“O’Hara subverts conventional approaches to art based on animals… She creates a distinctive sort of animal portrait by combining realistic and vaguely surreal elements. Her subjects look anatomically correct but subtly convey feelings of foreboding, vulnerability and solitude.”
- Chris Bergeron of the MetroWest Daily News
Here is my State of the Union series. The completed paintings of each state will be exhibited at the New Bedford Art Museum in MA, May – September, 2023.
Florida State of the Union was my first painting after being made aware of bad treatment of animals there in contradiction to the sunny fun image promoted. The duality posed by our complex relationship with animals is a theme in much of my work, and this series has become a way to dig in, requiring much research about my country.
Each painting has the landscape filled with state animals, icons, symbols, and the kitschy postcard spelling of that state — images that state would like to promote. In bubbles I depict things that happen to animals there, either behind the scenes or in plain sight, things that cause suffering for animals and damage to the environment.
Nellie the cat has made her way into these paintings adding to the campy travelogue feel with a “Where’s Nellie?”, but also addressing the theme of disparate realities. Nellie casually observes, and while sometimes an interaction is required, her main concern is to find a good place to sleep.
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Alabama, State of the Union
Alabama does not ban or regulate keeping exotic pets, alligators are killed for sport, toothless monkeys chained to dogs are raced in the ‘Banana Derby,’ University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) captive baboons are experimented on, and great hunting opportunities of the dove are available, our symbol of peace. In the background and in letters spelling Alabama a peaceful existence is shown where the state animal the bear relaxes, boys in a canoe float in the Sipsey Swamp with the Northern Flicker and state flag, an alligator, lurks nearby, civil rights activist John Lewis and the Edmund Pettus Bridge are represented along with other iconic sites.
Alaska, State of the Union
With the Northern Lights and wintry landscape of Alaska, the starry state flag, the state animal moose and the Willow Ptarmigan state bird travel- and in the letters, the mosquito ‘state bird’, Forget Me Not flowers, a polar bear, an Alaskan Native, painter Bob Ross and prospectors trek during the Klondike Gold Rush. Not so lucky animals float in bubbles; the trophy hunted Grizzly bear, the Reindeer rounded up for display and harvesting of their antlers, rodeos start early with children, the Iditarod where dogs run 1,100 miles on the frozen land, and the dangers and isolated lives of horses in the carriage industry.
Arizona, State of the Union
Against the backdrop of Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Lake Mead, sagebrush, sequoia, the state flag, flower and animal—Ringtail, Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner, Native American Sacred lands and artwork, and the city of Tombstone, float bubbles. In these bubbles animals are caught in the secluded worlds of Canned Hunts with their captive bred lions, Mega Farms of dairy where cows and calves live only to produce, surgeon training on pigs at U of Arizona, and at their medical center testing on monkeys provided by investigated Monkey Farm in Mesa, and Bullriding at rodeos.
California, State of the Union
In bubbles I depict the hidden animals. In these bubbles I show animal activists trying to save a downed calf and arrested for Grand Larceny, the captive Orcas of SeaWorld, the transport trucks of pigs to the fancifully painted slaughterhouse, the fires of CA, the infant monkey deaths of monkeys used in animal experimentation at UCDavis, and the multiple deaths of racehorses at Santa Anita Raceway. These worlds float over the stylized images of California. Minnie Mouse holds the state flag with the bear as symbol, flag waving over the bear, the state animal, near the Hollywood sign.
Colorado, State of the Union
The images featured in the background are idealistic of Colorado with the mountains, hot air balloon, state flag and the state animal and bird. In the bubbles are things that go on in that state that are cruel to animals. Coyote killing contests, live pig testing, a “sanctuary” with animal acts, wrangling calves and elephant acts at a local circus make up the bubbles of Colorado. The word Colorado contains more iconic images of Colorado in the kitschy style of postcards helping to lure the viewer in.
