NEWS

During September, I have two recent drawings in a group show at Governors Island Art Fair in New York City harbor. The show is curated by New York Foundation for the Arts and is in Nolan Park building 4A, a yellow, wood frame house. GIAF is open for visitors on Saturdays and Sundays during September only. For more Information about the art fair and about taking the short ferry ride to Governors Island from Lower Manhattan or Brooklyn, please go to www.4heads.org.

Summer 2013

The site is updated with eight new drawings and paintings as well as two images of a mural I made for Eaton Center, near Cleveland in Beachwood, Ohio.

Since the spring of 2012 I have been isolating a formal aspect of my previous work which I call the shrine aesthetic. With less emphasis on my flamboyant, rebellious characters, Delta Citizens, I am more interested in personal monuments, shrines, that refer to places (some fictional), phrases, and objects that have inspired and idiosyncratically informed me. Wreaths, words made of flowers, shields, badges, sashes, pine cones, ears of corn, peppermint donuts, vintage phones, and neck ties, among other things, are in tall, cluttered arrangements and often behind bars that protect and/or jail them. Commemorations of “Flea Market Superstar”, “Sellout”, “Delta City”, “Marion Jail Fan Club”, and “Yonkers Nursing Home” are, as banners state, “At Rest”, “Beloved”, and “In Loving Memory”.

Almost buried in these decorative showcases are the totemic, bling-draped Ice Cream Royalty. Personnages of sorts, they are crown-wearing, multi-scoop stacked cones, inhabited by sleepy shrine groupies that hold to disconnected phone receivers and lick at melting, sugary surfaces. Ice Cream Royalty are 1) metaphors for dazzling, grand artist awards- made of ice cream, they are straw houses and hauntingly sweet- and 2) playful, euphoric manifestations of migraines, one of my recurring themes. The appearance and quirky sentiment of these works are influenced by early American mourning art, which developed in response to the death of George Washington. Mourning themes were more personalized in the watercolors and needleworks of mainly 19th Century school girls and became an important genre in American folk art.

Last January, I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to make “The Leaking Closet”, a wall painting commissioned for Eaton Center, the new international headquarters of Eaton Corporation. The mural, painted with acrylics, is based on imagery from a site-specific painting that I made at Centre d’Art des Pénitents Noirs, Aubagne, France, in 2010. An architect involved with planning Eaton Center saw photos of the earlier work and asked me to paint something with similar direct sensibility. Making the painting allowed me to streamline- with different visual impact- some things about my original idea of leaking closets.

February 2013

My drawings are included in the upcoming New American Paintings (issue 104). The magazine should be available at larger newsstands from late February through March. More info is here: New American Paintings (issue 104)

May 2012

I have added images of new large acrylic paintings made during the winter. There are also six installation views of my February-March solo exhibition, Delta Donuts, Migraine Weather, at Linda Warren Projects, Chicago. Another addition, located in the site menu, is la déclaration de l'artiste en français.

Review

Alex O'Neal at Linda Warren Projects

January 2012

I have added four new drawings to the site. I also have a solo show opening soon in Chicago:

DELTA DONUTS, MIGRAINE WEATHER
February 3–March 10, 2012

Opening Reception: Friday, February 3, 6–9 pm

Linda Warren Projects
327 North Aberdeen St. Suite 151
Chicago, IL 60607

www.lindawarrenprojects.com

HEAD CASE, a group show curated by Laurel Farrin
October 26–November 27, 2011

Lesley Heller Workspace
54 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002

lesleyheller.com

30: A BROOKLYN SALON
Celebrating Thirty Years of Contemporary Art
September 15 – October 29, 2011

Curated by Elizabeth Ferrer, Director of Contemporary Art
BRIC Rotunda Gallery, 33 Clinton Street, Brooklyn Heights

bricartsmedia.org

Late August 2011

NEW WORK ADDED

I have added four new graphite drawings to the beginning of the 2011 works on the site. There is a more mask-like appearance to characters in recent work. This reflects my long interest in American Plains Indian and Latin American folk masks as well as older Alpine folk costumes rooted in nature worship. These drawings continue use of the stylized, migraine aura forms I’ve been applying since last fall. A character called Soho Psychic is a kind of awkward, slightly cynical, nostalgia vehicle relating to the artist’s experience. It may or may not find a place in my future work.

The drawing, Honey Bun Lover in Disguise, furthers the element of disguise and a character's close identification with an animal- in this case, an elephant. I think the elephant, which has appeared in earlier work, can represent secrets or shameful legacy when viewed as the metaphorical elephant in the room. I am also interested in the elephant's sometimes association with intoxication and hallucination. The steering wheel-like "honey bun" expands the sweets obsession of my work.

