Carolyn O’Neill – Artist

Carolyn O’Neill lives in Hamilton, Victoria, her website is

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How long have you been making art?

I first started painting 10 years ago after attending a beginner’s art class whilst living in Melbourne. The freedom I felt from picking up a paint brush was pivotal and I haven’t stopped painting since.


Interests you have other than art you feel are important to mention?

I am an avid op shopper and collector of Mid Century home wares. My shelves are also piled up with vintage interior decorating, and art books. I dream of owning a large original modernist home one day to display my ever expanding collections. Interior design is another interest of mine.

Balancing Act low res

Artist’s statement…

The act of self-expression inspires and motivates me. The ’action’ or the physical outpouring of one’s inner self becomes a connective force. This raw but intangible energy is what I attempt to convey onto canvas.

I’m inspired by the early abstract expressionists from the 1950’s such as De Kooning, Pollock, Motherwell and Kline. Like them I feel that I am unable to express myself through representation. I desire to move beyond the recognisable ‘surface’; evoking a deeper emotional response.

Much of my work is autobiographical; depicting my inner world and emotions. They are similar to journal entries that are painted rather than written with references to biblical themes and the inspiration of music.

My work is generally unplanned; it is spontaneous and intuitive. I tend to work at a frenetic pace which I find both exhausting and energizing. It expresses a rollercoaster of emotions in varying degrees. The exploration of line, colour and form are a continuum in my creative process.

The physical and emotional tension in my work is evident in every brushstroke and drip of paint. It is this visual dialogue that allows me the freedom to express not what is seen; but what is felt.

Abstract art is similar to a piece of music which may not describe anything tangible or tell a story; yet may stir emotions. An abstract painting depends on colour and design to do the same. “


What are you currently working on?

I have just completed some for a group show which opens this month (Aug 2013) with Manyung Gallery in Mount Eliza, Victoria. The theme is ‘Femme Fatale,’ as all the artists exhibiting are women. Some of my work will be featured in an art collectors book “I LOVE ART; The A –Z of Contemporary Art” published later in 2013. Perhaps a solo show in the near future.

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Was your education helpful, or a hindrance?

It was vital in my development. I learnt early on not to take criticism personally no matter how harsh, but to grow from it and remain teachable. The process was challenging but eventually paid off. I often sought out my lecturers for feedback as I was always keen to learn as much as possible.

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Have you always been interested in art?

I’ve always had an appreciation of art. The vigorous brush strokes and the depth of colour in Vincent Van Gogh’s work has always moved me. The intense emotion in his work continues to inspire me. When I first started to paint I aspired for my work to evoke a similar response.

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What did you do before or during becoming an artist?


I worked as a psychiatric nurse until recent years. It has been a dramatic transition from psychiatry to artist and the recognition of emotions and the expression of them are relevant to me and my art practice.


What or who inspires your art?

It’s the freedom to express myself and create in an intuitive manner without boundaries. My faith is my anchor and the bible is a constant inspiration as is music. The creative process in every medium inspires me; like discovering the meaning behind the lyrics of a song or musical composition. Since I often use the titles of songs or lyrics for some of my paintings, I enjoy the process of researching them.

Other art forms including architecture, modernism, collage and sculpture further connect with my work. I often find myself distracted by my surroundings; cloud formations, the pattern on a metal fence, the structure of a leaf, reflections on the water. I am confident that inspiration can be found everywhere if you start are looking for it.

Mysterious Ways

What caused you to choose the medium you currently work in?

My art Lecturer kept encouraging me to move onto oils to bring more depth into my work. The texture and fluidly of oils when mixed with medium add further areas of interest as the rich tones fuse together and set into place


You know you are successful in Visual Arts when…

You have stayed true to your vision and continued to grow as an artist whilst remaining consistent. If you can make a living from your art then you are very fortunate.


