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An inventor/artist‘s career unfolds

Krista Hirr - September 7th, 2006
“I try to make my pieces unassuming to the viewer at first glance, then evolve the concept with further observation,” states John O’Hearn, a local artist specializing in kinetic art, metal and woodwork. O’Hearn’s style of art is unconventional, but functional. It’s postmodern, but comfortingly simple. It’s unexpected, but marked by a feeling of familiar excitement. Maybe like that of the day you got your first erector set.
As a child, O’Hearn always knew he wanted to create some sort of art, but it wasn’t until he enrolled at Kendall College of Art and Design that he began to hone in on his specialty. A recent graduate, he has moved back to his hometown of Traverse City to begin a promising career.
“I started young and I guess I had a thing for beds,” states O’Hearn of a few childhood creations. “My favorite design was inspired from the bouncing horse I had in my room at the time. It just made sense to attach large coiled springs to each corner of the mattress.” He also built a swinging bed that hung from the ceiling and a base for a bed that filled the entire room and was covered with twin-sized mattresses.

FUN CREATIONS
O’Hearn says he began creating things at a young age because it was simply fun. “With my pieces, I strive to entertain and bring out the kid in all of us. Finding humor in unexpected places is a big part of that.”
Some more recent creations include a mechanical chair that folds up into an octagonal shape. Pneumatic (air) cylinders control different parts of the chair to adjust the arm rests and back support to any position desired.
“This is my favorite project because I learned so much making it,” states O’Hearn. “Anything that could have possibly gone wrong, did go wrong.”
Another piece: a surprisingly sturdy end table that uses only magnetic force to suspend the top. As a school project, a picture of his instructor’s family was turned into a pixilated ball mosaic. “For this one, I scaled down an idea that I had to rotate golf balls through the cylinders and have the picture constantly changing.”
Instead of that exact concept, O’Hearn used four foot long clear acrylic tubes and smaller plastic balls to create the image (so this one doesn’t move... yet). The process for this type of project begins with a simple picture. From there it is scanned into the computer and a program reduces the number of colors and turns the image into a workable pattern using pixels. When constructed, he has transformed approximately 35,000 six-millimeter colored plastic balls into a frameable portrait.

WOOD BURNING
But not all of this artist’s work is based on kinetics and optical illusions. On top of furniture design and metal sculpture, he is also skilled with a wood burner. With this talent, O’Hearn has transformed several of his table designs into personalized pieces for customers. Past images have included family pictures, action shots of favorite athletes, and the University of Michigan Football Stadium. The amazing part of this collection: O’Hearn’s wood burned portraits actually look like the real portraits.
With his most challenging project to date, he will be constructing a three-dimensional bus made up of layered
sheet metal. This project came from the Grand Rapids Interurban Transit Partnership Board when they approved a resolution to purchase artwork. A
nation-wide contest found O’Hearn’s name among the winners. His entry was a
scaled-model of the sculpture. When finished, the piece will consist of approximately 50 sections and stand six feet tall and 10 feet wide. It is set to be displayed on the outside of the Rapid Central Station.
Future plans for this artist include graduate school within the next few years. “I want to get a Master’s degree in robotics in order to learn more advanced techniques for adding movement to my art,” states O’Hearn. “I don’t ever want my lack of understanding to limit my creativity.”
For the next few years he will be living and working in the area, selling his art online and at local galleries. Already involved with freelance web and logo designs, he’s exploring many other ideas to incorporate his work into a business promotion. This will include everything from designing entrance signs to
one-of-a-kind custom furniture.
The name of his business: ‘What Wow Art’ because of one professor’s memorable lecture. “He told us it’s always best to have someone look at your art and think ‘huh?’ first. And then upon further inspection the viewer should think ‘wow’. The ‘wow’ before the ‘huh’ is not a good thing.” states O’Hearn. “That really sums up the reaction I hope to get from my art. So when it came to naming my business it seemed to be a good fit. And then I thought that maybe ‘What Wow’ sounded a little better than ‘Huh Wow’.”
With a business savvy approach, O’Hearn may actually be able to avoid the “starving artist” cliché.
To view John O’Hearn’s inventions, sculptures, furniture, and mosaics visit his website at HYPERLINK “http://www.whatwowart.com” www.whatwowart.com.
 
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