Local artist Ellen O'Brien dies


Today, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center announced that Ellen O'Brien, a prominent local artist, and the subject of its upcoming exhibit, Ellen O'Brien: The Prevalence of Line, has died.

The Indy interviewed O'Brien back in 2008, in advance of her retrospective at Cucuru Gallery Café, the first major show she'd had since she showed at the FAC in 1974. The nearly-120-work exhibit featured works from throughout her career — some were nearly 70 years old.

O'Brien, shown here with some of her work, also helped found the Colorado Springs Art Guild. - COLORADO SPRINGS FINE ARTS CENTER
  • Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center
  • O'Brien, shown here with some of her work, also helped found the Colorado Springs Art Guild.

O'Brien was born in 1922 and educated at Cornell University and the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit. She spent four years in Europe after marrying, and worked in the studio of French artist and filmmaker Fernand Léger. O'Brien recalled attending a party with Pablo Picasso, who didn't want to talk to anyone.

She said she admired Picasso and Matisse, but wasn't directly influenced by them.

"I suppose somebody had some influence," she said, "But I never really looked at paintings that way. I always felt really independent about what I wanted to do."

O'Brien returned to the Springs in 1951 (she and her husband had lived a short time here before relocating to Europe), where O'Brien worked with master printmaker Lawrence Barrett and taught art for adults for the next 30 years at Colorado College, Pikes Peak Community College and the FAC. She never showed students her own work.

"I don't want them to see it or be influenced by it. I want them to figure out their own way."

In a statement released by the FAC, museum director Blake Milteer writes:

"Ellen's art truly captures the spirit of adventure, skill, mystery and experimentation that drove art forward from the mid-20th century-on. She was among the artists who gave strength and significance to our culture in the Pikes Peak region. I was privileged to include her art in the FAC's 2009 exhibition Colorado Springs Abstract, and I enjoyed her seriousness as an artist and her amazing sense of humor as we planned for her upcoming show. I will deeply miss working with Ellen."

The Prevalence of Line opens Dec. 14.

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