I have also added to an older work, a lithograph called Mesopotamian Dream, to the 2004 work on this site.

2011 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship recipient in the category of Printmaking / Drawing / Book Arts

Summer 2011

NEW WORK ADDED

The added new drawings continue the imagery related to a migraine’s visual auras. As someone who has regularly experienced those ophthalmic symptoms, I am interested in a simple, graphic translation of something that is actually incredibly elaborate, fluid, and iridescent. I like that my representations of auras look more like art deco jewelry, accessorizing the funky wardrobes of my characters. Migraine Party Line, a 4 × 12 foot, marker drawing on canvas, is formally like recent works, Migraine Calendar and Drawing with Phones and Donuts, and developed one “portrait” at a time. The resulting calendar-like format is another way of suggesting community, a recurring theme of past work. The term party line refers to the shared telephone lines or circuits that existed more in the last century. Unintentionally, the drawing has a resemblance to tattoo flash sheets.

This spring, I began drawing ice cream sundaes as a metaphor for the grandiosity of migraine auras, which are a visual candy. The ice cream also relates to the sweetness of my work’s candy-striped donuts, phones and other forms. In Migraine Royalty, a big ice cream thunderhead weighs down, crown-like, on the wig-wearing central figure. It is “migraine weather” and suggests an enchanted suffering. In another work, there is playful cynicism in the over-sized sundae as a kind of art award. In Drawing with Ice Cream Award and Wig, I may be rewarding myself for my efforts whether or not there is any actual recognition in the real world.

The leaking closet imagery (neckties and water drops) returns from my last summer’s installation in France. I want to present the leaking closet environment more as “migraine weather” via the dangling striped ties that vibrate and dazzle like a migraine’s visual fortification.

Some new graphite drawings were developed at a cabin in Mississippi. My doing that always sets a unique stage for continuing a work in Brooklyn though only Mississippi Hiding Place kept its earlier appearance. This drawing, with its branches and foliage, is another presentation of visual interference and of secrecy.

Drawing with Ghosts and Wigs continues past themes, including disguise, in my work and, to some degree, was inspired by visits to the circa 1835 Merchant’s House, a Federal-era townhouse/museum in New York City.

I will have drawings in the NEXT art fair at
Merchandise Mart, Chicago, April 29-May 2.
Visit space #35, Linda Warren Gallery, Chicago.

www.nextartfair.com

February 2011

MIGRAINE DRAWINGS

I have added three new graphite works on paper that I ‘m calling migraine drawings.

I will explain their origin without too much word salad. After my installation in Aubagne last summer I thought more of the banded or striped vibrating forms I had isolated for the chapel wall painting and the Drop Inventory drawing. Striped neckties, striped donuts, and peppermint drops floated or existed in two-dimensional space like never before. I wanted to occupy or account for the cavernous baroque space with larger, essential versions of forms from my past works. In doing so, I triggered a realization that my vibrating forms, including the telephones and caps, of the last six or seven years were rooted in my twenty five years of regularly experiencing migraine auras. The orderly field of shimmering peppermint drops in the 9 X 12 feet drawing, Drop Inventory, suddenly mimicked the vibrating Navajo blanket-like patterns that dominate a migraine experiencer’s vision. The repetitive, accumulated design structure mirrors the fortification of pattern that can precede the headache, something I rarely have despite almost daily auras during the last ten years. The wall painting, The Leaking Closets of Mississippi, is punctuated with large striped neckties that become the colorful lightning of migraine weather. The striped donuts and phones that my work’s characters clutch around their faces- sometimes the donut blocks the face- now strike me as the lingering aura forms symptomatic of migraines.

The recent graphite works were made after I was aware of this possibly very long influence of migraine activity. Now I am presenting aura-like forms almost as other fashion accessory or personal talismans, even when they float to the side. The geometric shapes can also be seen as my taking the phones and donuts to an abstract interpretation. I want to mine the visual possibilities of something that can exist as more pure form. Furthermore, considering the migraine influence, it probably begins in 1995 when I began peppering the hair and faces of characters with stars. In 2002 I drew characters speaking star language. The stars I thought gave people an instant mythological ambiance- they were star-dotted like constellations- but their vision was disturbed by the sparks of an oncoming migraine.

