Jodi O'Hara's Paintings Carrying Purpose & Hope - TribPapers

Jodi O’Hara’s Paintings Carrying Purpose & Hope

Jodi O'Hara poses in front of her piece "Birthing the Dawn." Staff photo.

Asheville – Jodi O’Hara is an Asheville-based artist currently working in the River Arts District. Peering into her studio, one would see her expressive oil paintings on canvas that juxtapose representational and abstract elements. The layers of paint have a depth and an inner glow that suggests an immersive story behind each piece. Birds in flight, figures cloaked in earth tones, bold compositions, and dramatic yet purposeful mark-making are all essential elements in Jodi’s paintings.

Amongst her work in the studio, Jodi explains, “What inspires me to create is my own experiences. My work is all very personal. The common thread through all of it is hope. I have been in dark places myself, and hope is the one entity that has transformed me and allowed me to keep going even when I otherwise wouldn’t have. There’s a curiosity about it. I’m still curious about how it works; I’m still working things out. When I think about other people encountering my work, that’s what I hope that they get from it; that there’s more to the story than just darkness or just light, that it’s a whole full story. My relationship with God inspires me, so it’s very spiritually and personally based. And I’m someone that loves beauty—I don’t like just making or creating for the sake of shock value. I really want to make something that is beautiful.”

O’Hara describes her process as “a balance of intuition and planning.” She explains, “I like to combine abstract and realism together. I like the structure of realism. I start with a drawing of something, and then I allow intuition to take over, and that’s where the conversation starts—this push and pull and bridging these two worlds. The non-representational elements to me are so unknown that there are times when it does feel scary, but it’s also this place of deep trust. I have a lot of trust in my process, which is the only reason I ever get anything good in the end. I know that even when I’m in the midst of it and it’s sort of in its adolescent or pubescent stage, I know that that’s not the end of the story. She adds, “This painting and I are going to work it out and bring it to fruition. There are times when I get so frustrated because it’s either not working out or whatever I’m processing emotionally is not working out. A lot of times, I’ll find that the way that I have to break through is to do something completely out of the ordinary or make some type of bold move. Whether that’s using my hands to put paint on, or completely painting over hours and hours of work that I’ve done. Because of that turn, I was able to break through and bring it to a new place. That’s something new that I’m learning about my work. Bringing it back to that concept of hope—it’s about leaning into it and somehow beauty is created.”

Jodi recalls her first experiences with art, painting in acrylics with her grandmother and a pivotal moment at home: “I remember my brother in high school, in the basement painting with Bob Ross with oil paints. I thought it was so cool and I was so impressed by him. I remember thinking to myself, ‘you could never do that, that’s for real artists.’ Seriously! At that time, I really wasn’t making much art. I wasn’t in art classes in high school or anything like that. Then my brother moved to San Francisco. On his way out the door to the airport, he popped his head back in and said, “Hey, Jodi—do you want my oil paints? I can’t bring them on the airplane. ” So he left, and I had the supplies. As soon as I used the paint, it really just felt out of this world to me. So that was the beginning of me falling in love with it; I knew that I had to paint with oils after that. There was no other medium that held what I needed to express-it has a vocabulary that fits with what I needed to say that the other mediums don’t have. I love it. It’s like magic—I feel like the possibilities with it are endless. I get frustrated with acrylic because it dries so fast and you can’t get the luminosity that oils will give you. Watercolor almost feels too free for me, whereas oil paint gives me a nice structure along with the freedom.”

Regarding her audience and those that relate to her pieces, Jodi says, “I’m learning more and more about the people that do connect with my work, and it seems like it is those who have felt like outcasts or that they don’t necessarily fit in, and people that have gone through a lot. I feel grateful that I’m able to have that connection with them and that they’re able to have that connection with my work. I’m happy that it has a life beyond this studio. ” With reference to her relationship with other artists’ work and what she values in a piece, Jodi states, “There are so many artists that I admire. I love artists who reference time. For me, it’s art that just makes me feel really deeply. I think that art has the power to heal people. I’m hoping to tap into something that’s so honest that not only is it serving a purpose in the process for me while I’m in the creating stage, but after that’s finished, it goes beyond me. I hope that it can somehow be carried to somebody else that might need that as well. I think that the most important thing is that every artist has to be making their work from an honest place. That is why my work is personal—the work is what’s honest to me.”

Jodi’s work will be on view at the upcoming group show fundraiser “Unearthed-Saints of Paint” on Thursday, November 3rd, benefiting the Appalachian Barn Alliance and the Southern Appalachian Repertory Theatre. One can also visit and see her work in her studio at the Riverview Station at 191 Lyman Street in Asheville’s River Arts District.