Linda Warren Projects closes a successful 2016 year of exhibitions with two wonderful solo shows by Alex O’Neal and Brenda Moore. Marking O’Neal’s fourth solo exhibition with the gallery and Moore’s third, both of these talented artists will present new works from their very distinct oeuvres that extend on long held personal interests and formal motifs. Poetically bonded as colleagues and friends, O’Neal and Moore draw from intimate memories, art history, and pseudo narratives that are both magical and psychological.
Gallery Y – Alex O’Neal, Hiding Places in a Dream
At first glance, O’Neal’s compositions assume an outsider art quality that is both alluring and complex. His vibrant colors and dreamlike images instantly capture our curiosity and imagination. Monumental ice cream cones, neo-classical gladiators, clocks, wreaths, shrines, and mythic bears are but a few of the characters that manifest within his implausible narrative. Totemic emblems serve as stand-ins for a personal visual language and gesture – a narrative that the artist has evolved and developed since the mid-nineties.
Throughout O’Neal’s artistic career, locality and environment have played a critical and invaluable role that advances and informs his practice. From his upbringing in Mississippi to his prior Brooklyn studio that once housed a funeral home (and generated an atmosphere of “Studio Ghosts”) to the international artist residencies he actively partakes in (whether in the Catalonia Pyrenees, the South of France, Switzerland, or Memphis), O’Neal’s paintings and drawings emerge from an amalgamation of his interaction with a particular space. Prison bars, migraine zigzags, peppermint stripes, thistle flowers, mean hippies, shrine groupies, and much more adorn his wondrous compositions and create obscure narratives that express both his personal experience and his myriad intellectual concerns. O’Neal deliberately weaves the overt perplexities and nuance absurdities that exists within topics surrounding tradition, culture, aesthetics, and community. It is this visual language that defines his idiosyncratic style and creates his ironic juxtapositions. Beautiful memorials and shrines that commemorate death are forced to dialogue with dripping ice cream cones. Symbolically, each painting embodies notions of loss, what is sacred, what is rebellious, what is suppressed. They explore rituals, talismanic and pagan practices.
Aesthetically, the flatness of the picture plane is perhaps influenced by the stylized Romanesque frescos, which O’Neal sees throughout his travels in Spain – simply rendered, symmetrical designs, and the use of primary colors. But, most importantly, it is the handling of the art marker, graphite, and oil pastels that breathes a delicate sensibility to the paintings; a childlike illustrative mark that cloaks the potent undertones. The artist’s interests in surrealism and magical realism are evident, as they both explore illogical or non-realist aspects of humanity and existence. By withholding information and explanations, the viewer can experience the work. O’Neal’s work is a hybrid of the two and grants the awareness of life's connectedness or hidden meanings. Luis Leal, writer and critic, articulates this feeling as "to seize the mystery that breathes behind things.” O’Neal beautifully captures this with his intricate flowing veils that camouflage something much more ominous.
Born and raised in Mississippi, Alex O’Neal graduated from Rhode Island School of Design and School of the Art Institute of Chicago. 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, FL; Huntsville Museum of Art, AL; Rockefeller Art Center, SUNY Fredonia; Field Projects, New York; and Linda Warren Projects, Chicago. His work is in volumes 16, 38, and 104 of New American Paintings publication. 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 The Studios At MassMoCA: Djerassi 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.