Born and raised in Mississippi, Alex O'Neal graduated from Rhode Island School of Design and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the Eighties, his formal education overlapped regular visits with Mississippi self-taught artists, including Mary T. Smith, Luster Willis, and Son Ford Thomas. He later immersed himself in art brut collections in Switzerland, Germany, and France. O'Neal's drawings and paintings have been shown at The Drawing Center, New York; BRIC, Brooklyn; P.S.122, New York; Johnson Museum of Art, Ithaca, NY; Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta; Tennessee Arts Commission, Nashville; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson, MS; Centre d’Art des Pénitents Noirs, Aubagne, France; Contemporary Arts Center, New Orleans; Chicago Cultural Center; Ecomuseu, Valls d'Aneu, Spain; Amory Arts Center, West Palm Beach; Huntsville Museum of Art, AL; Rockefeller Art Center, SUNY Fredonia; ART LA; Field Projects, New York; LOG at Lump Gallery, Raleigh, NC; and Linda Warren Projects, Chicago. His work is in volumes 16, 38, and 104 of New American Paintings.
O'Neal has been awarded fellowships from John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, New York Foundation for the Arts, Tennessee Arts Commission, and National Endowment for the Arts. He has been a resident artist at MacDowell Colony For The Arts, Peterborough, NH; Virginia Center For Creative Arts, Amherst, VA; Yaddo, Saratoga Springs, NY; Studios At Mass MoCA, Djerassi Residents Artists Program, Woodside, CA; Camargo Foundation, Cassis, France; Klitgården Refugium, Skagen, Denmark; Millay Colony for the Arts, Austerlitz, NY; Saltonstall Foundation, Ithaca, NY; Ragdale Foundation, Lake Forest, IL; Dorland Mountain Arts Colony, Temecula, CA; Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland, and Fundacíon Valparaíso and Centre d'Art i Natura, both in Spain.
The artist lives and works in Cooperstown, New York.
My mixed media work presents personal shrines and memorials that refer to places, phrases, and objects that have inspired and idiosyncratically informed me. Wreaths, words made of flowers, shields, badges, sashes, votive clock faces, Pyrenean thistle flowers, and money offerings, among other things, are in cluttered arrangements and often behind veils and bars that protect and/or jail them. Hovering zigzag forms are simplified migraine auras that create a kind of anxious weather. Commemorations of "Peppermint Memphis", “Flea Market Superstar”, “Marion Jail Fan Club”, and “Delta City” are, as banners state, “At Rest” and “Beloved” or have “Opened, Bloomed, Died”.
Within some shrine environments are totemic, bling-draped Ice Cream Royalty. Personages of sorts, they are crown-wearing, multi-scoop stacked cones, often inhabited by sleepy shrine groupies that hold to disconnected phone receivers or lick at melting, sugary surfaces. Ice Cream Royalty are metaphors for seductive, grandiose awards or rather artists' aspirations. The appearance and quirky sentiment of my work are influenced by early American mourning art, a genre that developed in response to the death of George Washington. Mourning themes became more personalized in the watercolors and needleworks of mainly 19th Century school girls and became an important aspect of American folk art. My work is also inspired by African-American self-taught art and European art brut.