Connecticut, State of the Union
With Connecticut’s Gold Coast, Mystic Seaport, the Merrit Parkway with fall colors and the sperm whale state animal backdrop, animals in bad situations float in bubbles over the landscape. Two Beluga whales were brought from Canada for research on care and behaviors, both died soon after the grueling transport. An elephant at Commerford & Sons petting zoo is deprived of all that is natural, attack dogs trained to be aggressive with prisoners is cruel to both dogs and prisoners, University of Connecticut Health Center (UCHC) pays fines for its cruel, incompetent—and sometimes fatal—treatment of animals, while Oakridge and other dairy facilities with carousal milking practices the usual taking babies from their mothers.
Florida, State of the Union
The images Florida wants you to think of: Micky Mouse holding the state flag, a Florida beach with iconic alligator and free dolphins, oranges with blossoms and palm trees, the state animal the panther. Juxtapose in bubbles the exploited captive dolphin, an unnecessary bear hunt orphaning many cubs, the exposed abuse at Larson Dairy, the monkeys raised at Primate Products for experimentation, and manatees and fish as victims of Red Tide.
Georgia, State of the Union
In letters spelling Georgia there’s MLK, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Jimmy Carter, and Oliver Hardy — some of the many greats born there. Jasper Johns’ painting and the plaque starting the Appalachian Trail support the Georgia ‘born’ Cabbage Patch Dolls. Bubbles float before the Live Oak and white tail deer (state tree and animal), and each contains a dark world. Chickens crammed in cages and male chicks disposed of, primates tested on at Emory’s NPRC (National Primate Research Center), shark fin soup leaves sharks to die without their fins, and though the USDA revoked licenses of ‘bunchers’ who ‘find’ animals to sell to labs, bred beagles are used in testing at Georgia Regents University. The horse and carriage is thought romantic, but the horse’s life is filled with drudgery, or deadly.
Hawaii, State of the Union
In exotic and tropical Hawaii, surfers surf gigantic waves, Hula dancers dance, the Pearl Harbor Memorial and statue of King DavidKalākaua exist alongside the state animals humpback whale and seal, and Hawaiin Goose with hibiscus state flower with island mountains. In bubbles a darker side exists for animals, fish and fowl, with cock fighters raised and trafficked to Guam, longline fisheries and their ‘bycatch’ of turtles, false killer whales along with targeted swordfish and tuna, aquaculture fish farms with issues such as disease, unintended bycatch, and overfishing, ‘abusement’ parks and hotels where dolphins are exploited and live in confinement. The dairy industry is cruel, but here an environmental problem as well, with waste and using much of the water supply.
Indiana, State of the Union
Indiana State of the Union contains idealistic images in the background. The Indianapolis 500, state flag and Cardinal bird, snowy pines, fields and lake beaches, birthplace to the King of Pop and childhood home of Abe Lincoln. In the bubbles there is a darker reality for the animals. Pointless fatal ‘swim tests’ for mice at Lilly Laboratories, elephants mistreated at Wilstem Wildlife Park, fish circling for their miserable lives in aqua farms, and a sow unable to reach her dying piglet due to a gestation crate the size of her body in a factory farm. 75 cows escape the farm and run for their lives, only to be rounded up and sent back to the farm, their fate as with other cows, calves stolen then tethered on the merry go round milking parlor and sooner or later sent to the slaughterhouse.
Iowa, State of the Union
In the Iowa painting, home to the Iowa Caucuses and the Iowa State Fair, the American Goldfinch is the state bird, corn crops and wind farms are abundant, and monarch butterflies rest on their journey north. In bubbles we look behind the scenes where dog racing continues, hunting preserves provide sport of the kill, many puppy mills exist despite violations. As a major pork production state the sad view of a young pig on his way to slaughter serves to encompass the many horrors of factory farming; pollution of waterways, mass extermination of pigs due to pandemic, gestation crates for sows, and pigs crammed into filthy conditions never to see daylight. A man is banned from the Iowa State Fair for life for reporting abuse of a pig by its owner. I am interested in showing the disparate events against the backdrop of an idyllic Iowa.
