Dennis O'Leary

Artist Statement

2020 brought on the Covid 19 pandemic and a forced isolation enabling the concentrated studio time to explore something new. I consciously decided to completely change my mode of working in clay and attempt the creation of small scale abstract sculpture with a large presence.

Over two years, this effort resulted in the series Ritual Bowls and Baubles. Technically, the work was constructed by manipulating very wet clay into a rough abstract shape before carving the still wet forms into a completed state. Once fired, pieces were all "cold finished" by applying lacquer and metal leaf.

Ritual Bowls are successors of the initial Fragments series and represent something larger that has been lost or damaged over time and whose purposes are unknown. Their fully-formed images and content is left to the viewer's imagination.

Baubles are a thematic departure and are influenced by the rough textural Meteorite sculptures of ten years prior and a continued interest in forms and concepts of Chinese Scholar Rocks or Gongshi. While baubles are generally defined as “… small, showy trinket or decoration... embellished with glittering touches... something that is superficially attractive but useless or worthless,” these small sculptures, in this esthetic context, attempt ironic content that stands as a testament to much of contemporary culture and life.

O'Leary found his initial artistic success in ceramics as an art student at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where in 1968 he received BA degree and a MFA degree in 1970. Moving on to San Francisco and without a ceramic studio he found interest and satisfaction with an array of other creative endeavors and artistic enterprises that extended over the following forty years. In addition to actively making and exhibiting sculpture through the 1970s, 80s and 90s, he served as the Assistant Director of Education at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from 1972 through 1979, and then Assistant Professor of Art at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana from 1979 to 1981 where he managed the school's gallery program and taught art courses in both studio and academic disciplines.

O'Leary moved to Boise, Idaho in 1981 to assume the position of Executive Director with the small-scale Boise Gallery of Art. After 16 years he left the institution transformed through managing two major building expansions, a staff of twenty, and an annual budget of $1,000,000 into the Boise Art Museum. Knowing when enough is enough, O'Leary returned to California in 1997 to become Executive Director of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Here he administered "the gift of time" to more than 1,000 artists (with a thousand before them) for 14 years. He was able to achieve that goal on his own in 2011 when retiring and moving to Pacific Grove to rekindle his ambition to make art full time. Now, after ten years of concerted output, he has achieved a substantial body of work.