S.K. O’Brien

Tension in the Curve









There is an undeniable dynamic to bringing stress upon materials and then witnessing the response.

Working between action and observation, I explore the patterns revealed when systems of structure are pushed in different ways.

From porcelain, to felt, to bolts of plastic sheeting, I create a system of structure.  The starting form: a wheel-thrown vase, a felt sheet with repeated embroidery, strips of plastic interlaced with a basket weave—these are the starting points. The familiar. The known.

Challenging the expectations of these systems, I apply stressors. By pushing and pulling, squeezing and crushing, I begin to understand what is possible: how the system adapts, what the structure does. In these outcomes, there is beauty and unexpected order.

These understandings allow me to create new forms that highlight these characteristics. They reveal my perspective, providing insights and understanding into the potential of these materials and the forms they create.

What becomes apparent is how these systems adapt, how the lines of connections change. These capabilities are latent, yet require new actions to bring them forward.


Porcelain Vessel

Thrown on the wheel, the molecules stretched and compressed, pulled up, drawn into a symmetrical form, the walls are perfect and smooth, inherently strong.

But it is soft, unfired, vulnerable. When pushed, it gives in. New curves emerge, offering  evidence that it was once something else. Something has changed, something has happened. In this moment of direct capture, I have learned something more about the material.

The pure planes of porcelain, halted by a craggy web of lines.

Memorialized, emphasized.

The fractures show something beginning and ending.

The lines begin faintly, gaining confidence, branching off and multiplying along the precipice of a new plane and then they retreat until needed again.

The lines are evidence of a force that exerts itself on a material that, while graceful, offers a new pattern  formation.

It does not accept. It fights to stay as it was. That fight, that sheer will, creates a visual memory that explains what it once was.

It is a record of these experiences.

Smocked Industrial Felt

A structure emerges from a flat surface,

Brought together by repeated pinched joints.

It gathers pleats and stands at attention.

But it is fragile, even sensitive, in a singular way.

With an errant bump, it falls.

Every experience reverberates throughout.

Pushed and pulled into organic forms, they adapt with the forces imposed upon them.

Each push, pull, twist and lift, creates a new understanding of how to balance.

Box Weave

Two materials that live in such different places come together to create lines that weave together, absorbing and reflecting light.

Simultaneously concealing and obscuring, while also distorting, magnifying.

The simplest basket weave flipped again and again.

Convergence and Inversion.

The lines connected but not constrained.

A rectangular column created in curves.

Held together by undulations; stacked, curved, condensed and stretched, finding the way, persevering.

RISD Grad Show 2020