Cerebral and fluent in the language of ideas, William O'Brien, Jr. has moved skillfully within academia and the art scene while slowly establishing a practice that will allow him to build too. Teaching gigs at Berkeley, Ohio State, the University of Texas, and now MIT; essays in Log and ACADIA; fellowships at the MacDowell Colony and the American Academy in Rome; and exhibitions at the Zoellner Art Gallery in Pennsylvania and Pinkcomma Gallery in Boston have positioned him as someone to watch.
A recent commission to design a small house in Ithaca, New York, took a somber turn when the client's brother died and the client asked that the project somehow honor the young man's life. O'Brien had been thinking about the work of John Hejduk, intrigued by the way he was able to use symbolism and memory to create an enigmatic quality in his drawings and built work. Still in the early stages of the project—which he calls Cliff Haven—O'Brien hopes to apply his ideas about Hejduk to the design of the house and an accompanying contemplative space.