Kansas, State of the Union
The letters that spell Kansas contain Amelia Earhart, Dodge City, covered wagons, and Mushroom Rocks. The wheat fields of Kansas create a perfect place for tornadoes, as shown in The Wizard of Oz, home of Dorothy. The state bison stands firm, but the flag bends to the force, and Elvira Gulch—who becomes the wicked witch—flies into the heart of the storm. Bubbles float above the fray with animals caught in other storms, 3 month old pigs in CAFOs marked for slaughter, the cows bred as meat where their processing plants became covid spreaders, killing contests deemed necessary in saving cows trapped in feedlots, the Carden Circus cited for abuse, with tigers forced into submission and the 4H club where children are taught young that animals are prized—but only as commodity.
Kentucky, State of the Union
In the landscape and in the letters spelling Kentucky the state animal- squirrel-climbs a tree by the rolling fields and Appalachian mountains. The state flag flies near Dinosaur World and Kentucky natives Abe Lincoln and Mohammed Ali take their place. In bubbles cocks are raised for fighting and trafficked to Guam, elephants are abused in roadside Carden Circus, as well as Kentucky Zoo making the 10 worst list for elephants, Veterans Affairs labs with kitten and cat experiments severing spines and end in death (just read these are going to stop!), the Kentucky Derby with its history of drugging and early deaths with accidents, and the adjacent bubble showing a young horse after its first race escaping and running down a Kentucky highway.
Louisiana, State of the Union
Louisiana’s state bird — pelican — flies freely next to a pelican victim of the BP oil spill, an alligator in the swamp where in the bubble crammed onto farms for their skins and meat or hunted as an exotic creature. Baby primates tested on at Tulane University, police dogs trained to attack — since slavery days these trained dogs harm or kill, the majority of targets are black, at Louisiana State live dogs tested on acquired from local animal shelter while Mike the Tiger lives in beautiful isolation as a living mascot. These are against the backdrop with state bear, flag, and exotic beauty of Mardi Gras, French Quarter, art in the 9th Ward and Louis Armstrong.
Maine, State of the Union
Against the backdrop of Mane’s landscape with it’s rocky shores, islands, pines, Wyeth’s Christina’s World, the state animal moose, Eartha the largest globe and Hussey’s General Store advertising guns, wedding gowns and cold beer floats bubbles with fish trapped in fish farms, bear hunts where trapping, hounding and baiting are still used, the lobster industry threatens the nearly extinct right whale with its trap lines, calves are separated from their mothers in the dairy industry and dogs race in the icy winter 250 mile Can Am Crown, ‘bagged’ when injured or not performing well, chained and tethered in extreme temperatures.
Maryland, State of the Union
The state dog is the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the Baltimore Oriole state bird, and Michael Phelps, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, and Babe Ruth are some of the powerful people born in Maryland. Floating over the rivers and fields of Black Eyed Susans are bubbles holding unfortunate animals of Maryland; kids learn to kill deer for fun, National Institute of Mental Health injects toxins into monkey’s brains using 50ML taxpayer money, experimentation on owls at Johns Hopkins, nutrient pollution causing massive fish die-offs, and multiple time offender of animal cruelty Jerry Holly Exotics’ neglect is responsible for the death of two zebras.
Massachusetts, State of the Union
Massachusetts, State of the Union contains idealistic and iconic images in the background. The Boston Terrier leaps over Fenway Park, a New England old windmill, Cape Cod imagery, while in the bubbles darker things occur in Massachusetts. In this painting there are lobsters boiled alive, mice tested on at Elm Hill, deer targeted at Blue Hills Reservation, shark killing tournaments, and beagles experimented on at Charles River Lab.