I will have work in the group exhibition,
Day Job, at THE DRAWING CENTER,
35 Wooster Street, New York, NY,
December 10, 2010- February 3, 2010.
The opening is Thurs., Dec. 9, 6-8 pm

Press Release (pdf)

July 31–August 29, 2010

A mixed media installation by Alex O'Neal
Chapelle des Penitents Noirs,
Les Aires St. Michel
Aubagne, France
Part of FESTIVAL d'ART SINGULIER 2010

This is my first commentary on the very recently completed installation at Festival International d’Art Singulier in Aubagne, France. I will be adding more images and improving their labeling- and probably including a making of- but wanted to write about this work as soon as possible. Here are my initial thoughts:

My invitation this year to do an installation in the Chapelle des Penitents Noirs (chapel of the black penitents) as part of Festival International d’Art Singulier, Aubagne, France, was an incredibly unique opportunity and an honor. To be able to marry what I do visually with a wonderfully rich and historic space was, mildly speaking, a fascinating challenge. Putting one’s mark on an unfamiliar, large space always offers different dynamics for thinking and ambitious problem-solving. The baroque Chapelle des Penitents Noirs, was completed in 1785 and though it has, for several years, been an exposition and performance space, the building retains a cathedralesque, very organic, and enchanting nature. (The Black Penitent sect in France started dissolving a century ago.) For a Mississippian like myself, its space is a Carlsbad Caverns that allowed my thinking to be more expansive and that is apparent in the final installation.

Over half of the installation is eleven big drawings that I made in France and in Spain from the end of May till the second week of July. I wanted to arrive at the chapel née gallery in early July with an anchor of works on paper that would be a point of departure for the final installation. I had been in the space for a few hours in late June and that was helpful; I could more subconsciously start solving the problem. Ten of those works on paper have my recurring imagery, including the glam, mean hippies, though a little more essentially. I am pleased with these drawings and feel I found new paths in them, but it was a kind of interesting habit breaker to commit to a faster resolution time for individual works. I can easily, and usually, spent a month on one 20 X 30 inch, oil pastel drawing and these ten were five feet square. I found potential in isolating images I had recently used, i. e. neckties, drops, in a postcard drawing about a leaking closet. The largest work on paper, Drop Inventory, is a 9 X 12 foot, oil pastel that comments on the compulsive, repetitive nature of self-taught art and is, for me, a satisfying presentation of a rather low tech image, a peppermint drop. You will see these drops, falling from candy-striped tongues, in my other more figurative works. The remaining works of the installation are site-specific and the results of two and a half weeks working in the chapel space.

As mentioned earlier, I was isolating certain elements of my visual vocabulary and this also fueled a 70 foot (21 meter) wall painting I call The Leaking Closets of Mississippi. It refers to family secrecy, the ongoing oil leaking into the Gulf and affecting Mississippi’s shores, to the mourning art of early 19th century New England, the weeping of the religious statues, and an actual closet in my Brooklyn apartment that leaked for almost a year. Such spaces remain unusable, but a few neckties and stashed donuts remain. I want to ad that before, during, and after I made this extended painting it was about 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the former chapel due to an extended heat wave. I think making all those drops may have held some subliminal desire for rain or to even conjure up some rain. I see this work more as a community of dysfunctional spaces, not individual paintings. Making this large, but more minimal piece has revealed some heraldic potential in my imagery.

The other site-specific work, The Tongues of Angels, is in three-dimensional assemblage made from graphite pencil on cut papers, oil pastel on paper, paperclips, and cord. This piece refers to the repetitive nature of art brut, ex voto objects and reliquaries, and the images of tongues in my past works. I also think a late June visit to an Eva Hesse exhibition in Barcelona may’ve allowed me to see more potential in the same brown paper I’d been drawing on. This mixed media work was most inspired by the grand formal potential that the baroque space offered me. I think that is its most important issue.

April 2010

New work added April 16, 2010.

DELTA CITY

New works, made since last summer, are now on the site.

The idiosyncratic community depicted in my work has been focusing on a fictional town, Delta City, where isolation gives greater opportunity for local superstars and homegrown fashion. It refers to the Mississippi Delta, but has nothing to do with any existing Delta City found on a map. Visually, Delta City is kind of a dumping ground of - for lack of a better term- high and low styles and refers to self-taught aesthetics (as far as that is possible). I can’t know where this particular vehicle is headed, but it’s appealing as a way to further personalize my visual problem-solving and ongoing narrative.

It has taken me awhile to naturally arrive at making what are essentially “portraits” of the characters of my work. Some of those images are now on the site. Visually, each subject’s style has a shrine mentality or aesthetic.

