Tiffany O’Brien has been busy.
As usual, she’s been painting prolifically in her characteristic surrealist/pop style of big-eyed figures flush with symbolism. One of her latest, "Get Your Red Hot Ronas Here," is, for her, an unusually political commentary on Gov. Brian Kemp’s recent decision to re-open the state of Georgia.
You can probably guess by the title where she stands on the issue.
Plus she’s been doing work for Tybee Cottage Art Gallery and GCD Home Furnishings as well. Add that to her continued contributions to Art-o-mat, a worldwide series of retrofitted cigarette machines come fine art dispensaries, and you have to wonder if O’Brien ever sleeps.
I asked her to come on this week’s Art on the Air, however, to talk about two projects that aren’t unquestionably fine art at all: Her letter writing; and the plastic toys she’s been hiding on Tybee Island.
"I am not exactly sure how I got into vintage typewriters," said O’Brien in response to my first query, "but somehow I have."
She has four typewriters, ranging from the 1940s to the 1960s, leaving her enough room for two more in a special piece of furniture that she bought to house them.
"I just love to type," she explained. "I’m not a writer. I sometimes write horrible poetry about death, but you can only write so much of that."
With her ruminations on our eventual demise exhausted, she decided instead to start sending letters to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.
"I thought well, what a better way right now especially when we’ve all been stuck at home," O’Brien told me. "Some people may need some correspondence, or something to kind of look forward to."
Her process is simple. She posts a call to any and all on social media who might like a letter. Using hashtags such as #covid19correspondence, #snailmailrevolution, and even #goodolddays, O’Brien connects with people around the country and even across the Atlantic.
"A letter to Germany is I believe the furthest mine have been," she said. "I think I’m up to 80 letters now."
But these typewritten notes aren’t the only way that she’s bringing a little bit of joy to the world around her during the health crisis. Apparently O’Brien just had too much time on her hands so she decided to take on another project.
"One day I was feeling kind of down myself," she lamented. "And I had done so much art and so much painting. I was just tired of everything I was doing inside and feeling a little negative. So I had this bag of plastic animals that was sitting around gathering dust."
The plastic animals are small models of things like rhinos, monkeys, camels, and gorillas, which O’Brien estimates were manufactured in the 1960s or 70s.
"So I make little tags for them and hand write positive messages on them." She explained.
"I started by putting them out really around here on Tybee. I live right across the street from [Jaycee Park], so that’s just the perfect place to hide them around. And just hopefully to lift peoples spirits when they find it and find the little positive message."
Amongst those that she’s hidden include a kangaroo with the tag "Kindness WINS," and a cow with an accompanying message to the recipient to "Enjoy this very Day."
"When they find them they’re welcome to keep the little animal," O’Brien made clear. "Or they can re-hide it and share it to someone else."
She’s also been placing the figurines in a local grocery store.
"Once a week I go to the Publix over on Wilmington Island." Adding that she, "felt it was kind of a place where people were nervous. I feel like some people get angry if you’re wearing a mask, some people get angry if you’re not. And I thought well why not hide some little animals in there as well, especially on the empty toilet paper aisles to kind of maybe give people a boost there."
When it comes to why she’s placing the children’s toys or sending letters written on her typewriter, her motivation is the same.
"People are making masks for people, and people are helping out in bigger ways." O’Brien said. "I wanted to do something to help. No, it’s not going to save the world by any means, but just to make somebody’s day a little brighter, a little happier, makes me happy."
Listen to my entire conversation with Tiffany O’Brien embedded here. If you’d like to find out more about her work or inquire about receiving a letter in the mail she can be reach on Instagram @tiffanystarobrien. Next week I’ll be discussing the financial impact that the health crisis has had on local artists, and the ways that some are overcoming those challenges.
Tune in to "Art on the Air" every Wednesday from 3-4 p.m. on WRUU 107.5 FM in Savannah, and streaming worldwide at www.wruu.org.
Art off the Air is a digital-only column that is posted every week on dosavannah.com as a companion piece to the WRUU 107.5 FM show "Art on the Air."
Rob Hessler is an artist, host of the radio show Art on the Air on WRUU 107.5 FM Savannah, and Executive Director of Bigger Pie, a Savannah-based arts advocacy organization.