Michigan, State of the Union
The postcard lettering of MI with Diana Ross, Joe Louis, sites and museums, hovers above the lake regions with waterfall background, state animal and bird, deer and robin, Detroit, state flag and Joe Louis’ The Fist sculpture. Perched on the letters, Nellie sits unfazed by the bubbles containing captive baby bears, Ted Nugent’s hunting company of exotic animals, Ford’s use of pigs in crash testing — working around promise to stop use of live pigs by use of recent dead pigs in crash tests, or the mink farms where covid pandemic with mink causes thousands to have their short lives in cages shortened.
Minnesota, State of the Union
In the Minnesota painting, home to Charles Schultz and Peanuts, a town mayor that is a dog, state animals and flags are the fun backdrop to bubbles with an elephant in the circus, an animal model resource catalog where collars with tags were found hanging in the facility from the cats killed and sold, a buck who stars in a canned hunt, a factory farm of pigs pollutes the waterways, and animal testing violations are found at University of Minnesota Medical School. These unrelated events happen simultaneously, many behind closed doors.
Missouri, State of the Union
In Missouri the Ozark, mountains and lakes are home to Dagwood & Blondie Bumstead, Maya Angelou, Chuck Berry and Mark Twain. The Gateway Arch welcomes and the Missouri Mule, flag and Bee symbolize the state. In bubbles of the ‘Show Me State,‘ the plentiful puppy mill is depicted, circus animals forced to perform at the cited for cruelty Carden Circus, rats in cruel tests at Mizzou (Missouri U) and underfed horses found in Central BioMedia funded horse blood farms. Ranking second in the amount of giant factory farms (95,000 in 2020), Missouri contaminates its waters and exploits its animals and workers with its CAFOs.
Nevada, State of the Union
The state animal in Nevada is the Bighorn Sheep, as well as home to Las Vegas—gambling capital of the world, Lake Tahoe, Reno, the desert, Burning Man, the Hoover Dam and ballooning. Siegfried & Roy live on as a statue but the risk of exotic animals in entertainment was realized when Roy’s spinal cord was severed during an act. In bubbles I depict animals used in petting zoos—also dangerous—and cruel to cubs taken from their mothers, the elephant is trained and chained as an infant to entertain, the dolphin is exploited to swim with tourists, and mountain lions are killed for sport. Wild horses run free, but seen to take resources needed by cattle ranchers, they are rounded up and transported to holding facilities, held in pens, “processed” for adoption, sold for meat over the border, or long-term storage.
New Hampshire, State of the Union
Winter snow, Fall colors with the white tailed deer -state animal- and the letters of New Hampshire containing Christa McAuliffe, Storyland, and the state slogan are the backdrop for bubbles containing the animals whose only use is entertainment and food. Hunting; it’s never too young in NH to teach your children to kill that state animal, grueling dog sled racing, a calf in confinement with no mother, Clark’s Trading Post has been exploiting bears for entertainment since 1930, and 300ML male chicks deemed useless are killed each year in the US.
New Mexico, State of the Union
Letters spelling New Mexico contain White Sands, Meow Wolf, petroglyphs, Native American pottery, adobe houses, a Ricardo Caté cartoon, folk art and Bisti Badlands. There are many flying objects over the Land of Enchantment’s mesas, EarthShips, and state yucca plant flower, bear, and roadrunner. There’s balloons, a spaceship, and bubbles contain animals killed in exotic canned hunts, animals in the rodeo, a roadside zoo where the bear (state animal) and others exist in cages with no enrichment, A to Z Film Animals who’ve altered health certificates plus incurred importing charges, and where the US Forest Service guns down feral cattle from helicopters.
