If Buddha and Obama had a baby, it might look something like one of Maggie O’Neill’s paintings. Born and raised near Washington D.C., this neo-impressionistic artist weaves together beautiful paintings that portray an appreciative, improvisational, and colorful perspective— one whose visual philosophy strikingly resembles that of Buddhism. When in the presence of her art, viewers are soaked by her vibrant yet balanced pigments, eliciting a feeling of inner peace. Her compositions speak boldly of a love for capitalism, patriotism and America.
O’Neill’s art is political in both form and content; it engages directly with typical American iconography, while portraying her effervescent, dynamic perspective. O’Neill’s work sets itself apart from others that involve politics through its abstracted Americana as protagonist–one that reflects her complex and nuanced understanding of America, its history and contemporary politics. Her pop style resembles that of Peter Max, but with a more playful intent. The works are joyfully composed with a lively palette. As a political science Major, businesswoman and artist, O’Neill has a unique perspective regarding the artist’s relation to politics. Through transposition, she lends her own lens to the viewer and fabricates a view where the artist fills an important role between contemporary politics and culture.
Bright colors sashay across the canvas, mixing, clumping and colliding together both organically and purposely. Dripping, splattered, and applied with a spatula, the paint adopts a form of newness that directly reflects the politics of our capital. Her art form, painting, is traditional- but her style improvised. O’Neill’s premeditated spontaneity bleeds with life and whimsicality.
O’Neill’s art is also compositionally lyrical. A believer in the connection between language and emotion, the artist orchestrates pathos of pride toward America. Her painting strokes vary between thin and washy to thick and gestural. Some vibrate, while others sink back, dance, or float. They all, however, ultimately congregate to form a harmonious image. O’Neill has layered the paint in an organic, impulsive manner so as not to overlook the complexities afforded by chance. The result is an oeuvre of American symbols whose individual strokes have a life of their own, but ultimately come together like the sea and the sand.
In “The Human Condition,” philosopher Hannah Arendt argued that where there is spontaneity, there is life. We recently had the chance to interview Maggie O’Neill and learn more about how she continually manages to embed life into her artwork.
NY Arts: The colors you use are very vibrant. How does your use of color connect the viewer to your subject matter?
Maggie O’Neill: I believe color affects us in deeply signiﬁcant ways, and that we go through life largely unaware of that fact. There are several studies that prove we translate color to a vocabulary of feelings to describe the color and how we react to it.
For example: a joyful bright and sunny day versus a gloomy dark and grey day.
A color’s value and depth is just as important as what color is next to it, behind or in front of it. I enjoy painting a composition that is literal without using a literal palette or approach. I paint with a fast and reactionary style. I love layering and piling color through a trowel, brush or spray. It’s those moments in which one color reacts to the other that sets the mood for the painting. They are each their own experiment. I believe in Living in COLOR.
NYA: Is there a mood or attitude that you want your work to convey?
MO: Joy, happiness, fun, passion, movement and life.
NYA: We notice a lot of Americana in your work. How does living and working in our nation’s capital add to your subject matter?
MO: I’m a native Washingtonian. I grew up 20 minutes up 16th Street, just outside of
Washington DC. It was a straight shot that landed at the White House if you drove in to the city. It’s a very dramatic drive and is still a powerful image for me with the Washington monument in the distance. I think that is the most iconic image of DC to me. I was fascinated by the nexus of it all growing up. I was a Political Science major in college. I am proud to be an American living in a democracy with civil liberties and the ability to discuss and ﬁght for them. I am also a proud Washingtonian and local business owner and I realize the unique proximity to power and really making a difference. I think it’s worth celebrating, documenting and capturing that with new colors, juxtaposition and joy. I think everyone has a speciﬁc and unique relationship to these places and iconic images.
NYA: What was it like meeting President Obama and what did he have to say about your work?
MO: It was a very surreal moment. I had designed the restaurant where he dined. My paintings of Abe Lincoln adorn the walls and he had been sitting under the seated Lincoln painting. When I gave President Obama the portrait I had done of him, I had prepared something to say and I just got choked up. I had already explained that I painted the ones in the restaurant but he asked, “Did you do this?” It was a crazy moment in time for me as an artist, designer and business owner. He looked at it, we took a quick few pics and then he stood back, looked at it again and said, “Wow! I really like this one,… this one’s going in the Library!” He then gave me a hug and told me I was very talented. I almost fell over.
NYA: Tell me about some of the custom pieces you’ve created. What has been your favorite project?
MO: My favorite custom pieces are 3D installations that I collaborate with other artists on for clients’ commissions. I love using mundane objects and turning them into beautiful surfaces. For instance, I used nearly one million pennies on the ﬂoor of a restaurant I designed called Lincoln. I’ve installed 400 doors to the walls of an ofﬁce space to look like an American ﬂag. We’ve also created 8-foot custom patina’d mirrors that I’ve never seen anywhere else. My current favorite commissioned painting is very recent. It’s a portrait of Teddy Roosevelt based on a Saturday Evening Post cover from 1905.
NYA: You host an annual charity Salon Party where you live paint. How do you enjoy live painting versus working in the studio? Which work environment do you prefer?
MO: I enjoy live painting, though it’s not necessarily something I would want to do all the time. I began doing this in graduate school and it is very entertaining when it is competitive or you engage the audience in some way. It’s a great addition to a party especially when you are trying to sell art and set a mood of creativity. I would prefer to paint in a large studio space where I can move things around regularly. I also enjoy working on more then once piece at a time, which of course takes plenty of space to do. In my old studio, I had multiple moveable walls that I could move around and paint on 4-5 canvases at once.
See more of Maggie’s work at maggieoneillfineart.com