mad (wo)men

Kelly O'Connor Upends Nostalgia for Uncanniness

Things aren't quite what they seem at this David Shelton Gallery exhibition, on through June 23.

By Sarah Kennedy June 5, 2018

Bottom of the Pool (San Andreas Fault)

Gleaming with seasonal awareness, the distorted summer vibe of Kelly O’Connor’s The Upside Down aligns perfectly with the golden heat assaulting Houston. The work, now on display at Montrose's David Shelton Gallery, is a kaleidoscope of color and midcentury subject matter constructed from vintage photographs blown up large, with cutouts revealing collages of vibrant record sleeves leaking out onto the image.

There’s no direct story, no primary figures to take an active involvement. An uncanny tone lends itself to these static figures tangentially interacting with O’Connor’s mutation of the images. In Bottom of the Pool (San Andreas Fault), a woman lounges by the chasmic poolside, but seems unaware of the bizarre green abyss. Her manicured backyard and posed swimming ensemble matching the umbrella betrays the unease of what could happen if the glittering starbursts magically moved her chaise a few feet farther.

Against the white walls of the gallery space, the pieces literally sparkle and shine before the viewer. All the works have a shadow box effect to them—fundamentally two dimensional but straining the boundary. The Children of Men triptych juts the most outward, trapping metallic christmas ornaments against a saccharine display of imagery from the likes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, and beauty magazine ads all on top of a paned technicolor background. What struck me most about the paintings was how all would be so cheerful to glance at in passing. The glitter, gleam, and vibrant patterning all jump out to the eye. The sun-drenched vintage photographs are fuzzy and familiar in their hotel pool scenes, the enlarged pixels fading the image into a soft smear.

Children of Men

But, the cutaways into non-objectivity have an underlying emptiness and solitary feel that precludes easy comfort with these works. Otherwise, it’d be very easy to walk into the gallery and be cajoled by a warm, kitschy embrace. The materiality of the record sleeves cut into slivers of shape, turned into bursts of line or scales, fold back on the '50s and '60s scenes of leisure. This layering of different points of entry for the same nostalgic end, paired with the voids within the images, undermines the promise of glitz, glam, and slick mid-century modern scenes. The surreal set of works in the gallery are fun, unsettling, and overall a cool dive this month.

Kelly O'Connor: The Upside Down, thru June 23. David Shelton Gallery, 4411 Montrose Blvd. 713-393-7319. More info at

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