The passage of time is the one thing we all have in common, and yet, not many of us stop to contemplate it.”

Julia O’Bryan ’19 shared her insight on time as an “elusive commodity” in the introduction to her Southwestern senior gallery exhibition last spring. Her culmination of ceramic sculpture, conceived and crafted during her dedicated hours in the studios at the Sarofim School of Fine Arts, explores the fragility of the vital organs that keep us alive and the impact her autoimmune disease has had on her valuation of time.

O’Bryan’s impressive and affecting artwork has reached beyond the boundaries of campus and is now being honored with a prestigious award from the Kennedy Center’s VSA Emerging Young Artists with Disabilities Program. A Jean and Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program, this organization provides a platform for work by emerging young artists with disabilities, ages 16 to 25, who are living in the U.S. O’Bryan’s piece, Beautiful Brokenness, received an Award of Excellence and will be included in the program’s 2019–2020 catalogue. Attached to this honor is a cash prize and a spot among 15 fellow artists in a yearlong exhibition tour throughout the U.S. 

The 2019–2020 Emerging Young Artists program, titled “Connected,” sought out artists whose work explores unexpected relationships and inspires deeper understanding of our shared existence and connected lives. O’Bryan’s Southwestern colleagues would say her artwork fits the bill quite well. Mary Visser, professor of art and mentor to O’Bryan, says she is a student of ideas who models her sculptural forms with a clear idea of securing identity and meaning.” Visser admires O’Bryan as an artist who “does not shy away from the emotional context” and who “never stops pursuing her goal to make sculpture with internal and external breath.” In O’Bryan’s own words, her spring exhibition artwork—which incorporates coral as a metaphor for the deterioration in the artist’s lungs—was created to “[give] support to others by creating beauty through destruction,” much like struggling coral gives habitat to others through its life process. 

O’Bryan’s personal hopes for her artwork speak to her much-deserved recognition. “I hope that my work gives the sense of a beautiful life well lived,” she says. “I hope that my work gives joy, hope, and support to others in a similar position.” As she wraps up her Southwestern Experience this fall with a bachelor of arts in studio, specializing in sculpture, we congratulate her on her incredible success as both a committed student and artist. We expect this prestigious award is one of many to come, and we look forward to seeing how O’Bryan makes the most of her time after graduation. 

You can currently view selections of Julia O’Bryan’s artwork in the hall of student art at the Alma Thomas Fine Arts Center.