Fascinating climb into a domestic life

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‘Thai Tuesday,’ 2019, acrylic on canvas

Art / “There’s Nothing To See Here”, Sally O’Neill, m16artspace.com.au, to April 5. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

DURING a time of social isolation and human distancing, art and normal life can be difficult things to balance while finding the inspiration to carry on; Sally O’Neill shows us how.

The exhibition There’s Nothing to See Here”, on at M16 Artspace, is about the art of self-portraiture. This can be an awkward thing for a painter, and for a viewer. Questions arise like, is this artist just flattering themselves? Why did they do this and why didn’t they choose someone else?

Artists reveal the inner world of a sitter in portraiture. But when it comes to exposing their inner lives, what is an artist to do without being seen as a narcissist? O’Neill shows the world how she goes about her day-to-day activities without glamorising herself, her lifestyle or her daily routines. O’Neill’s everyday habits are on show to the world. How many of us would care to do that?

‘Ready for Nothing Special’ 2019, acrylic on canvas.

In her work “Ready for Nothing Special”, 2019, O’Neill has painted herself with her eyes cast down while tying back her hair. The scene is like the viewer has become the mirror she stands before. They reflect her image out into the world. What is she thinking? What is she going to do next? These may be questions people would ask from such a scene. Yet no one knows the answer but her; it gets you thinking about the image of yourself you reveal to the world.

O’Neill’s sense of proportion, perspective and painterly quality speak for themselves. It’s how she captures herself that fascinates. There’s no fear of showing the world the intimate things she does. She clearly sees them as important. In the 16 works in this exhibition, every painting includes her doing things that we all do, yet probably never think about.

In “Thai Tuesday”, 2019, O’Neill is seen doing what everyone has done at some stage. Sitting before a TV and eating dinner. No one likes being captured while eating. Especially in our lounge rooms in casual clothes. It’s something rarely seen in the billions of images posted over social media sites.

While O’Neill says, “There’s Nothing to See Here”, there is. It’s eye-opening to witness a person doing what we all do every day. It’s fascinating to climb into a domestic life that is not our own.

What’s on show in this exhibition is a person just living. But that’s not the complete picture. The mind of the viewer is transported into another reality, though it could easily be the viewer’s reality. Most western lives are made up of moments that are on show in these artworks. But these images, like the ones of ourselves, are what we don’t want the world to see. O’Neill’s artworks are significant because they show how we build ourselves, while we are not looking.

Since 2013, O’Neill has been the education officer at Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.

The exhibition can be viewed at m16artspace.com.au/gallery-2

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