William J. O’Brien works across many artistic mediums, themes, and styles, taking a free-form approach to artmaking that comes from a deep exploration of his materials. These sculptures, from a series called The Protectors, mark his foray into outdoor bronze sculpture. Using a lost wax process, O’Brien transformed solid bronze into figures with organic, ornamental tendrils and earthy textures. A practicing Buddhist, O’Brien was inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist deity Mahakala, often pictured with mouth agape and elaborately decorated backgrounds with repetitive depictions of flames.
The sculptures reflect O’Brien’s interior life in a public, outdoor space. They also bridge individual and communal responses to memorialization. While a public monument honors a specific historic event or person, O’Brien’s work suggests a personal response. With each figure taller than an average human, he hints at monumentality, yet the handmade touches ensure more intimate moments between viewer and artwork. O’Brien notes, “These works are about humanizing the monument, so that it offers more opportunities to find personal meaning and also healing. For me the creative process has always been about giving voice to a particular emotion or happening, so it feels like a very natural evolution to explore public works as an expression of identity.”
O’Brien earned a BA from Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL in 1997 and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL in 2005. His work is in the permanent collections of Pérez Art Museum, Miami, FL; Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, IL; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; and more. He has shown his work in exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, IL; the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Overland Park, KS; and the Renaissance Society, Chicago, IL, among others.