about the exhibition
New Works 03.3
November 13, 2003–January 25, 2004about the artist
Born in Omaha, NE in 1977, Robyn O’Neil received her BFA from Texas A&M University-Commerce, TX in 2000. O'Neil began her graduate studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, IL making bold, abstract paintings in fashionable colors. While struggling to carve out her niche, O’Neil shifted from painting to drawing—leaving colorful brushstrokes for the shaded grays of pencil lines. She turned, purposefully, from the bold to the seemingly banal, from a costly medium to one she could work with anytime and anywhere. It was at this point, in the year 2000, that O’Neil started working with 10 x 12 inch drawings on paper.
Not only had Robyn O’Neil discovered her medium of choice, but she also found a subject matter that she would continue to explore. Her father and his friends became the base model for works that featured small groupings of men, clad in black sweat suits, captured in minimally articulated wilderness scenes. While the men seem to be the focus, they appear curiously unnatural and devoid of human emotions. In Diamond Leruso and Eddie Koynz (2000) two poker-faced characters ski dangerously close to craggy rocks; in Wrestlers and Miami Dave (2001) military planes zoom toward a field dotted by a lonely tree, two wrestlers, and a man doing calisthenics. What is causing the men to do these things? Why do they seem so unaware of the dangers around them? Is their world the same as ours? Rather than answering questions, O’Neil’s enigmatic images raise them.
Robyn O’Neil was based in Dallas, TX before moving to Houston, where she currently lives and works. O’Neil has had solo exhibitions at Clementine Gallery, New York, NY (2003) and at Angstrom Gallery, Dallas, TX (2001). She has been included in group exhibitions at the Dallas Museum of Art, TX (2003); Mixture Gallery, Houston, TX (2002); and at the Arlington Museum of Art, TX (2001). Her work can be seen in an upcoming solo exhibition at Inman Gallery, Houston, TX (2003-2004). The piece O’Neil produced at ArtPace will be shown in the 2004 Biennial Exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.
about the project
Robyn O’Neil’s ArtPace residency work, titled Everything that stands will be at odds with its neighbor, and everything that falls will perish without grace. (2003), is nearly one hundred times the size of most of her previous drawings. Composed of three framed panels, this graphite on paper work spans almost 8 x 13 feet.
The culmination of over a year’s worth of research, the piece draws largely from elements seen in earlier works, rendering them here on a much grander scale. Bosch-like in its epic nature, Everything that stands… is a monumental and balanced composition, punctuated by a series of semi-discrete scenes. Herds of wildlife—bison, horses, moose, and deer—frolic in a snowy valley amidst dense lines of bushy trees. Mountains march across the background as black clouds loom overhead, and airplanes and birds swarm between the peaks. Odd groupings of men perform actions out of synch with their surroundings.
But only a few will survive. In this apocalyptic drawing even the landscape itself is daunting—hinting at some unknown impending doom as its characters jog, stretch, converse, and stray off into the snowy expanse. Some of the men and animals have already fallen prey to whatever danger haunts this scene—they lay still, dead or dying in the snow. The drawing's centerpiece seems celebratory at first, but is instead an awkward formation of O'Neil's sweat suit clad men encircling an uprooted tree. Five dead owls dot the same field. As in her other works, these men seem strangely detached from their surroundings—as if they do not recognize the deer and bison in their midst, or see those who have fallen around them.
With Everything that stands will be at odds with its neighbor, and everything that falls will perish without grace., Robyn O’Neil has combined the smaller parts to form a whole and proportionally heightened the sense of danger. It is no longer just danger, but now a palpable sense of doom. The characters are placed in the midst of, yet altogether oblivious to, imminent calamity. And here, it is arguably the worst calamity of all with which O'Neil contends—death itself.