Artist Statement: Jill O'Bryan

Breathing with the Elements
July 15, 2022
Artist Statement: Jill O'Bryan

In her solo exhibition, Jill O'Bryan presents new artworks—including three never-before-seen series—that align us with the elements. Read her statement below, and experience her work in Breathing with the Elements.

For many years, I have sought to reveal a primal interconnectivity with nature through various approaches to drawing. Whether through breath drawings, breathing meditation paintings, earth rubbings, sculpture, or photography, I experiment with alternate and immersive ways of being connected to the earth, the moon, the air, the sky.

In one series of “frottage” drawings, I aim to record dynamic interactions between sky and land. This is the place humans inhabit Earth—upon its crust. Where I live there is a desert mesa; I take large sheets of paper out onto the bare ground and rub the paper with large graphite rocks. This extremely physical process creates a record of my corporeal presence at that moment along with the land’s cracks and crevices formed over time. In this way, I acknowledge my body as belonging to the active intersection where the sky meets land; a participant in the elemental forces that shape the land. 

Jill O'Bryan at Zane Bennett Gallery

In this exhibition I introduce photographs of the intimate places that I find on the mesa. These images depict nooks and crannies in the landscape, each having its own sense of place and time. Vast landscapes are filled with these magical spaces, each with its own hyper-local geology, archeology, biology, mini-ecosystem, and infinite dimensionality. I find myself both getting lost and coming home to these unique places.   

In two other series, I look upward to the sky and the moon. One of the intentions behind these paintings on rice paper is to be as lightweight as possible, therefore I use graphite as a recording instrument, as well as the painted colors of blue and white. In the color iconography of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags, blue represents the sky, and white, the air and wind. 


During the pandemic, I developed a special relationship with the moon while meditating. The series in this exhibition, Breathing into the Moon, was made under the iridescent New Mexico sky where I meditate on the moon at night, in daylight while the moon is high above, and on its many transitions—rising and setting, waxing and waning, moving across the sky. Relatively untainted by humans, to date, the moon offers connections to the history of existence on Earth, to the universe, to cycles of time associated with the feminine, and to a view of nature that expands beyond our experiences of Earth’s surface. This work has been important in that it has simply allowed me to be present with a primal experience of moonlight. 

With life and with meditation, breath is essential. Previously, my “breath drawings” focused on tracking time—one mark for each breath, ultimately forming grids. The new “breathing” paintings in this exhibition are a departure from this rigorous mark making. Breath is still integral to the process, but it is no longer literally referenced. The newly evolved meditations bring into focus impressions that emerged when I stopped archiving each breath and shifted the focus to moonlight. 

Jill O'Bryan at Zane Bennett Gallery

And where there is earth and sky and breath, there must also be light. Like the moon, my white plaster cones reflect light. They are also geometric expressions of earth meeting sky. As one of the simplest geometric forms, their circular rims lift up toward the sky, their center points reach down toward the ground, linking the two. While each is unique, they are scaled in proportion to one another, to be viewed as a group, creating relationships among themselves, and with the paintings in the exhibition space. The plaster cones are three dimensional expressions of these paintings.  


I choose materials, colors, and processes with the intention of connecting with the natural world. As an artist, I design methods of experimentation that are revelatory and connective; the work is intentional but the outcome is largely unplanned. Seeing the images materialize methodically and through an intuitive process helps me to believe in the work and be fully present with it. And through these experiments of recording I’ve recognized again and again the interconnectedness between myself and the elements. For me, this interconnection is the true wonder of our universe.  

Explore Jill O'Bryan's Breathing with the Elements.

About the author

Jordan Eddy