Walthall Fellow Spotlight: Ali O’Leary

In the lead up to the 2017 Walthall Fellows’ exhibit at MOCA-GA this summer, we will be featuring an interview with each of the Fellows from this year’s cohort. This round, our intern Grace Gardner interviews Ali O’Leary.


Ali O’Leary (b. 1988) grew up in Chapel Hill, NC. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Barnard College in New York City and earned a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, MD. She went on to receive a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Ali is an artist and professor working out of Atlanta. Her artwork combines fiber with photography to create textiles that explore how identity has become linked to commercial items and media. Ali’s photographic tapestries build upon the history of quilting and embroidery while creating unique textures that both invite touch and confound depth perception.







Grace Gardner: What would you say has been the most valuable experience you have taken away from WonderRoot’s Walthall Artist Fellowship?

Ali O’Leary:  I have really valued getting to know the other artists within the fellowship in order to build a community of artists in Atlanta. I was new to Atlanta and trying to tap into the art world here. I now feel like I have peers I can call on to have studio visits with and learn from.  Being on Ossabaw Island especially cemented these relationships and friendships.

GG: Can you describe your process as an artist?

AO: I am constantly making notes with my new ideas for artwork. I am often inspired by cultural trends and practices, whether those involving fashion, technology, politics or interpersonal relationships. I am fascinated by how our individual and collective identity has become linked to commercial objects and media. My artwork combines sewn elements with new digital photographic processes to reference craft, “women’s work,” a Southern aesthetic, and media. I wish to build upon the long history of quilts, embroidery and photography as means of exploring our contemporary relationship to objects.

I start by photographing textiles; often my hand quilted squares and embroidery, and then digitally layer with photographs gleaned over time. These are then printed on a new fabric and manipulated to create unique textures that both invite touch and evade an understanding of depth.

GG: What do you do when you find yourself at an “artist block”? Do you have any methods of pushing past that feeling?

AO: I don’t ever feel like I have an “artist block.” I always have a list of projects and ideas that I am working on and thinking through.

What could constitute as a block, for me, is having the time and resources to create. I often find myself devoting more time to my teaching position and it can be difficult to isolate myself in my studio. I push past that by reminding myself to prioritize my goals as well as my students. I also believe that the best teachers are ones who feel passionately about their work, the subject matter and stay on top of what is new in the industry.

GG: What advice do you have for individuals who are interested in becoming professional artists?

AO: Make sure that you create art for yourself, first and foremost. No one will reward you for being an artist. Don’t try to stay on top of what is “in” or popular in galleries, if you do you will always be a step behind.

GG: In what ways, if any at all, is positive social change integrated into your work?

AO: Much of my art, and my artistic process, is inspired by and comments on contemporary cultural trends and movements. I am personally drawn to artwork that can be both critical and celebrate the culture it comes from. I wish for my art to be a part of social progress and think that art can be an agent of change.

GG: What do you plan to do upon completing the Walthall Artist Fellowship?

AO:  I am excited to continue to create a new series of work that utilizes a process that I developed while in the Walthall Artist Fellowship. I plan to continue to grow my presence in the Atlanta art community.


History Now; Plaid 1 (Left) & Plaid 2 (Right), 2017

Building a Ship from the Shipwreck,…..a matter of finding our way, or, rather, a willingness to be lost opens at MOCA GA on July 14th, 2017. The 2017 Walthall Fellowship was generously and lovingly facilitated by Sarah Higgins, curator of the Zuckerman Museum at Kennesaw State University. Tickets can be purchased here.

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