The found photographs that populate Lillian O’Neil’s monumental collages combine to form precise yet complex compositions that are at once overwhelming and hypnotic. These tessellating constellations of images straddle the line that separates discipline and chaos. Each photographic fragment asserts its own tonal and textual scheme, betraying signs of their original print context, yet together constitute a nuanced pictorial tapestry where the conflict and collision of distinct elements becomes a binding agent. The logic of O’Neil’s work is wave like; her compositions heave and surge as each image folds into (and is engulfed by) the composite whole. In Mirage, the dense collage is bound by a diamond-shaped perimeter. This geometric device imposes a strict verticality on the scene which in turn becomes a window into a stratified cross section of an imagined world. Here, we are afforded a glimpse into a palimpsestic cosmology that ascends from a fiery larval core and into the heavens. This vertical landscape is punctuated by micronarratives and subplots in which anonymous figures play allegorically inflected (and often comical) bit parts.
The severity of the diamond as a structural feature – a geometric scaffold that lends the work stability and balance despite the inherent asymmetry of the collaged mass – is offset by the arm that reaches out from the darkness of the lower left portion of the work. This arm, the only photograph in the piece that has been scanned and digitally doctored, strains upward with the same propulsive force that the central throng of images projects. Unidentified and severed from its body, the arm is theatrical and tragic in the same instant. It is unclear whether this arm belongs to an omnipotent god – the creator of this world – or a helpless victim. Yet as it evades classification, the anonymous figure that belongs to the arm becomes the archetypal protagonist of O’Neil’s pictorial world. For in this kaleidoscopic strobe of images, meaning slips and metaphors equivocate.
collage on Dibond
265.5 x 199.0 cm sheet; 269.0 x 203.0 cm frame
Viktoria Marinov Bequest Fund 2017
Not on display
© Lillian O'Neil