Modern yet primitive, unique and one-of-a-kind, it’s hard to miss William J. O’Brien’s Reliquary art exhibit when walking through the front doors of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art.
Viewable from State Street, the concealed tent of intricate brushstrokes holds a wide array of sculptures emanating a personal touch of a man whose personality glows within his works, and can only question what inspired him to create such unique works.
Immediately greeted by his canvases, they lead to the main room, where closing in on the tent sends bursts of adrenaline through your veins, and upon entering — hoping to find the answers being sought after.
A statue waits for an arrival, guarding the tent. Viewed closely, the glittering paint holds attention, and it serves as an introduction to the highly anticipated experience we’ve all been waiting to feel.
Meant to serve as an everlasting spiritual world, the delicacy of each artwork draws upon O’Brien’s elaborate personality, as each brushstroke on the tent has a purpose ingrained down to the most finite detail. His ideas come alive with the canvases surrounding the tent, replicating the designs of the sculptures onto a two-dimensional space, and the exquisite details leave museum-goers wondering how long such a complex exhibit must take to make.
Entering the mysterious tent makes it difficult to focus on only one piece of work, as every one of them bursts with aberrant skill — yet concurrently, each sculpture draws eyes into a world of wonder and creates a disconnect from reality. Silence overtakes the room, and even to try and disturb the peace feels offensive to the talent speaking throughout the exhibit.
In the magnificent world O’Brien’s exhibit has created, each sculpture holds its own story. While one may be transferred to a mystical world of wondrous color, another one may allow reflections on past life’s experiences. Bursting with creativity, a single sculpture is connected to the other. After exiting the tent, looking back becomes imperative, just in case an important detail had yet to be found in the crevasses of the work.
While the black and white detailed tent holds his intricate sculptures, painted with eyes watching for any movement, the artwork hung on the walls surrounding the area compose a visually stimulating experience when viewed up close. Fabric is sewn onto the canvas, and the picture he creates has an ebb and flow leading to wandering eyes across every inch of the work.
At first, each piece of fabric may seem randomly placed, but when further investigated and having prior experience with his sculptures, you can only imagine how and why each fabric is placed accordingly.
O’Brien’s energy radiates throughout the exhibit. A rush of warm and cool air follows the colors of the artwork even though the air is still. Brushstrokes echoing in the room as if he’s there, painting and sculpting beauty into an empty space.
Not limited to the small room, O’Brien’s artwork is displayed across the museum floor, even upon leaving. More canvases, more sculptures — but this time, the statues of what seem like guardians of an unknown treasure. Placed at the pointed end of the museum, the statues gaze upon pedestrians, watching the passersby go about their busy lives.
Though not everyone will stop to appreciate the work displayed in the window, there will be an occasional wanderer whose eyes will catch the statues, and draw them into the museum, immersing themselves into his extravagant world.
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A picture is worth a thousand words, but the artwork displayed in the exhibit has more than a million. An ineffable experience, words hold only a temporary definition to the everlasting spiritual world he has created. Available until Nov. 11, even finding five minutes to pass through the exhibit will leave a divine presence after viewing. Even now, I can still feel the power of the artwork, and it overtakes me. I can only wonder what his next chapter holds.
Experiencing O’Brien’s work will leave an everlasting impression, and that is essentially the point. His work truly is one-of-a-kind, and it could inspire someone to delve into their own artistic endeavor. Impressive, complex and mysterious, O’Brien’s exhibit is one not to miss.