Dan O'Neill (MFA '14) at JAMESTOWN ARTS CENTER in RI - opens Sept 13

Suzanne Volmer




As an attention grab for audiences visiting Jamestown Arts Center in late summer and early fall, a glowing neon glyph set in low relief will greet them just inside the door. Reminiscent of the emblem of a super- hero’s belt or a computer command key, this stylized cloverleaf by Colgate Metcalf Searle III invites entry into the unique three-person exhibition “Second Home.” The show includes neon/mixed-media sculptures by Searle, artworks by Alice O’Neill (her drawings, etchings and cyanotypes), and a projection installation by her muralist brother, Daniel O’Neill.

The three artists grew up together in Providence and received under- graduate degrees from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). If familial pedigree matters, then note that Alice and Daniel O’Neill’s father is a professor in RISD’s film department and Searle’s dad is a professor in its landscape architecture department. The Jamestown exhibition basically tells a coming-of-age story about three individual trajectories that are informed significantly by experiences beyond New England.

After RISD, Daniel O’Neill received his MFA from the University of Pennsylvania after living in Rome, Italy, where he absorbed a rich history of mural painting, triggering his re-mix of the genre. Among employment opportunities, Daniel worked as studio manager for artist Joseph Kosuth, recognized for his neon text installations.

Alice was the one to contact Jamestown Arts Center last year regarding the development of this artist-curated exhibit. The idea came to her while she finished removing items from the O’Neill family house in Jamestown. She includes drawings and etchings, which reference things she gathered. Alice is interested in ideas of attachment, and so such things as her mother’s earrings are included as subject matter, blown-up beyond life-size.

Alice received her master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin in 2012 and has a Master in Printmaking from the University of Brighton in the United Kingdom. She was awarded a graduate assistantship at Wisconsin’s Tandem Press, a facility that produces professional artist editions by Sean Scully, Suzanne Caporael and others. Mentored at Tandem, she worked with their largest printing press. She has also made oversize cyanotypes that are included in the “Second Home” exhibition.


Searle combines a designer’s sensibility, technician’s skill and an artist’s vision to create his artwork. He had fabrication experience in design and architectural roles in New York City before deciding to pursue neon at the University of Wisconsin. He expects to receive his Masters degree in 2015 from that institution. When asked, “Why Wisconsin?,” Searle explains that there are only a few schools in the United States where a person can learn neon fabrication; the University of Wisconsin is on that list. He points out that neon and beer culture have actually evolved simultaneously in the Wisconsin economy, as neon signs are the advertising choice in many bars. The vernacular for the neon color “Brilliant Blue” straight off the production line is “Pabst Blue” among enthusiasts — illus- trating the connection neon has with the promotion of brew.

Searle had a rabidly successful couple of days at a recent Scope Art Fair in Miami, bending coat hangers into funky portable wire sculptures on the spot and selling them like hotcakes to collectors. He brings to Jamestown an extension of this way of thinking that is clever, sometimes funny and only achievable with an underlying understanding of mathematical determinates. Colgate’s meticulous control of possibilities is several steps above DIY culture in its refined use of materials; however, his mixed-media approach still utilizes easy finds of stock items from big-box hardware stores that he coaxes into effectiveness by drawing constantly upon his design training. His artworks evoke a minimalist sculptural intensity.

Alice O’Neill contributes subtle pencil drawings, evocative cyanotypes and etchings shown in the main gallery with Searle’s work. The artists have a sense of clean authority in common, and both have an interest in the craft of execution and quite differently explore connection of mood and emotion.

Daniel O’Neill chose the small gallery just before the central larger space to show his work. He figured, as it is windowless, that the low light would enhance projection possibilities and allow engagement with the architecture. Daniel’s narrative construct involves reinter- preting effects associated with painting through double-projector interplay. He mingles layers of video formatted, computer-modified imagery about observed time and place made with direct composite, lift and place techniques, and animated drawn passages. These get juiced-up by the addition of a layer of ink-jet-printed wallpaper made from the source material of his watercolors.

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