Fathom: The Art of Kat O’Connor

July 16, 2022–October 16, 2022

Lower Frances L. Hiatt Gallery (115)

Kat O'Connor, Girl Next Door, detail, 2021, Acrylic on ACP

Worcester artist Kat O’Connor, winner of the Sally R. Bishop Best in Show Prize at the 2021 ArtsWorcester Biennial, will open a solo exhibition at WAM this summer. The recipient of numerous grants and awards—including a Mass Cultural Council Fellowship—O’Connor has shown her work nationwide for nearly 30 years. Her paintings and drawings are included in many private and corporate collections.

A frequent traveler to the American southwest and Greece, O’Connor’s early work often depicted explorations of light and shape in scenes from her journeys. However, for over a decade now, water has been her primary muse and artistic focus. In her recent body of work, which includes the ArtsWorcester Biennial winner, Dreaming through Snell’s Window, the artist explores the world above and below the surface of swimming pools. These almost other-worldly paintings show graceful, fluid portraits of women — diving, swimming, floating — from the unusual perspective of someone underwater. The figures have a dream-like quality, gently distorted by ripples, bubbles, and reflections as they move through the water.

In describing her creative approach, O’Connor says she seeks to explore the way realism can push into and through abstraction. “My paintings capture what happens in a split second of weightlessness, a momentary realism in which rip currents tear away at the abyss and produce images and shapes that were once imperceptible,” she explains. This is evident when the artist incorporates ethereal celestial light and weightlessness into portraits. Figures swim below or in the midst of an expansive night sky of stars, planets, and galaxies — an adroit melding of the earthly experience of swimming with the infinite vastness of the universe.

When announcing O’Connor as the Best in Show winner, ArtsWorcester Biennial juror Beth C. McLaughlin, Artist Director and Chief Curator at the Fuller Craft Museum, cited the artist’s skillful use of lush surfaces, a vibrant color palette, and energetic compositions. “In her paintings, light is the subject matter and in the case of her water paintings, the ancient dance of light and water take center stage,” McLaughlin said.

Worcester Art Museum visitors will have the opportunity to experience and delight in the artist’s luminous underwater worlds in Fathom: The Art of Kat O’Connor, opening on July 16, 2022.

This exhibition is organized in partnership with ArtsWorcester. It is funded in part by the Hoche-Scofield Foundation, Don and Mary Melville Contemporary Art Fund, and Spear Fund for Public Programs.

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Related Programs

Artist’s Talk and Reception

Sunday, July 24, 2pm
Conference Room

Kat O’Connor shares her work, inspiration, and processes in this artist’s talk in the 2nd floor Conference Room. Following the talk, join us for a special reception with the artist in the Museum Café.

Selected images