Artist Jill O’Bryan has practiced recording her breath in her works for more than twenty years, accumulating the residue of recorded time and place through the physical actions of her body.
Jill O’Bryan’s artmaking is not an act of representational picture-making but a practice of accumulating the residue of recorded time and place through the physical actions of her body. Her process is performative, specifically located in time and space, and records moment-to-moment interactions with the elements.
“Drawing for me is a dynamic system of mark-making to reveal both the personal and universal experience of breath while bringing audiences into an intimate encounter with time. For more than twenty years, a methodology at the core of my work involves counting and recording my breaths with graphite on paper. I began by making ‘breath marks’ (each lasting the duration of one inhale and one exhale) next to one another on large sheets of paper.
In the Tonglen-inspired works, I layer graphite marks one on top of the other to render the residue of accumulated breaths until the paper becomes incised and frayed. An alchemical transformation occurs in the paper as it takes on the weight of the graphite. This mirrors the transformation occurring during Tonglen breathing, a Buddhist practice of teaching compassion by breathing in pain, transforming it to positivity, then exhaling. These works are made in hours-long drawing marathons lasting days, months, and sometimes years.
In 2020 I had a reckoning with my breathwork, realizing that the meaning of ‘breath’ had changed overnight. Due to COVID-19, sharing someone else’s air became potentially lethal, and George Floyd was murdered by asphyxiation. I rediscovered my equilibrium by looking at the moon, then discovered moon breaths, a form of breathing calm into the body”
O’Bryan has a PhD from New York University in Aesthetic Theory and Criticism and an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute. She has exhibited widely nationally and internationally, including a forthcoming exhibition at the National Gallery of Art Library in Washington, D.C.
Las Vegas, NM | jillobryan.com