Wading on the Rooftop
About the Artist
The art of working with glass is a synthesis of our bodies and an ever changing reflection of the human condition. Amber O’Brien moves around the “Hot Shop” with purpose, breathing life into molten substance.
O’Brien explained the inspiration that initially sparked the journey to arrive at the current state of her project. “Open blinds on a sunny day,” is an often overlooked element in our surroundings. O’Brien sees these shadows everywhere, behaving as freely as the glass that she manipulates.
“When I first came up with this idea, I was looking through old photographs from the 1960’s, and there’s this photographer Lucien Clergue,” O’Brien explained. “He’s a French photographer that took nude photos of women in the blinds, in the shadows from the blinds.”
Clergue’s images revealed a new lens that she was able to peer through, everywhere she went. She elaborated on the photographs and this new discovery, and how, “the lines would dance over the figure. And then I started seeing shadows dance over things. All of the time . . . And then I wanted to make the shadows real.”
“The blinds create these horizontal shadows that are straight lines, but when they hit something that exists, it shapes to that form.” O’Brien said. “If something’s not real, it goes right through it, like the atmosphere, the air, dust particles, empty space. But if something’s there, a person, the shadows will form to them. They’ll unstraighten themselves to show that this person exists.”
O’Brien spoke of the fundamental lesson of being able to accept failure and move on is taught through glass work, by saying that, “glass takes patience. You have to be able to wait for the glass to get hot, and wait for it to get cold again. And if it breaks you have to be patient with yourself, and try again.”
“My work tries to draw a parallel between the material and human nature.” O’Brien continued. “When glass gets hot, you can work with it, and it moves, and it’s easy going when it’s warm. When it’s cold, it’s sharp and brittle and fragile. When you contextualize that into human emotions or the human psyche, it’s really easy to draw that comparison.”
In many ways, O’Brien’s work becomes a reflection of ourselves, coaxing us into thinking about our own characters and behaviors. She spoke about a Chinese-Buddhist folklore of the ‘hungry ghosts’ that drive our innermost desires. The hungry ghosts are the souls of people who died as a result of undesirable acts or vices. These ghosts are said to linger and feed off of the living.
O’Brien makes a connection to the hungry ghosts, the theme of her exhibition work, saying that, “the hungry ghosts linger and try and feed off the living, in kind of a way where these addictions inside of us lurk and take things from us. Every time our cell phone ‘bings’ we lose our attention, and the hungry ghost takes from us.”
She is also trying to demonstrate the unseen desires and emotions that drive us to do things that define who we are.
“What the figure [of the body slump] is, it’s sort of like that hungry ghost,” O’Brien continued. “It’s there but it’s not there. There’s going to be vessels underneath her that can hold things, but, she can’t hold something because she’s just this empty shell.”
After four years of working with glass, she credited the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s art program, saying that, “the opportunity to grow as an artist at U.H. is far greater than any other university I’ve been to or worked at.”
There is no ‘one-liner’ that sums up O’Brien’s installation. Behind the project is a cohesive web of thoughts and ideas, that have led her to further explore her craft and her surroundings.
Glass’ uncontrollable nature forces artists to work in collaboration with the medium, reflecting the artist's’ self in the art. Placing viewers into the realm of her own thoughts and inspirations, Amber O’Brien has created an culmination of mystery and discovery that we can all look forward to in this year’s upcoming exhibition.