New York, State of the Union
In bubbles the animals of New York suffer sometimes in plain sight. The collapsed horse carriage -an accident from being forced to work in heavy traffic, noise, and pollution, the chickens of Kapora, the religious ritual where they are swung until killed, and animals slaughtered in wet markets. Behind the scenes mink captive and killed for fur coats at Saks Fifth Avenue, the force fed ducks of Foie Gras, and the Marshall operation of disease bred dogs and pigs for animal testing. These animals float over New York’s well known landscapes with NYC, Niagara Falls, Thousand Islands, the beaver state animal holding the state flag and images of Jones Beach, Rockefeller Center, Statue of Liberty, Fort Ticonderoga, a symbol of Rap, and 42nd street.
North Carolina, State of the Union
Nina Simone and Andy Griffith — two of the many iconic people born in North Carolina — broadcast the beauty and fun of this state, before the blue ridge mountains, wild horses of outer banks, metalmorphisis sculpture, Highpoint’s giant drawers, Chimney Rock, Black Wall Street, Santaland, and the state squirrel and cardinal. In contrast, bubbles hold babies in primate testing at Wake Forest U, neglect of bears at Tregembo Animal Park, exploited exotic pets, cocks raised for fighting and sent to places like Guam, and the many hog CAFOs spraying their toxic waste over farms, with suffering of crammed pigs and floods adding to the horror.
Ohio, State of the Union
Here’s Goofy in Spoonerville, Ohio... and an Amish carriage, a farm, the white tail deer state animal, a cardinal and a dog — the new state animal shelter pet. Toni Morrison and Annie Oakley fill the letters along with CornHenge and the red carnation state flower. Floating over the fields; an exotic animal trophy at this top 5 canned hunt destination, tilapia aquaculture where their 6 mo lives are spent crammed into tanks (10 years in wild), and dogfighting is growing despite being a felony. A dark yinyang; testing on live pigs at U of Cincinnati or pigs’ short lives in CAFOS where the slaughterhouse trip is the only outdoors known. Even a high ranking zoo has cheetah attacks due to stress of captivity.
Pennsylvania, State of the Union
In bubbles the animals of Pennsylvania exist in their separate miseries. The collapsed horse, one of many who die for our entertainment at ParxRacing, a dairy cow abused beyond usual at Mason Dixon Farms—supplier of Land o Lakes, a bear languishes alone at Pymatuning Deer Park, rabbits tested on, left with broken limbs for weeks, then killed at U of Pittsburgh, many fish farms, where multitudes of fish exist their entire lives in tanks. These animals float over rolling hills and rivers, the home of Hershey’s, the Liberty Bell, Keith Haring and Mr. Rogers, the white tailed deer state animal, the ruffed grouse is state bird, hot air ballooning-with state flag, the horse and buggy of the Pennsylvania Dutch, river tubing and farms dot the landscape.
Rhode Island, State of the Union
Each state includes in the background imagery that state would like us to see. Here in Rhode Island ocean and sailing, kite flying on green hills, the state flag and the state Rhode Island Red. In bubbles are things that go on with animals that are troubling. In this RI painting there are victims of the exotic bird trade, Elephants subjected to cruel bullhook training at the zoo, cows captive in the dairy business, and the truth behind the cheery egg company name, Little Rhody, is factory farmed caged chickens- this bubble floating near the iconic happy state bird, the live animal testing on pigs that goes on at Alpert Medical Center at Brown University.
South Dakota, State of the Union
Calamity Jane lived and Wild Bill Hickok died in Deadwood. Sitting Bull lived in South Dakota, home of Mt Rushmore and the enormous carved rock of Crazy Horse. Other sculptures include iconic mother goose and a large seal. In a land of contrast, the badlands and fields of sunflowers exist together, and Corn Palace is a tribute to the corn industry. The coyote — the state animal — howls near a bubble showing the huge sport of coyote hunting. More bubbles contain experiences for sheep — a bighorn sheep targeted in a canned hunt, sheep exploited for research at Ovis, and mutton busting, where 3-6 yo children wrangle sheep to the ground. The largest Smithfield processing plant in the US, where factory farmed pigs lead horrific lives, was shut down during covid with over 300 deaths of workers.
