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.