We launch our featured artist series by talking to Australian born, Brooklyn residing artist Fran O’Neill, to find out about her practise, why she moved to NYC, and who her influences are.
Please can you tell us about your artistic practise?
The ability to manipulate oil paint and watercolor is core to my practise, abstraction, color, movement of the paint and scale. I seek to have a large painting emerge and acquire a slow unfolding of the image and memory. Ultimately, monumentality and intimacy all in one, is what I seek.
My starting point maybe a memory from my past, a particular image that intrigues me from my daily travels to exploring the fluid movement of the paint as I apply it. I specifically look for moments in my life that have a special or unexpected quality about them. Perhaps it is the way that light hits a surface, or the juxtaposition of shapes, textures or a tiny happening, a memory or a fragment of a dream or reality. There are times when I glimpse something, and I have no idea what I am looking at, or when the strangeness of real-life seems dreamlike or indescribable for a split second, than materialises into focus. Sometimes it’s that fleeting moment that catches my eye and plays in my imagination. I don’t necessarily seek to re-create what I have seen, but more the experience of how it felt and how I perceived it, than and now. I entwine those experiences, and as I begin to paint, the direct application in the moment can add its own dynamic to the image making.
Have you always worked in an abstract way?
No, even though I do believe all good abstraction has figurative elements within it. I began working from life and my imagination. This developed into working solely from perception for a few years, using the figure and/or landscape as a motif. All of my moves have been slow, sometimes two steps forward, one back. I arrived a point where I wanted some ‘other’, from the work, and slowly the figure and landscape gave way to ‘patterned’ work, that the mark became very significant in that it seemed to be able to be of a metaphor. This exploration continues for me.
What art education have you received?
BFA, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia;
Post Graduate Studies, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia;
Certificate Program, New York Studio School, New York;
MFA, Brooklyn College, New York.
Where were you born and brought up and how has this affected your painting?
I spent the first 19 years of my life in a small country town in Australia, named Wangaratta. We lived near the outskirts of town, making it easy for me to get out into the country. I often think that what I am currently painting is directly linked to the landscape, space and the walks that I would take.
What and whom are your influences?
Anything and everything! Movies, music, old master works, contemporary art. I’m always interested in looking. I’ve looked back at Giotto, Sassetta, Piero della Francesca. Currently I am interested in some very strong New York Painters, such as Bill Jensen, Margrit Lewczuk, Joanne Greenbaum, Andrea Belag, Amy Sillman and Charline von Heyl, to name a few.
How does living in NYC affect your work?
New York has it’s own intensity. It is a city that has so much to offer an artist; amazing museums, incredible gallery exhibitions featuring both past and contemporary artists. Endless possibilities for lectures, talks and moving further afield, a rich culture that extends to all of the arts. Basically, endless opportunities for visual, imagery and culture overload. Which, for me opens up the competitive chance for anyone, and a very smart and intelligent peer group that I am surrounded by. The right amount of solitude needed for me to make my work can be a challenge, and I often need to escape from the city’s stimulation to be able to create. (to my studio and out of town)
How do you juggle working at New York Studio School and painting?
It is a juggle, most times; a happy one. There is a balance that must be maintained, between switching off from work and engaging in my own practice. I’m looking forward to the day when I am making my living from my art, and I don’t need to be working my ‘day job’. Having said that, I am grateful to be working in an art related field and an institution that I believe in its pedagogy and mission. I am constantly coming into contact with other artists, historians and like-minded individuals. This contact has it’s own rewards, and adds to my dialog with my work.
Was moving to NYC a painting decision?
Yes, I moved specifically to learn how to paint. Whilst studying for my BFA and post grad studies, I found that I did little to no painting. I really focused on drawing. I knew that I wanted to immerse myself in an intense learning experience that centered on painting. I found the New York studio School to do just that. There I learnt not to be scared of oil paint; how to mix colors, the value of limited palettes and the challenge of working on a large scale.
Would you ever come to UK to teach?
Yes! I find teaching to be one of the most incredibly rewarding experiences. Being part of someone’s creative process is a privilege, one not to be taken lightly. I teach the way that I found to be most useful to me.
In 2013 I traveled to East Sussex College; Hastings, England for an exhibition of my work. I lectured on work within the gallery, and additionally met with students as a visiting artist/critic.
Do you have any shows coming up?
I have a few group shows coming up, and am working with a gallerist to potentially show a new body of work here in New York.
Find our more about Fran and her work here: www.franoneill.com