Tennessee, State of the Union
Tennessee is the home of Dolly Parton’s Dollywood, Elvis’ Graceland, Olympic champion Wilma Rudolph, the Ducks of Memphis, the state animal, bird, reptile and flower are the raccoon, Tennessee Walking horse, mockingbird, salamander and iris, the Grand Ole Opry, and yes, the MoonPie. In bubbles, those torn from nature; horse soring (the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves, forced to perform an exaggerated gait), metal leg traps still used in hunting, a top beef producing state in US, poultry operations making life and death for chickens intolerable, and a rabbit’s life of isolation and experimentation in NIH funded (377MM in 2020) at Vanderbilt U.
Texas, State of the Union
Against the backdrop of Texas Roadhouse, Cadillac Ranch, Prada installation, longhorn state animal and state flag, Yosemite Sam and the long road floats bubbles with targeted animals like dogs in Texas A&M U testing, exposed captive cows in mammoth feedlots, killing contests and children chasing and bagging—then roasting young pigs, and helicopter shooting families of feral pigs.
Vermont, State of the Union
Vermont; home to Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont Teddy Bear, maple syrup, with skiing, fall colors, the Morgan horse state animal, and the Hermit Thrush bird making up the landscape. In bubbles are animals hidden and used in entertainment. A turkey farm with turkeys barely able to move, horses pulling concrete blocks in pulling contests, a hunting culture, and killing contests of wolves and coyotes (recently banned!). A dairy factory farm pollutes the waterways, takes baby calves from mothers who are tethered to milking machines, both kept from anything natural. Milk is dumped with surpluses due the pandemic.
Washington, State of the Union
With Mt Rainier and Ruby Beach in the background, state animals sit — marmots, startling a visitor. Letters spell Washington and contain Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, an orca, the Space Needle, and the Freemont Troll. The elk is in the crosshairs in its bubble, while in other bubbles a roped, dragged calf provides entertainment at the rodeo, the dairy industry’s CAFOs with their captive cows pollute the groundwater, monkeys die imprisoned at the Washington National Primate Research Center at UW, and at Debbie Dolittle’s Petting zoo over 70 customers get bites yet 2 girls pose with Capybara.
Wisconsin, State of the Union
For the backdrop of Wisconsin are idealistic images; the Green Bay Packer Cheeseheads, The Dells with tour boat, lighthouse, flag, state animal badger and the robin—state bird, and the postcard logo ‘Wisconsin’ contains iconic images of the state, and a dairy farm of days gone by. In the bubbles are things that go on with the hidden animals. Thousands of mink dead from Covid19 in cruel mink farms, abuses beyond the usual of primates at University of Wisconsin’s National Primate Research Center, removed age limitations for hunters allow toddlers to hunt, wolf killing contests and the circus environment of dairy at CAFO’s where cows are cogs in a wheel, and beyond the buildings, toxic waste kills fish and pollutes waterways.
The complex relationship we have with animals is sometimes funny—but mostly disturbing. We cherish our animal companions but do our best to ignore the invisible animals used in food, entertainment, clothing and science. We've been deluded into thinking there are degrees of sentience. I create painted worlds to bring into focus the completely unequal experiences that animals have.
The placement of the animals in these paintings into unusual settings may at first appear funny or odd, but soon may have an ominous sense of foreboding or danger. Strangers in a strange land.
I see animals as spiritual beings. In these paintings the animals are otherworldly- far away from their miseries on earth. Some have come back to deliver a message. Animals that were loved on earth come back to comfort. Sainthood is bestowed upon those that have been sacrificed to the false gods of ignorance, greed and gluttony.
This series includes paintings that celebrate the beauty, humor and individuality that animals possess; lives unimpeded.
It’s an honor to have been asked to create these paintings for the Compassion Arts Ahimsa Award, highlighting the work of a person in the arts using their creativity to advocate for animals and as an instrument for deepening understanding and compassion for all.
Click on thumbnail images to see series.