Maureen Kelleher: artist's statement

When I was 11 years old I decided I hated art, that I was not artistic, and that I couldn’t do it. I vowed to never take an art class or have anything to do with art for the rest of my life. I told myself I was a thinker. I went through school and college (philosophy and foreign languages) with this firm belief and actively avoided anything art. After college I focused on helping the underdog (prisoners and mentally ill).

I made it all the way to 42 years and then I read a biography of James Baldwin. Something he wrote to his brother, coupled with a memory of my father’s advice to me as a teenager, set off an idea. That juxtaposition got translated into words, colors and images on wood. This effort became my piece JAMES and opened the creativity floodgate. I’ve been painting, drilling, engraving, scoring, sanding and lugging stuff around ever since.

I lived in New Orleans for 23 years. I evacuated on 8/29/05 (due to Hurricane Katrina) and ended up in Hoboken NJ.

I found a studio in an old manufacturing building in Union City, NJ. I started to rebuild my life, my studio, and my body of work. I had nothing with me from my studio in New Orleans, so I’d hike up the 14th Street viaduct with a new sander in my backpack, a few small cans of paint, etc., until I had the basics I needed. I didn’t have any plywood, but the building’s dumpsters and freight bay provided a wonderful new "palette" for my art: freight pallets. My studio mate graciously hauled pallets into our third floor studio, to be used as my new canvasses. I started working on pallets — something I had only thought of in New Orleans, but had never gotten around to doing. They opened up a new avenue for me. I returned to New Orleans in June 2006, got all my stuff, and closed down my apartment. Gotta roll with reality; thanks, Katrina.

I have had no art training. I’ve been a quilter since my early 20’s and I’ve always loved words. In my late 20’s I got involved in prisoner issues and then started working in the legal field and came into contact with men on death row. I’m very much drawn to the heavier topics of life, and my spirit veers toward the underdog. The topics of death, rape, the death penalty, slavery, racism, incest, mental illness, what does it mean to be alive? to die? etcetera, are evident in my work. And then there are the things in my life that I’ve never forgotten — events, a phrase or two, or a photo I’ve seen and could not get out of my mind. I’ve drawn from my life and memories to cover the plywood and pallet. Tender strength all around me — the absurd, the goofy, the sad, the really sad, the interesting, the wonderful, the stuff that makes me feel like shit, the stuff that brings tears to my eyes, the stuff that scares me, the stuff that makes me feel good, the stuff that just is — waiting to be brought up and out.