O’Connell’s exhibit inspired by her observations during travels

Fine Arts Campus & Community

November 4, 2021

By Ashley Marek ’21

Kathleen O’Connell’s upcoming art exhibition is inspired by the observations and conversations she has had during her past travels, making it a must see for those wanting to remember a world before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Word for Word” will be on display Nov. 9 through Jan. 7, 2022 at the Gorecki Gallery at the College of Saint Benedict. The exhibit is part of the Visual Arts Series at CSB and Saint John’s University.

There will be a virtual artist talk by O’Connell at 6 p.m. Dec. 2. A link to her talk will be available at a later date.

The exhibit features texts collected from messages, conversations, books, news articles and translations that were misunderstood or reinterpreted.

O’Connell discussed how she goes about creating her work that is known for implementing rich colors, patterns, text and forms with attention to detail.

“I spend a lot of time thinking about the text that’s going to go into this work,” she said, “It’s one of those things where I’ll write some things and then I’ll let them kind of float around in my mind for a long time and then some of the less important versions of those things go away. The ones that stay are usually the ones that I use for the work, or slightly edit, to get into the work to make it look graphically correct.

“I think about it more in finding patterns and finding nuance in things and comparing things in what I’ve seen happen either here or there in my life before or since, then I reflect on all those previous experiences,” she said.

O’Connell talked about meditation and ritual in regard to her daily practice of art making.

“It started as this daily practice, where I really just put everything outside of myself in the background and I just started making for my own sake - making as a way to have my morning coffee and do some lettering is really what it turned into and it was the ritual that I did every day,” she said.

Her work includes colorful pieces that are letter-pressed based and others that are created through ink jet printing.

“There’s some work that’s created entirely digitally and there’s some work that’s going to be hand lettering/drawing work, but it’s all work on paper. I love paper and the thing that kind of ties all the work together, besides the words and the text and that sort of thing, is they all involve a lot of patterns and colorful elements,” she said.

O’Connell received her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she met CSB/SJU Associate Professor of Art Rachel Melis. 

“I have admired her vibrant personality and work since the moment I met her in graduate school. She draws people in with her playful colors and words, which reveal carefully practiced combinations of visual and verbal patterns. More recently, I have marveled at the hand lettered work she shares on social media. Each piece conveys wit, humor, and empathy for the human experience. Her work links today’s design trends and memes to historical typography and subtle, multi-layered meanings,” Melis said.

O’Connell mentioned she gained inspiration for her mental state as a traveler from Italo Calvino’s “Invisible Cities” and specifically, his character Marco Polo, who was a traveler in a place where he didn’t speak the language but relied on gestures, intonation and repetition. Unlike Polo, O’Connell found her mental state as a traveler through listening to stories and voices of mothers, aunts, grandmothers, children and lovers. She gathered experiences and histories of the local people to where she traveled.

“I feel like that mental state is of heightened observations and I always try to think about what’s the difference between myself here, say in my day-to-day life, versus that state of being in traveling,” O’Connell said.

Not being able to travel hasn’t affected her work.

“I think a lot of my work is about traveling, but as much as it’s about traveling it doesn’t always require travel because I’ve done enough traveling to stock up on information for a long time. In that way, I don’t think COVID affected the work,” she said.

For those who have missed being able to travel due to COVID restrictions, O’Connell’s exhibit is a great way to get your travel fix - no plane required.

The Gorecki Gallery at the Benedicta Arts Center, CSB, is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (FAE available from 5-9 p.m. Wednesday). The gallery is closed Sunday and Monday. Guests will be expected to comply with campus-wide policies to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, including wearing masks and being mindful of social distancing.

This activity is made possible in part by the voters of Minnesota through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

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Kathleen O’Connell

Kathleen O’Connell

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