Alwyn O’Brien: Daughter
September 7 – October 14, 2017
Opening Reception: Thursday, Sept 7th, 6-8pm
James Harris Gallery is pleased to present our fourth exhibition by Canadian artist Alwyn O’Brien. Titled “Daughter,” this exhibition explores O’Brien’s interest in the origins of the earliest Neolithic ceramic forms created by matriarchal societies. It is believed that goddess worship was practiced by these Neolithic societies through the archeological discovery of prehistoric goddess figurines often made of clay or carved stone incised with symbols denoting water in its various forms, as well as imagery linking rain and streams with breast milk. Neolithic pottery and basketry began with the coiling of clay or reeds. Cyclic lines of patterns were often used to decorate these vessels. Pottery, baskets, and textiles traditionally created by women were used for farming and food cultivation. As farming marks the start of the Neolithic period and is considered responsible for advancing civilization, these crafts also signified women’s roles in shaping ancient society. Scholar Marija Gimbutas claimed “the existence of a prehistoric Goddess-oriented culture that existed for at least 25,000 years. This peaceful civilization seemingly practiced complete equal rights between the sexes–socially, politically, and spiritually.” O’Brien is using these themes as a starting point but her over the top baroque coiled ceramic sculptures are far from primitive. They emphasize the abundance of earthly pleasures. They are in a sense, personal idols reflecting a chaotic world.
Coiling has been an integral method in the construction of O’Brien’s ceramic forms. Now there is a more formal relationship to her coil line. In the past, O’Brien often used coil line to deconstruct 19th century porcelain vessels as a basis for her work. In this show, the vessel form has disappeared and the artist has created small and medium scale sculptures of densely rolled coils piled upon one another. The piled forms are a nod to the harvest; in which food, stalks of grain, etc. are gathered together. O’Brien’s piles are of made of earth, emphasizing the reference to the fecundity of Gaea and her earthly delights. O’Brien’s works are rooted in mythological idols but its earthly narratives have been abstracted. The sculptures become small elegies or monuments to forgotten fruits, soft pleasures of food and human touch. They express chaos even though they exist in stasis waiting for the collapse and renewal to begin again.
Alwyn O’Brien’s ceramic practice has taken her across Canada, studying at Capilano College, in Vancouver, Sheridan College of Ontario, the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design, and Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. She received her MFA in 2010 from the University of Washington in Seattle and her BFA from Emily Carr Institute. Her work is featured in the collections of the Seattle Art Museum, Boise Art Museum, the Surrey Art Gallery, and the Mackenzie Art Gallery.