Wednesday, Sep 12 2012 04:31 PM

'Let's Duet': Husband, wife finally get together

BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing columnist gavinarts@aol.com

A desire to create something new from things destined for the trash heap is the subtle theme of "Let's Duet," an art exhibit opening Saturday at The Empty Space.

The title is a play on words, as the exhibit features work by a married couple -- Christopher O'Brien, a fine art photographer, and Shelley Juhl-O'Brien, who teaches art at West High School.

Related Info

'Let's Duet'

When: Opening reception 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Empty Space, 706 Oak St.

Admission: Free

Information: 327-7529

Although each has had work featured in other shows, this is the first time they've held a joint exhibit.

And all of the work shows different approaches to recycling, although each is distinctive.

Most of Juhl-O'Brien's pictures feature designs drawn on the pages of text from old books. For instance, one called "It's Not an 'S' or a Shark" shows a large bumblebee whose transparent wings circle words on the page of a McGuffey Primer.

The page itself is meant to teach children the long "e" sound.

"The library was getting rid of old books, so I got some and ripped out pages and used them to make pictures," she said.

"That's when I started playing with mixed media -- that's kind of new path for me."

Initially, she did the project with her students.

"I wanted to show them you shouldn't put limitations on what you use for art; you can use anything you have around the house, you don't have to have a canvas," she said.

"I introduced that to my students and I want to practice what I preach."

Although O'Brien also does digital photography, all of the images in the show were taken with film -- either Polaroid or 35 millimeter. He gets the film developed at Henley's and then scans the negatives at home.

In his view, reverting to film at a time when digital photography is common is not unusual. He likens it to the changes in audio recordings.

"It's like LPs," he said. "When CDs came out, everybody got rid of their LPs; now they're in demand again."

As for subject matter, he looks for things that are outdated or objects that, to others, seem just plain ordinary.

"I gravitate toward everyday things," he said. "I look for old abandoned buildings, rusted-out cars and things like that. It kind of goes along with what Shelley is doing -- recycled things.

"Let's Duet" came about because of an invitation from Jesus Fidel, curator of the Empty Space's gallery.

"Jesus was my student and we remained friends after he graduated," said Juhl-O'Brien. "Jesus has joined Christopher and me every year at Via Arte, starting in 2002. It's quite an honor to me that he has continued to do artwork after graduation."

Both husband and wife have day jobs, meaning they do most of their artwork at home on their dining room table.

Often, they are joined by their sons, ages 8 and 10.

"Thankfully, they've both got the art bug," O'Brien said. "Sometimes they sit right down at the table with us and start drawing. They don't much like going on photo shoots though."

The Empty Space exhibit includes nine pieces by Juhl-O'Brien, 13 by her husband, as well as two large 15-by-22 inch pictures on which they collaborated. After the opening, the show can be seen 30 minutes before curtain time until Sept. 29.

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