Michael O'Brien creates sculptures that extol the virtues of looking at the world through an artist's lens.
It's said that the essence of innovation is improvement, to create something better and launch it in the world to elevate the human experience. In its purest sense, innovation is just that, an art form.
Through a series of sculptures based on the theme of water, San Antonio-based artist and entrepreneur Michael O'Brien demonstrates that the marriage of art and innovation guides us to evolve and become better versions of ourselves. In disruptive times like these, finding sparks to ignite joy and foster deeper thinking are important —O'Brien's art lets audiences collect the benefits of recognizing how far the spirit of innovation can take us.
Universal Themes Unite Us All
O'Brien's fascination with sculpting emerged at an age when most young people are learning to navigate adulthood.
"In 1995, I enrolled in the graphic design program at San Antonio College. One semester I needed to fulfill a fine art credit and signed up for sculpture 101," O'Brien said. "Our first assignment was simply to make something with wood, so I used the department's chainsaw to carve a wooden chainsaw. After that assignment, I was hooked, and my entire trajectory shifted to that of figuring out a way to be an artist."
Chatting with O'Brien, you gain the sense that his mastery of the craft is outpaced only by his enthusiasm for creating, "It's all I think about! I need to be in the studio every week or I become quite grumpy," O'Brien said.
When discussing his ongoing work, it's understood his creative endeavors are formed by the audience he strives to reach.
"I have a current body of work that is based on water: raindrops and ocean waves mainly. I'm trying to stay true to this theme because I love the universally understood images of water," O'Brien said. "Art can sometimes be intended for a strictly art-informed audience, but that exclusivity doesn't really bring me joy. People of all stripes can relate to water."
Innovation Knows No Boundaries
Tying innovation into his work is an essential facet of O'Brien's creations. As an artist, disparate thoughts or ideas often draw inspiration.
"I mostly sculpt. I find the problem-solving aspect gives me great satisfaction. For example, figuring out how to join dissimilar materials or how to make an object stand on its own."
O'Brien realized boundaries and the artist's mind couldn't coexist in the early days of his career.
"Early in developing this body of work, I had to find a technique and tools to help me convey the subject matter," O'Brien said. "I ended up making my own tools in order to create a convincing water texture in soft clay. Currently, I'm developing another set of tools to effectively create the same look in carved wood."
Most of O'Brien's work is housed in private collections, with clients as far as Saudi Arabia and Malaysia commissioning his work. The pandemic has seen an increase in commissions, and when the San Antonio artist isn't toiling in his studio, you'll find him working toward gaining broader exposure.
"I'm excited to be getting back into art festivals again, and booking shows for the spring and summer. Helotes Art Gallery is representing me too, and I'll be approaching more galleries around the country to show my work as well."
Advice for Future Innovators
As an entrepreneur pursuing his passion, O'Brien lends some insight to those looking to live out their dream in the arts.
"It's a long commitment. Most professional artists I know say things start to really come together around the ten-year mark, and I'd have to agree. You really have to be patient with it and ride it through the ups and downs in your life."