Artist Kay O’Rourke paints what she knows — gardening, friends and family, beloved pets, current events, poems or books she’d read, everyday ups and downs — and what she doesn’t know.
Like how the inheritable form of Alzheimer’s will continue to affect her mother. Or whether or not it may someday affect her.
“I started to paint,” she says, “to understand and cope.”
She found a metaphor for the disease in the trickster or jack-in-the-box figure.
“You get a surprise when the lid pops open,” explains O’Rourke. “[Alzheimer’s] can be sad, disturbing, challenging and illuminating.”
Rather than contain the trickster, O’Rourke embraced the unknown, planning a body of work around jack-in-the-boxes and then inviting other artists to “continue the journey of understanding.”
“I wanted people way different from me and my form ...who I thought didn’t do ‘pretty’ pictures, but dealt with issues and art in a more conceptual way,” she says.
Over a potluck at her house, O’Rourke invited artists Bradd Skubinna and Tom O’Day to join her, Katie Creyts and Ken Yuhasz to participate in a group exhibition called “Points of Departure” using “issues of the unexpected in their lives” as a point of departure. They discussed collaborating when O’Day, whose work often involves transforming and even destroying artwork — his and others — offered his own jumping-off point: what if each artist reconfigured one of O’Rourke’s artworks?
Talk about unexpected. But O’Rourke was delighted and let each artist choose two of her artworks to do with as they wished.
Although each artist responded differently to O’Rourke’s work, many could relate to the same issues she was experiencing. “I know the feeling of having, but not really having, a loved one,” says Yuhasz, whose older brother was brain-damaged after being attacked and left for dead. In addition to showing several neon works, he collaborated with O’Rourke to translate her painting, “The Visitor Within,” into a 3D sculpture.
Creyts tried to capture the unflappable spirit and optimism of her own mother, who recently recovered from a stroke. “I tried to work with the theme of life unraveling and unexpected chaos,” says Creyts, who re-envisioned O’Rourke’s painting, “Night Play,” as a 3D sculpture/mobile.
“The piece uses movement and repetition to excite the viewer’s eye to loop around the work, only to start all over again,” says Creyts, with whom O’Rourke collaborated in last year’s “Territory: Generational Triptych” at the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.
For Skubinna — who found himself thinking about his father’s battle with cancer — collaboration wasn’t a familiar process, although using someone else’s artwork, even cutting it up, didn’t phase him. He paired a portion of O’Rourke’s rabbit drawing to create “Dreams of a Dead Hare,” a wall installation of mandala-like images made from cut up drinking straws and curled paper.
“Being in control of my work has long been important,” says Skubinna, who will also exhibit several of his meticulously pieced together box top collages.
Of all the participants, O’Day says he was probably the most comfortable with altering O’Rourke’s work.
“It always feels good watching something go through a transformation,” he says. He reconfigured one of O’Rourke’s artworks into a triptych, although he wouldn’t reveal the specifics.
That suits O’Rourke just fine.
“I love the process of change,” she says. “I love being open to our differences and celebrating them. This started with my journey with Alzheimer’s, but we all deal with the unknown and unexpected and cope with it in different ways,” says O’Rourke.
Points of Departure • Jan. 11-Feb. 2 • The Art Spirit Gallery • 415 Sherman Ave, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho • theartspiritgallery.com