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Meet Jane O’Neill

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jane O’Neill.

Jane, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I grew up on the south shore of Long Island, studied art and art history at New York University and then went on to earn an MFA in painting and printmaking from Yale University. I spent about a decade in New York City and Brooklyn working for arts institutions like the Frick Collection, teaching at private art colleges like the School of Visual Arts and exhibiting my work.

For over six years, I was the Assistant Chairperson of Digital Arts at Pratt Institute. I relocated to Los Angeles with my husband Rob, who is a filmmaker, right after we had our first child, so I experienced my own sort of infancy alongside our son’s as a first-time mother in a new city.

Shortly after moving out here, I curated a show featuring twenty-five NY and LA-based artists as a way to address this huge life change, did some teaching at Whittier College, and began to really fall in love with the architecture, history, the cultural and physical landscape of Los Angeles. It’s an amazing city to be a parent and an artist, and I soon found wonderful artists and friends to build our LA family with.

I started showing work out here, most recently in a solo show at Elephant art space in Glassell Park, completed a few commissioned projects and, in a whole other creative realm, developed concept art and character designs for a 3D animated short film. Leaving New York for LA broadened my perspectives on art, the art world and the world in general, and I’m so glad to have become a Californian.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Well, there are always obstacles of some kind. In terms of opportunities, access to information and experiences, I’ve been really fortunate. It’s important to recognize where you are on the “privilege” spectrum, regardless of your identity, background or profession. However, simply being a woman can be an obstacle in our current patriarchal society, and I’ve experienced the difficulties most women in academia, the workforce, and pretty much everywhere, face. Being a mom also comes with some challenges and sometimes discrimination.

My experiences inform the things I make, whether it’s the art I exhibit in galleries, commissioned pieces, or the freelance projects I do. My kids have become my inspiration and sometimes my collaborators. I learn so much from their fearlessness, playfulness and innate creativity. The obstacles are opportunities for growth and comedy when they’re not completely fricking debilitating.

What should we know about you?  What sets you apart from the competition?
Hm. I probably specialize in making people uncomfortable? (shrugs, chuckles) Also jokes, but not professionally (yet!) so mum on that work for now.

With regard to my visual artwork, it’s rooted in process and repurposing. I collect a lot of junk, papers, fabrics, wood, you name it. I sometimes start a piece with a certain intention and then the by-product of whatever it is that I was trying to do guides me.

Remember Richard Dreyfuss’ character in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind?”. That’s me. My process is often as mysterious to me as it is to a visitor in my studio. But, eventually the aliens come and it all makes sense in the end. I started off in my student days as a painter who used narrative and figuration, so I think my desire to tell a story with materials and spaces, to create a sort of comedy or play with ambiguity in relationships has always interested me and is still something I return to in my work.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
Oh, man. So many people. I spend my time making my work alone, but it’s never without inspiration or support from friends and family. I spend a lot of time ruminating about the people in my life and relationships in general while I work- the ones that lift me up as well as ones that have gone wrong for whatever reason (but can hopefully be mended).

I’m so grateful for the artist friends in my life who’ve shared their practical and conceptual wisdom as well as for the friends and neighbors who recognize and support my need to collect junk and “collaborate with the material itself”, as one lovely friend put it. Of course, my husband is someone who always inspires me, serving as muse, partner and collaborator in all ways.

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