An art installation in a gallery.

Paul O’Keeffe

Artist in Residence, 2019

A portrait of a person against a light background.

Artist Statement

My practice spans across sculpture and installation to explore prosaic objects laden with personal histories. Common objects are often taken as points of departure, such as book cover designs, wallpaper and furniture from my childhood and youth in Ireland, the punk music I encountered while in art school and other, often mundane yet enigmatic items I encounter in daily life. In some ways my work can be understood as oblique portraits of my family and surroundings, returning to the everyday objects and design magazines found in my father’s small advertising agency in Dublin, or the objects precious to my mother who moved to Ireland from Sri Lanka as a teenager, or my current preoccupation with a rural Ohio location where my teenage son died some years ago. I approach these objects and cultural memories abstractly, so the source material often becomes oblique in the final pieces. While I am interested in the source material’s implications in terms of my own history, and for its affective dimensions, I strive to make work that is not dependent on a viewer recognizing my sometimes obscure sources. Frequently, it was the strangely compelling ‘otherness’ of first experience with objects and images I did not immediately understand that captivated me. Ultimately, the viewer’s emotional, psychological and aesthetic experience of these sculptures, as objects, is what interests me.

While at Headlands

I plan to focus on drawing in an exploratory way. Drawing has been a neglected aspect of my practice for several years as I have focused on sculptural activities. Over the past decade, I have developed a measured studio routine where I am surrounded by materials and equipment that enable my particular labor-intensive approach to object making. Frequently, a long time is required to complete work because of prior decisions to employ techniques such as metal casting, CNC machinery, outside specialty shops and a high paint finish. While I’ve been generally happy with the results, I’ve never been entirely satisfied with these often repetitive and time consuming labor processes as they sometimes lead me to feel disconnected from my work and ideas. I sense an extended period of time drawing at Headlands will help me upend these habits, allowing for more spontaneity in my approach.