpture

Cynthia O’Brien and Robert Pauly at General Fine Craft, May 8 – June 17 2018


The medium of choice for Cynthia O’Brien is clay. She studied ceramics at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax and the University of Colorado, Boulder. Since that time, she has furthered her artistic development through residencies in Canada, U.S.A., France and Australia. Cynthia has consistently pushed the boundaries between art and craft, creating functional, non-functional and sculptural objects over 30+ years. She has also explored clay’s more ephemeral qualities through art installations and live performance pieces.

Wet clay is receptive to the touch, creating a direct connection between maker and material. This is an essential quality for O’Brien because much of her work derives from emotions and memories of personal relationships.

This exhibition features three series of sculptural forms made in recent years. All are slab-built using black stoneware clay, often complicated constructions requiring great skill to make. Sculpturally they are dynamic, like expanding universes frozen in time.

To O’Brien, the Father series represents the roots of the family tree growing out of her father’s coffin, reaching outwards and nourishing the living family. It can also be seen as a constricting box from which we have to break free and, as she says, “create our own structure from our past, our actions, our love.”

The Bertha series are also of black clay, based on the iconic smiley-face shape. The term Bertha refers to fur or lace collars that were fashionable in Victorian womens’ clothing. It also means bright one in Old High German. O’Brien feels these are “good omens for future happiness.”

The Ikebana Blooms series are simplified from the Bertha Series and are used for the Japanese art of flower arrangement. As O’Brien notes, they have a “quiet strength of form, volume and line to set off the complexity of Ohara School presentation techniques”.

“These sculptures are all about the interior space, the energy within – integral, yet unseen. Each clay slab that is added builds an exterior shell that moves the viewer’s eye or hand around a piece. Following the exterior will help to discern the space within. It is this interior space that I’m creating; a sacred place holding that which wants to be hidden in the curves of the clay.”   – C. O’Brien



wall flower series:

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Cynthia O’Brien has a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the University of Colorado. Now living in Ottawa, she is an active member of the arts community and recognized through Creation Grants and the Mid-Career Artist Award from the Council of the Arts, Ottawa. After participating in residencies in France, Australia and the United States, she created the first Artist in Residence at Blink Gallery in Ottawa.

O’Brien works with clay because of the relationship that has been created over years of studio practice. Touch is all that is needed to communicate what action is to be done next. Clay being one of her oldest relationships, O’Brien is grounded in the studio when working on emotional subject matters such as death, memory loss, love and relationships.

O’Brien’s work can be found in the collections of the Canada Council Art Bank, City of Ottawa and private collections in Canada, France and Australia.




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from down under

solo exhibition at General Fine Craft, Art & Design   April 2-25, 2015

Join us for the opening and meet the artist on Saturday April 11 from 2-4pm

This work is based on an installation I created at the Tank Art Centre within the Flecker Botanical Gardens in Cairns, Australia. I spent a month being taught by nature to see a plant from all angles, lights and moods. My hands learned to move the clay to bring out the strength and delicacy of each plant.

Australia has a very tough policy that noting is brought in or taken from their fragile environment. I abided by these rules. What struck me later in February, as I sat in my cold Ottawa basement studio, is that I did collect a good deal of their plants through the physical memory in my hands. Working again on these plants gave me great joy and I could feel a great lightness and warmth of the lush foreign garden I learned so much from.

The flowers I created in Australia are gone, dissolved in water back to the natural state of clay. I cannot assume to replicate nature; the flowers I make now are a mix of reality and fiction. They all have many stories within the garden and in the minds of who view them. My story tells of beauty, sadness, adventure and new growth.

The flowers float around the space, grounded only by the weathered fence boards creating a new garden, a space for reflection. I invite the viewer to come and contemplate the simple beauty of the world around them.