Smith Gallery gets political


O’Brien’s work examines the damands put on appearance in professional settings. Photo by Sydney Hamamoto

Mithila Iyer

Politics and commercialism go hand in hand in “Not for Sale,” the art show by Rosie O’Brien ’16 currently on display in the Smith Gallery. A majority of the pieces display and explain anti-capitalistic, leftist ideals.

“The commonalities in human emotion and interpretation between us and the translation that happens from there can be used to unite us in a common cause to resist unjust systems. That’s kind of the angle I’m going from,” O’Brien said. “I don’t want to sell out to ‘The Man’ and sit in an office job for the rest of my life. I’m always going to be doing several different things, and that’s why my show is so eclectic.”

O’Brien’s work examines the damands put on appearance in professional settings. Photo by Sydney Hamamoto
O’Brien’s work examines the damands put on appearance in professional settings. Photo by Sydney Hamamoto

Initially calling her show “Sold,” O’Brien had planned to conduct a mock auction, selling her pieces to bidders at high prices and having business meetings with financial programs. She decided to change the name, however, and the broader concept as well, choosing to highlight struggle in the art world rather than satirizing commercialization.

“I’m calling it ‘Not For Sale’ because I don’t consider my work for sale. I don’t ever want to be selling my time and my energy to someone. I’m struggling to locate myself in the world of commercial art. For example, gallerists, artists, graphic designers are just pawns in the art world now, they’re not the most focal part of it. I see this as a problem. I’m trying to let the Grinnell community know that I struggle with this and it’s okay if they do, too,” O’Brien said.

As O’Brien’s work is based in political ideas, her creation process involves extensive thinking in addition to her physical work with materials. She spends significant time on her art and works with different media to best fit the different messages.

“I’m very detail-oriented and painting is a long process. It’s the ‘classic’ art. I do a lot of film editing of raw footage which requires great discretion, and collages as well, which can be very time consuming,” O’Brien said.

When it comes to the matter of choosing topics or subjects for her digital and photography projects, O’Brien has focused on the idea of professionalism and respectability politics for this show and how one has to be formally attired in a particular manner for different situations such as a job interview or a formal presentation.

“The fact that someone has to go to an interview wearing a suit and a tie, looking extremely professional is kind of frustrating to me. There are still different levels of combing your hair, and putting on certain amounts of makeup depending on who you’re talking to. I just think that it’s not good or bad, but strange. We just have to deal with it a lot of times. This was something that was weighing on my mind for this show,” O’Brien said.

When choosing a subject for her paintings, O’Brien favors the idea of self-portraiture because of the interesting transition from reality to art and working with a static image that has several interpretations.

Art-making is not just within a syllabus for O’Brien, who explores it outside of the classroom as well and finds there is no singular approach to it.

“Art-making winds its way into a lot of parts of my life, and I don’t just do it in the confines of the classes here at Grinnell —I definitely try to make art in lots of different ways. At some point in art making, you just have to fixate on an idea and go wherever it will take you,” O’Brien said.