Award Winning Artist, Kelly O’Connor Brings Multifaceted Woman to the McNay

Award Winning Artist, Kelly O’Connor Brings Multifaceted Woman to the McNay

The McNay Art Museum has unveiled the latest work of 2019 San Antonio Fashion Awards: Fashion Artist of the Year, located in the AT&T Lobby as you walk in the front entrance. Multifaceted Woman welcomes visitors into a fanciful façade of wonder as the ninth monumental installation in the Museum’s AT&T Lobby. Inspired by the It’s a Small World ride at Disneyland, the candy-colored collage features iconic movie characters, including Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Veruca Salt from Willie Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. Beyond the fantastical imagery, O’Connor’s work pulls back the curtain on the idyllic, artificial stereotypes that have been presented in popular culture for decades. We sat down with Kelly to get to know her more in-depth and the inspiration behind this fairy-tale piece.


Kelly O’Connor at McNay. Photo credits: Chris Cantoya


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SLTV: I am so happy we are finally able to “sit down” and talk. We spoke briefly on the San Antonio Fashion Awards Red Carpet, but it’s impossible to get to know people well at events like that. Let’s get to know each other better today! Are you originally from Texas?
KO: I am! I’m from San Antonio; I grew up in the Northeast Side and went to MacArthur and was in the first graduating class of Reagan. So, I’m very much a San Antonian, but I feel like I live in a completely different city than I did when I was growing up because I was very much in suburbia, where now I’m in the middle of the city and very engrained in the culture and the scene. Now I’m just East of downtown in Dignowity Hill and I’ve been around the downtown area ever since I graduated college.

SLTV: Nice! Where did you go to school?
KO: After High School, I went to San Antonio College (SAC) for 2 years and I was in their Visual Arts program and got all my basic classes done there. I loved SAC! It was such an awesome Visual Arts Program and a lot of artists in this city have gone through that program like Cruz Ortiz and Ana Fernandez, plus there were such great professors there! Then I went to the University of Texas in Austin and got my BFA there in Studio Art. After that, I went to live in Marfa and did an internship at the Chinati Foundation and even stayed a little longer for a conservation art internship where I learned to handle artwork, install works and care & clean them. Then I took a big break from school, but just recently in May, I graduated with my Executive MBA from UTSA.


Kelly O’Connor at McNay. Photo credits: Chris Cantoya


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SLTV: Wow! You have been a busy bee!
KO: I have! But now, I hate to say that I’ve slowed down because if COVID and quarantine, and I feel like I’m actually living my life and being in the moment. I just fell in love during this time (laughs) like being at home. I feel a little guilty just saying, but it feels like I’ve done all this hard work and now I’m just like enjoying my life and not trying to hustle so hard.

SLTV: I agree with you. Actually right before the Pandemic, I was feeling a little burnt out myself. It wasn’t just my previous job that had me traveling a lot, but also a very active social calendar. So, it does feel kind of nice to slow down for a bit while staying safe. It’s like now we have more time to do the things we’ve been putting off because of our busy lifestyles. Would you say that this has inspired you more in your art?
KO: Yes, definitely. I feel like I have more time and patience to focus and let those creative ideas just come to me. Before I was so focused on checking things off my list and getting things done and I didn’t have that space in my brain to let those creative juices flow.

SLTV: What is your main source of inspiration behind your art and creativity?
KO: I love to escape! I love finding these environments where it’s almost in between reality and a dream space. The two pieces that I’m working on right now are these beautiful landscapes that ARE real, but because of the colors in them and other elements, it looks fantastical. It looks like something from  Wonderland. I love that sort of fantastical environment and escaping into those worlds. Creating and even expanding on those worlds by creating these environments like in my piece at the McNay, Multifaceted Woman, I started with this existing facade of It’s a Small World at Disneyland and then started to try to get into the psyche of the person who created that piece, Mary Blair, and I expanded on that. I added new scenes or environments within it, where all these characters sort of forever exist in this dream-like world.


Multifaceted Woman at McNay’s AT&T Lobby. Photo Courtesy of McNay Art Museum

SLTV: I am dying to go check it out! So, is this your first commission at the McNay Museum?
KO: It is! So, I’m in their permanent collection, they have a piece of mine from 2009 and I’ve done many things with them in the past, but this is my first commission with McNay and it’s for their AT&T Lobby. And it’s so easy to go in to see it. You just walk in, you don’t have to pay, unless you decide to go into the Museum, which I totally recommend since you’ve already made the trip. So, the piece is actually a reproduction of the original. That wall is like 40 ft wide by 16 ft tall and I needed to do something BIG. Even the original piece is quite large, which is currently in my studio. It’s in 5 different panels and it’s 8 ft tall by 20 ft wide. So, it’s about a 1:2 ratio to what’s installed at the McNay. The process that went into it is quite interesting. I worked with photographer Ansen Seale, he photographed the original in all these different sections. He took hundreds of photographs and stitched them all together to create one big image. That way it created a really high res image and it’s nicely lit and shows all the shadows and the details. If anything, you’re able to see more details at the McNay because it’s been enlarged. The difference between the original and the installed piece is that the installed is more of an immersive installation because it is so big that you feel like you get consumed by it as you approach the piece.

