By Mary O’KEEFE
At first view you see the sun streaking through the clouds – not like a traditional “God shot” where the sun pierces through the clouds to the Earth below but as if the light is coming from the clouds, a light within. The art doesn’t seem to end at the wall but pulls you through, and this is what the artist was inspired to create.
“That’s really important to me and what I want to do,” said artist Kean O’Brien. “There is an expansiveness to what you are seeing. There is this endless [feeling].”
O’Brien was speaking about his work In Finite Space that is now exhibited at the City of West Hollywood’s Aquatic and Recreation Center (ARC) at West Hollywood Park through December 2023.
“In Finite Space” was the last installation of a two-part exhibit, which includes two 5’ by 7’ cyanotypes and gold leafed, hand drawn text. The first of the exhibit was hand-drawn text work on paper titled, “I use_____ pronouns.”
O’Brien had worked with West Hollywood in the past.
“I met John D’Amico, a former councilman here in West Hollywood, in 2010 when he saw some of my work in my studio in CalArts [California institute of the Arts],” O’Brien said.
D’Amico hired O’Brien to create a mural in his office that was titled “I Use Male Pronouns.”
“That wasn’t something we were talking about a lot then,” O’Brien said. “Then in 2012 I was given a grant by the City of West Hollywood to put on a show called ‘Transient.’”
That show included two mobile trucks that O’Brien turned into galleries, traveling throughout Los Angeles. The show highlighted mostly transgender artists.
“Then in 2022 John reached out to me and said, ‘It has been 10 years since you did the mural for me in my office. We would like you to do it again,’” O’Brien said.
He added he used blank pronouns this time because he wanted people to insert into the conversation their own pronouns.
O’Brien has been focusing for a long time on being transgender and thinking about the oppressiveness of the state of the world.
“I really wanted to make my work about liberation. I want to make work about what it means to [live in an] utopic liberatory future where everybody thrives,” he said.
O’Brien works in a variety of mediums in In Finite Space including cyanotypes and acrylic paint. Cyanotypes are one of the oldest photographic printing processes. The feature of the print is its shade of cyan blue, which results from its exposure to ultraviolet light.
“It really started because of COVID, when I didn’t have access to things I would usually use for photography, so these cyanotypes I could make outside,” he said.
O’Brien ended up creating them inside his Chicago home studio. He began with small cloud images that he printed out with negatives on a transparency piece of paper on a printer.
“I would put them down and thought, ‘These are really cool,’ and it became making them larger and larger. I see them as liberation and sort of like asking us to see what it would look like if we were all free,” he said.
The cyanotypes are on fabric. Fellow artist Andre Keichian created the frame for the art.
O’Brien (he/they) is a transgender, chronically ill, disabled artist who lives between Chicago and Los Angeles. They hold an MFA from CalArts, a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and is currently a doctoral candidate at Fielding Graduate University for Education Leadership in social change. They have exhibited and lectured about their work at several locations across the U.S. and internationally.
For more information, visit www.keanobrien.com.