Conversations in Color: The Artistry of Sibyl MacKenzie, Elizabeth Blaisdell & Michael Kenneth O'Brien


October 9 - November 6, 2021 • 11:00AM-5:00PM Daily • Free

The Allegany Arts Council and its Saville Gallery are pleased to welcome artists Sibyl MacKenzie, Elizabeth Blaisdell and Michael Kenneth O'Brien for their group exhibition, Conversations in Color, to take place October 9-November 6, 2021. A Public Opening will take place on Saturday, October 9, 2021, from 6:00PM-8:00PM and is free and open to the public. The Public Opening will concur with the Allegany Area Art Alliance exhibit taking place in the Schwab Gallery during the same exhibition period. Please note as of this time masks remain mandatory in the building for all, regardless of vaccination status.

Art Supporting Others

All proceeds from the works of artists Sibyl MacKenzie, Elizabeth Blaisdell and Michael Kenneth O'Brien will be donated to a charitable organization, Protect Afghan Women. 

Protect Afghan Women is a project of the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, whose mission is to promote a more stable, peaceful, and just world by focusing on the important role women play in preventing conflict and building peace, growing economies, and addressing global threats like climate change and violent extremism. Housed within the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown, the Institute is headed by the former U.S. Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, Melanne Verveer.

To learn more about PAW, visit their website.

About the Artists

Sibyl MacKenzie: Some of my earliest memories are of drawing and painting. We moved around a lot as a family—from England to Taiwan to Germany-- and art was my special thing. Something I could carry with me.  A place of my own.

My only formal art lessons were in Taiwan where I studied Chinese watercolors.  My teacher was wonderful and serene and her paintings were luminous. Mine weren't.  I haven't done watercolors since although I remember my lessons very fondly.  But I always continued painting.

Now I paint in acrylics on hardboard.  Acrylics dry fast and are very versatile. They can be layered and poured and scratched.  I am learning from my daughter that they can be dripped and flung and splashed—heady stuff for conservative me.  I am a narrative painter although I try not to let the narrative dominate.  I am searching for that space in the subconscious that provides meaning and mystery. I am trying to get that meaning and mystery into my paintings.

Elizabeth Blaisdell: Elizabeth Blaisdell is a contemporary feminist abstract expressionist who takes much of her influence from the psychoanalytic / Freudian art movement.  She believes art is a window into the subconscious. Trained as a clinical psychologist, she follows in the footsteps of historically famous psychologists who expressed much of what they could not express verbally in the form of art. Much like a Rorschach, Elizabeth Blaisdell believes that art speaks to each viewer individually. The question “what does this look like to you” is answered by the viewers individual and internal narrative between themselves and the art. Therefore Elizabeth  Blaisdell‘s art is a shared experience that is both personal to each viewer and universal to all.

Michael Kenneth O'Brien: Michael Kenneth O’Brien, 69, lives with his wife Paula in a residential area of Romney in Hampshire County, West Virginia. He maintains a working home studio there.

In August of 2019, a series of O’Brien’s paintings, sculptures and handmade greeting cards were featured during a month-long “Artist Gallery” exhibition at The River House in Capon Bridge, WV. A collection of O’Brien’s sculptures and paintings were represented at the C. William Gilchrist Museum of the Arts in Cumberland in a month-long exhibition in the fall of 2018 with Hagerstown artist Eric Carter.

In 2015, his painting, “Along The Electric Fence Line,” was selected for the 16th Annual Will’s Creek Exhibition at the Saville Gallery in Cumberland. A six-week 2009-10 solo exhibition, “Found Along The Way,” featured over 40 of O’Brien’s sculptures, paintings and drawings at The Bottling Works in Romney. He was one of the original Hampshire County artists in 2008 organizing and participating in the Hampshire Highlands Studio Tour. The tour became a seasonal event for a number of years.

O’Brien was born in Los Angeles, California and grew up in a military family (U.S. Navy). He attended Santa Barbara City College in California and started to focus on his visual art, guitar playing/songwriting and poetry. He cut short his academic studies and “hit the road” traveling for a year or so landing in Eugene, Oregon where in became part of a collective household. He lived and worked in that shared experience for nearly 14 years — all along working on his art and playing music.

“Back in my art student days the focus was totally on life drawing and sculpture — no color — just pencil, charcoal, clay & plaster.  But I loved (with envy) what I saw in the work of fellow students (mostly printmakers) who were exploring color and design” says O’Brien. “When getting into stained glass in the 1980s — I drew inspiration from several contemporary stained glass artists and jewelry-makers in the Eugene area.

“Immediately, the work revolved around ideas of making 3D freestanding creations. That work — incorporating stained glass, copper sheeting and wire and found objects — seemed to bring things full circle. Color and light arrived to meld with the physical challenges posed by sculpture.”

O’Brien moved to Romney in 1990 to care for his parents who had retired there. He spent 25 years working locally as a newspaper reporter — starting in 1990 as a full-time freelance writer with the Cumberland Times-News and in 1993 joining the news staff of the Hampshire Review in Romney. He retired from his newspaper career in 2015.

In the mid-1990s to early 2000s, O’Brien was a member of a Hampshire County writing group Ice Mt. Writers. Along with fellow poet Michael Hughes, he helped organize and participate in annual “poetry month” performances that introduced West Virginia writers and poets — byway of the West Virginia Circuit Writers program — to local audiences.

“In thinking about the deeper ‘drive’ at work are connections with the natural world from the surface to the core — standing on the ground and reaching to the expansive cosmology of existence,” O’Brien says. “Psychological, comical, subconscious, super consciousness. Rocks, trees, rivers, sky. Lost structures, spare parts. All together see what it makes — take the journey flowing down a new path walked many times.”

Additional Information

In addition to individual works, all three artists have collaborated on a series of five collections exploring themes which include nautical, geisha, mechanical, dreamscape and portrait.

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