• Kathabela Wilson and Toti O'Brien

      Kathabela Wilson and Toti O’Brien

      An interview with poet, artist, writer, musician, singer, dancer, explorer and bold experimentalist, Toti O’Brien.

      By Kathabela Wilson

      A telescope on the artist

      How do you see the artist in the world?

      I see artists in the world past and present as my family. They’re the people who taught me how to live and what to live for.  In today’s world, I also see artists as an endangered species, a dying civilization. Our chance to survive is… to do what you do, Kathabela: value one another, listen to one another.

      The pulse of the artist

      "Handmade Map" by Toti O'Brien

      “Handmade Map” by Toti O’Brien

      Your vibrant artistic life seems organic intense and inevitable, why this powerful blend of poetry, art, music, photography, psychology, philosophy?

      Art is what I use for digging into life’s depths, into its secrets and treasures. You can’t have too many tools for such exploration! My expressions are organic because they serve the same purpose. They also make me whole. I fully exist only through the interweaving of these fundamentals: dance, sing, play, put words together, put materials together in 2 or 3 D… the list is complete! I wouldn’t be me if I neglected one of the parts, and I don’t.

      A microscope on the poet

      What are interior qualities, the roots of your artistic life, what makes you an artist?

      I was privileged in a way, my parents were articulate, art lovers and surrounded by books. In another I wasn’t (we had very few “things” or toys, lots of unstructured time, lots of solitude). It’s a dynamite mix: I had to occupy myself with my imagination and whatever I could find at hand. I guess I’m still doing it. My grandmother, a simple housewife, gave me the earliest art lessons. She liked writing letters. She always said: if the writer is crying, then the reader will cry. I didn’t need to learn more about authenticity.

      Mapping the artist

      Toti O'Brien

      Toti O’Brien

      How does Pasadena and the surrounding area, color and influence your work, how do different places figure in your art?

      I am a displaced person:  I’ve been through the entire immigration process twice and that marked me. Places are relevant in my artwork because I don’t take them for granted: thus I love them more. I came to Pasadena 10 years ago, I was forced to leave for 3 years but yearning to come back. I consider it my place of choice: it’s where I’ve decided to share myself. For a decade I’ve been active in all sections of the local art community: I’ve built my belonging. It’s not a right of birth, it’s a labor of love. Also, I was raised in an orange grove on the Sicilian east coast, full of Mediterranean flavor: Pasadena brings back that familiar taste, and I love it.

      It is always a pleasure to think out loud with you, Kathabela. You are such a kin spirit, such a soul sister: we speak the same language.

      ! Look through the kaleidoscope of Toti’s art here.

      The One That I Like
      by Toti O’Brien

      Of all lives
      that you gave
      me I sincerely
      choose this one.

      Yes it’s true
      that I enjoyed
      the pirates ship the
      gold the smells
      of the sea
      being a man
      for a change
      the thrill ‘n the rush.

      Yes I do remember
      how I wanted to be
      Egyptian Queen
      the silver the myrrh
      my long hair
      curly lashes
      the scarab
      at my neck.

      I remember the
      fun with Napoleon’s
      army in the Russian
      snow ‘n
      the ermine fur
      when I was a
      at the Tsar’s court. 

      Oh the sunset too
      sweet and peaceful
      in my Japanese
      with the Fuji
      cutting the sky.

      Yes it has been
      all gorgeous ‘n just
      what I asked for
      believe me though…
      the life that I like
      is this one
      where whatever

      is happening now
      whatever happens
      it does it to me.


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        • Kathabela Wilson

          Kathabela Wilson is a local poet/writer/artist and musician. Her Poets Salon has become an international respected must read in the poetry world. She's the creator and host of the Pasadena-based group, “Poets on Site.”

          Colorado Boulevard is your place for enlightening events, informative news and social living for the greater Pasadena area.
          We strive to inform, educate, and work together to make a better world for all of us, locally and globally.

        • Latest posts by Kathabela Wilson

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      1. Sharon Hawley says:

        So much energy in Toti and in her art. Of all lives given her and forced upon her, she sincerely chooses this one, and does very well with it.

      2. Alice Pero says:

        What a wonderful interview. I love Toti’s breadth of understanding, her color and life and all of her art. Thank you for bringing this to us, Kathabela and thanks to Toti for all her brilliance and sparkle.

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