Magazine article Artforum International
William J. O'Brien: Shane Campbell Gallery
A lot of art materials are pretty icky, and it hardly requires a dedicated Freudian to note that, in their raw form, clay, paint, and glue are not without an excremental quality. The physical nature of artistic media, the mess of an artist's studio, and the feel of handling materials not fully transformed into something else are at the heart of William J. O'Brien's recent sculpture. O'Brien, like Robert Rauschenberg or, more recently, Nancy Rubins, Jessica Stockholder, and Jason Rhoades, has a light touch, making assemblages that seem at once tenuous and inevitable. O'Brien's aesthetic is one of grunge and glut, and the juxtapositions of yarn, paint, clay, wood, felt, found objects, carpet, and ink that coalesce in his sculptures tend to appear arbitrary at first and then--visually, at least--reconciled.
In O'Brien's recent show at Shane Campbell Gallery, seven sculptures were arranged in order of size in a row across the floor of the gallery. They stood like battered stelae, constructed from such low-tech materials and methods--and, in most cases, amateurish carpentry--that they offer a blue-collar fragility that becomes a touching tenderness. The smallest sculpture in this row of curiously heightened rubbish is Summer Break (all works 2007), a ball of stuff tied together with thick string, partly coated in a seemingly diffident slathering of light blue paint. …