Westboro artist celebrates LRT progress through acrylic paintings

A photo of local Artist Eryn O’Neill standing in front of her newest body of work, Ottawa Underground, on display in Hintonburg.
Local Artist Eryn O’Neill standing in front of her newest body of work, Ottawa Underground, on display at Wall Space Gallery earlier this summer. Photo courtesy of Wall Space Gallery.

By Hollie Grace James 

Born and raised in Westboro, full-time artist Eryn O’Neill is often inspired by the architectural and recreational scenes of the city surrounding her. Through acrylic paint on canvas, the intricate underground network of the LRT system is the focus of her newest body of work, aptly-named Ottawa Underground. O’Neill hopes that her paintings inspire a moment of pause in the inertia of day-to-day life by invoking an appreciation for the in between elements that people may not have time to appreciate.

After completing an MFA at the University of Waterloo, and moving back to Ottawa in October, O’Neill’s own experience as a commuter on the recently launched LRT initiated the idea. 

“When I moved away, it was under construction and when I came back it was a fully functional section of the train,” she explained. “I ended up using it from Tunney’s to Rideau on a daily basis for work and I realized that this would be a great launching point for the work I wanted to do.” 

Taking photographs as a starting point, O’Neill was able to emulate the recognizable, real life spaces — including modern light rail transit stations at Tremblay, Rideau and Tunney’s Pasture, — onto paper through drawing. Then she simply let the paint do the work. She explained that by using a darker colour palette, it conjured feelings of nostalgia and stillness in her work. 

“You’re caught up in this sense of movement about to happen and because of the first person perspective, it’s [all] through the eyes of the viewer,” she said. “Hopefully, [they] feel like they’re in the space and directly activating it.” 

A photo of one of Eryn O'Neill's pieces from her latest collection.
A close-up of one of Eryn O’Neill’s pieces “Tremblay,” from her art collection Ottawa Underground. Photo courtesy of  Wall Space Gallery.

Beginning work on her second graduate degree as an MA candidate at Carleton University, O’Neill was also accepted into architecture school. She said that the discipline holds a special place in her heart, although her paintings are meant as a strong contrast to its detail-oriented focus. 

“These are all hand-drawn, maybe a ruler will come out once in a while,” O’Neill said. “There’s absolutely no pre-planning — it’s freehand sketch. I kinda like that they aren’t perfect.”

Erin Crowell, Wall Space Gallery curator, said that O’Neill was the perfect fit to fill a gap that opened up for the month of June. 

“We really jibed with her work. And, at the moment, it’s definitely something that clearly represents an Ottawa-specific landmark in an identifiable way.” 

Although the LRT hasn’t been without its problems, O’Neill is just happy that Ottawa is moving forward with the project. 

“I figure anything has got growing pains. There’s going to be problems with any kind of infrastructure,” she said. “This is my celebration of it, actually.” 

Ottawa Underground is the culmination of this section of her work, though O’Neill doesn’t think that she’s done with the progressive transit system just yet. 

“I want this to be a continual project, so I’m really interested in going to see the construction now,” O’Neill said. “I get to see this next phase happening and I’m watching them change the landscape of the roadways and I think that it’s fascinating. Whether or not that’s going to be a body of work or not, I’m not decided.”

A photo of some of Eryn O’Neill’s pieces from her art collection.
Some of Eryn O’Neill’s pieces from her art collection Ottawa Underground at Wall Space Gallery. Photo courtesy of Wall Space Gallery.

While the solo exhibition of Ottawa Underground ended in late July, there are still pieces on display at Wall Space Gallery available for purchase. 

For more information, go to www.eofineart.com. 

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