SLTV: That just sounds incredible! How long did it take you to make the original piece?
KO: I had an international trip as part of my MBA program, so we went to Singapore and Vietnam, so on this very long, 17-hour flight last January, I conceived the idea of what I wanted to do with this work. When I got home from the trip, I was so busy work and other trips that I couldn’t find any time to bring that idea to life. At around March 13, when the Texas Stay Home Orders started, I thought it was a perfect time to start. I just hunkered down in my house, with all my materials and started working very intensively. I had very long days, staying up super late at night in my studio, and I completed the work in the first week of June. While it doesn’t seem like I worked on it for a very long duration, it was very intensive. I honestly can’t imagine what this piece would have been like if we hadn’t had quarantine because I was able to apply so much energy and focus on the work as we sheltered in place.


Multifaceted Woman at McNay’s AT&T Lobby. Photo Courtesy of McNay Art Museum


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SLTV: I can imagine. Just looking at the photos, which don’t do it justice, I can already see that it’s so intricate and has so many details, from here I can tell it’s immersive and you can get lost in there. It does feel very mod and aside from the fantastical Disney elements, but I’m seeing other details that aren’t fantasy. Can you expand on that a little?
KO: There’s a lot of fashion references. I pull a lot from W Magazine, which is my favorite one. If you look at the very far left bottom corner, it’s the Mad Hatter wearing a dress and that’s from a recent fashion magazine. He’s also wearing these Gucci mules, so there are modern fashion pieces and also perfume bottles, the Chanel girls, and other more contemporary elements. Even the It’s a Small World structure I find to be the epitome of Modernism. One of the things that is really important, and I feel like I’m constantly doing in these works, is selecting these on the surface, “happy” subject matters, but if you start to explore behind the facade of it, there’s these darker concepts and issues. I usually try to balance out the happy with a bit of a darker side. I usually try to talk about disillusionment or artificial happiness.


Original piece in progress. Photo courtesy of Kelly O’Connor

SLTV: Those are concepts that very much resonate as we as humans are constantly in search of true happiness, but are often distracted by that artificial ephemeral high. That is so interesting. When did you start doing this type of work?
KO: I’ve been working on similar concepts from early 2007, so around 14 years. Pretty much around the time I completed my internship program at Chinati, I moved back to San Antonio and got an internship at Artpace and I started working for Linda Pace as her studio assistant. During that time I was working on some major art projects with her, but I wasn’t able to do my own studio practice. After that, is when I started to do my own work. San Antonio is the best place for young artists to get their start. There are so many artist front spaces and commercial spaces, like once I got the first space in Blue Star, I got another one. Then I got the Texas Biennial and got my piece acquired by the McNay and it was like a snowball effect. Texas, in general too, is great for art with a wonderful community of artists.

SLTV: That is so true Kelly. I noticed that when I moved to San Antonio 8 years ago and fell in love! What advice would give to budding or up and coming artists?
KO: I know it’s much harder these days with everything going on, but I would say to put yourself out there. Don’t isolate yourself and be involved with the community, even if it’s virtually. Those are the people that will reach out to you when there’s an opportunity to curate an exhibition or to write about a work. I think it’s just really important to stay involved in the community and it can even be online. Now, you can have a virtual exhibition or you can share your images on social media about your studio, your process, and the final product. There are ways to put yourself out there, while also supporting others.


Kelly O’Connor at McNay. Photo credits: Chris Cantoya


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To view Kelly’s work, Multifaceted Woman, visit Mcnay Art Museum. The piece is located inside the AT&T Lobby. Also, make sure to follow her work at @KellyO’Connor_Art

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Jeanelly Concepcion
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Originally from New York City, Jeanelly is of Dominican roots. Having lived in Puerto Rico for over 22 years, she now enjoys a highly successful fashion blogging career at TheFashionLotus.com. She is a Texas influencer and has been a freelance fashion contributor for Style Lush TV for several years. She believes in empowering women through fashion and helping them feel beautiful no matter what their financial situation, body shape, age or where they live or work.