Delta Citizens may introduce themselves as “Cinnamon Coke”, which sounds as innocent as it does threatening. In Delta City, nature is always present- even in one’s personal style- keeping old mythology and superstitions alive. There is so little interest in what’s happening in the world that the town’s Donut Day is overpowering. Candy-striped donuts are talismans. Also, jail is just another aspect of community like school or church. 24-hour, unlimited phone calls are included. The Delta Citizens dress up for jail and whatever else is happening in town. I think the shedding of tears and other falling drops that occur in recent works are partly influenced by the mourning theme imagery that was prevalent in earlier 19th century American needleworks and watercolors.

January 2010

Work in Progress

During last summer and the early fall, I worked in temporary studios: one in Queens and another temporary workspace at the Byrdcliffe Art Colony near Woodstock, NY. This was a period of developing new pieces that are still in progress. Before spending the first five months of 2009 in France, I moved from a studio space in Brooklyn where I’d worked for ten years. That workspace, which became quite dear, had unfortunately run its course though I knew finding another space later would take some time. In late October I found a new studio near the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn and have settled into working there. As soon as more new works are resolved I will post them on the site. Thanks for visiting my site to view what I do.

RECENT WORK June 26–August 15, 2009

OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, June 26th, 6-9 pm
Linda Warren Gallery
1052 West Fulton Market St.
Chicago, IL 60607
Tel. 312-432-9500
www.lindawarrengallery.com

I am pleased to have a second one person exhibition at Linda Warren Gallery, Chicago.
The show's most recent works, made at Camargo Foundation in France this year, are linked in the text below and viewable in the 2009 Work section.

The 32" X 49" oil pastel on my show's announcement, "New Looks and Accessories For The Delta Scene"(2009), puts into focus a lot of what occurred in studio over the last two years. Though still rooted in my past premise- a narrative involving anarchist Mean Hippies anchored to Mississippi’s Delta, their eccentric relationship with animals and the natural world, and an awkward fashion statement arising from these militant hillbillies' disguises- I have decided the work speaks more personally and specifically and refers more to the dysfunctional family unit. I believe I am Pop Art-izing this small dysfunctional community that, like my Mean Hippies, has its resident anarchists and terrorists, veiled in various disguises, and ready to drop their bombs at family gatherings. That being said, I have been bringing new formal aspects to the works as well- especially totemic form likely inspired by medieval architecture and Pacific Northwest Coast indigenous art, plus unusually inventive European Art Brut. The candy striped elements of past work is furthered by neck ties, King Tut masks, and platform boots. Hair imagery remains important and a new wig-combing or hair-tugging character is a poor man’s Delilah.

I am pleased that this summer exhibition will reveal so much of what I have been thinking during the last two years. The amount of works will also illustrate how an artist's works benefit from the ones he or she makes before others. That is, I feel a viewer to my show can see more how an idea or image began in one work- or was simply hinted at- and came into fruition within a year or two. Some recent paintings and drawings seem like letters I've composed of personal symbols. They have visual narratives that keep giving a viewer clues that even I have yet to fully understand.

Four works in the show were made in Cassis, France, this last winter and spring at the Camargo Foundation and have new imagery and incorporate some new phrases. During those months in France, sidetrips to Heidelberg, Lausanne, Bern, and Barcelona had some immediate influences which was unusual considering how I usually digest information. Large, decorated hearts, a kind of sweet talk beyond my characters' peppermint tongues, were real objects, big iced cookies that weighed down Heidelberg candy wagons like ex-votos. Colorful stickers, advertising Spanish locksmiths, I peeled from Barcelona shop doors and collaged onto “Flea Market Superstars (Painting with 25 Suns)” with an unintentially pun about unlocking hearts. Of the most noteworthy in my new work are flamboyant, glam-rock characters proclaiming, “The Art World is not your friend!” or “The Art World is not my friend!”. For my paintings' and drawings' Mean Hippies and other characters to be saying this makes them the anarchists I envision them to be.

January 2009

The site was updated with new work from May-December 2008.

May 2008

The 2008 work that updates the site includes a group of drawings, most of which were begun in Mississippi last summer, and two large mixed media paintings from the winter. Except for "Drawing with Badges", begun in Catalunya in 2006, the oil pastel drawings were influenced by the environment in and around a rural cabin in the hillier area of Mississippi. The small, unpainted, pine cabin was once the home of one of my great-grandmothers. Though the new drawings that took root there continue my narrative and symbolism, there is different imagery inspired by the hawks, owls, and eagles that I see or hear near the cabin. A deprived, rural landscape is suggested by a sign advertising or someone exclaiming “DIRT FOR SALE”.

