We were lucky to catch up with Jane O’Hara recently and have shared our conversation below.
Jane, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today What’s been the most meaningful project you’ve worked on?
I am in the midst of a project called State of the Union with Nellie. This series of paintings will include the 50 states. In approaching my first painting of this series, Florida State of the Union, I’d become aware of bad treatment of animals which contradicted the sunny fun image promoted in that state. As I have in some of my previous work, I use the bubble as a metaphoric device to show the separate yet unequal lives of animals.
The duality posed by our complex relationship with animals is a theme in much of my work, and this series has become a way to approach the theme in a new way. I want to learn what it is about each state that is unique and enticing so in each painting the landscape filled with state animals, icons, symbols, and the kitschy postcard spelling of that state. In bubbles I depict things that happen to animals there, either behind the scenes or in plain sight, things that cause suffering for animals and damage to the environment.
My deceased cat Nellie has made her way into these paintings adding to the campy travelogue feel with a “Where’s Nellie?”, but also addressing the theme of disparate realities. Nellie casually observes, and while sometimes interested in what she sees, her main concern is to find a good place to sleep. This echoes my recurring thought that animals just want to be left alone to live their lives.
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers.
Art became a passion early on, and I attended Boston University’s School of Fine Arts majoring in painting. After years of my O’Hara Arts business of mural painting and specialty finishes I shifted my energy to my studio practice and curatorial projects with a focus on issues relating to animals’ experiences in society. I had a pivotal moment when I viewed the Byzantium exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Struck that the saints had sacrificed their lives to God, I was inspired to create Sacrifice, a five foot tall screen , presenting an array of images of animals and the sacrifices they make. This began my artwork for animals in earnest. With several solo exhibitions at galleries and select group exhibitions I also am curator of the two time Beasts of Burden group exhibition in Boston and NYC (and author of its gallery book), and co-curator of the virtual Fifth Trust exhibition for Compassion Arts Festival 2021. I received the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience Award for my artwork for animals, was a recipient of a Culture and Animals Foundation Grant and completed a RARE AIR Artist-in-Residence in Alamosa, CO.
What do you think is the goal or mission that drives your creative journey?
Exposure is probably the biggest challenge to me. My paintings and exhibitions trust in the power of the visual arts to give voice to the voiceless. While social media is a good way to share my work and upcoming shows, the best way to see my paintings is in the gallery and museum setting, or in a book. I hope to open hearts and eyes, to amuse, to challenge, and I hope people are inspired to support my artwork so I can keep doing it. I show new work at the William Scott Gallery in Provincetown MA. where I have been for many years. The State of the Union With Nellie series will exhibit at the New Bedford Art Museum, MA in 2023. From there I plan to find other venues to travel this exhibition. I am working on a proposal now for a book of this work which would be another way to have exposure for this series.
What’s the most rewarding aspect of being a creative in your experience?
The most rewarding aspect of being an artist is the ability to be a channel for ideas and to express them on the canvas. The act of painting seems to increase that ability. The subject that I love to paint is animals, to speak for those that cannot speak for themselves. The rewarding aspect of flowing creativity is the sharing of the work and knowing I’ve reached someone with it, that they have been moved. It is extremely rewarding to see that I have made visible some invisible animals or brought the joy of animals to light. I’ll add that it is very nice to be asked for this interview and given the opportunity to share my world! about my work!