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Week of 1 October 1999

Vol. III, No. 8


Total immersion

Flowing imagery dominates Driscoll show

By Hope Green

From the patio of her childhood home in Marshfield, Mass., artist Kathleen Driscoll (SFA'79) used to watch lightning flash and clouds shift their shapes above the ocean. More recently, she watched apprehensively from her brother's boat as Hurricane Floyd began to churn the sea.

Water has been a theme throughout Driscoll's creative life, at different times and for different reasons. For the last six years, she has devoted herself almost exclusively to aqueous imagery in her sculpting and drawing, and some of that work is now part of her Thoughts on Water exhibition at Boston University's Sherman Gallery.

"This show is very much a combination of everything I've worked toward for 20 years," Driscoll says. "I couldn't tell you what that is, of course, but I'm at the beginning of something I'm really excited about. I'm really immersing myself in pure abstraction. Some people might think I'm already there, but I think there's a ways to go."

In the Sherman installation's Purple Waterfall Spread, magenta chiffon streamers fan out from a point on the ceiling and cascade obliquely to the floor, where various candy-colored objects weight their ends. Lime Green Spill is a series of wavelike patterns drawn in green felt marker on paper. And Verbal Ocean is a jumble of upside-down prose scrawled on a tangle of recycled clear plastic dropcovers. (Driscoll derives the bulk of her income, ironically enough, from painting houses.)

"Water is emotional," she says. "It is the source of all life, and it is a very powerful image."

Kathleen Driscoll (SFA'79) with Verbal Ocean, one of her installation pieces at the Sherman Gallery. Photo by Vernon Doucette

Driscoll admits that her own emotional searching sparked her creative life, especially in her student years. As an undergraduate at the School for the Arts, she focused mainly on the human figure, and learning to work in three dimensions "was much more amazing than I thought it would be," she says. "In our culture, we are brought up visualizing on two-dimensional planes. We watch TV, read magazines, and we have paintings in our houses, which are all flat. Learning to create life-size sculptures really changed my whole perspective."

In a graduate program at Indiana University, she began working on an even larger scale. There she gained an appreciation for Midwestern sculptors, whose massive outdoor structures often incorporate pieces of heavy machinery.

Water figured prominently in her student work, she says, but it was a time of of intense soul-searching and her work reflected that struggle. "But even then I was interested in the larger world of the intellect. That's why I was drawn to large universities."

A reference to Shakespeare's Hamlet showed up in one of Driscoll's graduate-school pieces depicting Ophelia drowning in waves of burlap. Other works incorporated religious figures or evoked the underworld. But with time, Driscoll says, her art lightened up and grew less personal. "Water comes out in my work on a higher level now," she says. "It's no longer about the de