Mean hippies or anarchist characters in the new drawings further push their disguise, including the ability to mimic or incorporate appearances of animals. With an air of momentum, entourages of flamboyant, militant characters are both camouflaged and glamorized by more pronounced patterning. They appear as vague superheroes with paraphernalia and mascots. The image of the candy shoestring, which refers to a Delta band I drummed for in the Seventies, has branched out as peppermint-striped snakes, ropes, tongues, and clothing. Though I mainly see the homegrown anarchists of my work as referring to a broader dysfunctional American landscape, lately I see their community as a metaphor for the family unit that has its own resident anarchists and history of secrecy, as symbolized in the heavily-disguised participants. I recently told someone I might be POP-izing the dysfunctional family. Disguise, here with the original goal of assisting anarchy, goes beyond as drag. (As well, the mean hippies and animals in the drawings are becoming the other.) This impersonating may suggest that an artist, necessarily isolated in a studio, can easily refer to or need to create a both-gendered, that is, complete, world in his or her art.

Of the new paintings, "Modern Day Tarzans", among other things, refers to my meeting the most famous Apeman portrayer, Johnny Weissmuller, in Jackson, Mississippi when I was six. The experience made mythology very real and was a most welcomed escape at that time, 1963, when my hometown of Jackson was in chaos. But, this painting’s versions of Tarzan, young and old, are still the fashion-conscious anarchists who, with futility, hide and plot within the natural world. In their most glam clothes, they hang out in their unpeaceable kingdom. Hoping to embody and exploit nature’s power, one character charms a snake while another is poorly dressed as a satyr. The other 2008 painting, "Studio Ghosts", comments on both the artist's mindset in studio- among other past businesses, my Brooklyn workspace was once a funeral home- and Hollywood, which is echoed in some characters' star language (collaged photo images of Veronica Lake and Judy Garland). Paint globs on several characters' faces suggest symptoms of a plague, but illustrate the paint-covered, working artist. Recently, such a “hands-on” painter, that, in real life, would have accumulated paint trails on their clothes from wiping brushes, is ironic, even humorous, because this artistic persona seems to be disappearing from urban streets as new media and photo-based work fills a larger part of the art world. Both paintings include older style telephone receivers that suggest paintings are communications: between artist and inspiration, the viewer and the art, and the form and content of each piece.

I want to thank the Ragdale Foundation, of Lake Forest, Illinois, for providing me some needed time and space outside of Brooklyn to resolve recent work.

December 2007

New 2007 paintings had been added to the site.

New work furthers and also “turns up” existing themes in my paintings and drawings. Those are disguise, anarchy, and my characters' efforts to gain associations with and the power of animals. All these comment on my ongoing mean hippie, a sort of Southern anarchist, militant hillbilly, and homegrown American terrorist. From a more sedate point of view, there is also metaphor for the secretive, dysfunctional American family.

The two 2007 mixed media paintings on the site elaborate more on the element of fashion as it creates disguise. The Delta Scene shows glam hipsters, tigers, lions, and snakes wrestling around a bottle tree, that homemade, African-rooted spirit catcher of the Deep South. Here it could suggest many things: false idol, liquor as something to aspire to, trash taking root, a landscape element, and/or the enchanting bottle tree itself. It’s a different arrangement of the collaged liquor bottle images I used in mid-Nineties works, like Groovy Dudes Hunting Club (1995), to create atmospheres of alcoholism. Though I have been spending more time in Mississippi, Untitled (Wigs For Sale), 2007, is among new paintings that reflect my New York experience of the last nine years- in particular, sidewalk merchants and wig shop displays of 14th Street and Sixth Avenue: good sources for disguises.

2006 drawings were tremendously and a bit magically influenced by August spent in Farrera, a Catalan village that supports an artist's residency program. I also painted there in 1996 and works from that year are on his site. It was more than interesting to see how the village and its small population had changed over ten years. Though many of Farrera's past memorable characters had either passed or were spending retirement with family in the lowlands, a familiar enchantment was still in the air and in Farrera's stone structures, some as old as 900 CE.

What I'd like to tell viewers of the 2006 oil pastels is that the works personify the large, dramatic weather systems (El Temps) and landscapes of the Pyrenees north of Barcelona. Huge figures are the mountains, the fog (La Niebla), and the storms and they dominate a kind of opera with accompanying characters and animals. In most drawings, small, exposed mountain villages must witness and survive the eccentric, pseudo-mythological activities of their natural world.