What can you tell us about your planning and making process for making art, and has that altered over the years? Yes it has changed significantly. One of my lecturers used to comment that I ‘flew on a wing and prayer’, often finding myself getting stuck as I never planned ahead

Of late I have become more productive as my process is somewhat planned. I now work on several pieces at a time to build up layers of paint and formulate a structure/composition to work with. The colour palette tends to evolve as I mix the paint and add medium.

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Do you keep an Art Journal or Visual Diary of some kind?

Yes I am a great believer in visual diaries; they help keep me focused and organised. Actually I have a pile of them and try to keep a small one in my hand bag to do some quick sketches or writing just in case a moment of inspiration strikes.

It also helps me focus on my goals and keeps all of my art paraphenalia in one place.

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What about the role of titles with your work, some hate them others revel in them, what about you?

For me they are necessary, especially with abstract work to better engage the audience. Sometimes finding titles is a painstaking process and I find myself searching for the right words. There are times when a song or a word comes to mind and seems to be the perfect fit. The role of title in my work is to invite further contemplation.

Calm in chaos

Name a book or books, which may have inspired your work as an artist?

Most recently ‘Living with a creative mind,’ by Jeff and Julie Crabtree. It has a strong focus on the psychology of creativity and has helped me understand myself much more. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron has been on my book shelf for quite a while too. Both of these books have insightful. I find myself referring to them on occasion.

Some artists are more “at home” isolated in their creative process, while others revel in being part of a group to bounce “ideas off” how about you?

I tend to be isolated, especially if I’m preparing for a show then I’ll be in the studio all day, every day and sometimes late at night. I have definitely become more of a ‘home body’ over recent years and feel quite content with that.

Delivering work to galleries or picking up art materials in Melbourne gives me the opportunity to catch up with friends and check out some exhibitions.

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Technology (websites and social networking sites to name a few) has become an important marketing tool for many industries and individuals, what are your thoughts from a “You Inc” perspective and your art sensibility.

An artist website is an online portfolio . Given the rise of technology, well presented images of your work are crucial. Social media has been very beneficial and has opened up lots of opportunities. Having a Facebook artist page is another great tool for communication.. This has enabled me to connect with a wonderful online network of artists from all over the world.

What advice would you give to an artist just starting out? Study artists that inspire you. Try lots of techniques and don’t be precious about ruining your work. . Learn to accept criticism. Find your own unique style and build on it. Learn the art language and use it to describe your work. Use a visual diary to record your inspirations. Go to lots of openings and build relationships with artists and gallery directors. Don’t give up.

Storm in a bottle

How long did it take to develop your own style?

It’s taken me 10 years. It wasn’t until I studied Visual Art that things started to ‘click’, providing me with an in depth understanding of Art. Through much determination and perseverance my work has developed into an abstract expressionist style. Learning the technical aspects like composition and incorporating the elements and principles of design.

I am continually challenging myself to create work that is balanced, considered and complex.

There is less of struggle when I consider the composition and harmony of the work. Since it is intuitive and emotional, there is a hidden order to discover. Every brush stroke and drip is there for a reason and gravity helps too. Harmony cannot be achieved without considering the work as a whole. They have become like conversations where no one is being left out; so the communication is flowing. My work generally starts off in a state of chaos with splashes, drips and paint covering the canvas. Then the process of reining it in and connecting it together begins with reinforcing some areas whilst eliminating others. Resolving the work until it is complete in my eyes at least.


1.       Grace, 152 x 91cm

2.       Balancing Act, 140 x 82cm

3.       Intersect, 120 x 90cm

4.       Detour, 120 x 90cm

5.       Equilibrium,120 x 90cm

6.       Exuberance,120 x 90cm

7.       Meander,122 x 92cm

8.       Mysterious Ways,120 x 90cm

9.       Transcendent,122 x 92cm

10.   Pipe Dream,152 x 91cm

11.   Transition, 152 x 91cm

12.   Emerge, 152 x 91cm

13.   Calm In Chaos, 180 x 100cm

14.   Fire and Ice, 152 x 91cm

15.   Storm In A Bottle, 108 x 100cm