HOK #113: Meet Eryn O’Neill

“I actually grew up in the Westboro area, born and raised there.

I’ve been doing art most of my entire life through the Ottawa School of Art where, currently, I am actually teaching in the diploma program which is where I started as a student. So it’s kind of a fun full circle situation.

I’ve left a few times and come back to Ottawa in between — I’ve left for school in both instances. I went to Halifax to do my undergraduate degree in fine art at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and then I returned to Ottawa to do full-time art practice until 2016, [when] I left again to do my Master of Fine Arts at the University of Waterloo.

I live in the west end but I have a studio space at the Rectory Art House, so it’s down right in the Byward Market: that’s where I create all of my work.

What brought me back (in October 2019) was mostly this studio space that I’m sitting in right now. It became available, and I’ve always wanted to work in this shared environment.

I’m also a full-time grad student again, back in school at Carleton. I’m a MA candidate in the department of art history and curatorial [studies].

My studio time is a little bit more limited right now with full-time school, so I’m focused a lot on commissions, and I have a City of Ottawa Creation and Production grant right now that I was awarded. So that’s actually going towards a body of work in the next year or two.

I always work from my own photography sources so I spend a lot of time kind of walking around getting images to try and come up with something for my next series. I think it will be a continuation of the effects of construction and the changes in the Ottawa landscape.

It (O’Neill’s art) has to do with a lot of the transitional elements of cities. So I deal with construction equipment and a lot of architecture and infrastructure that’s changing.

My interest in the urban landscape comes from being a runner. I use that as my main method to collect imagery used for paintings. I spend time observing the unremarkable details that are in place for functionality as the main priority. 

A lot of it has to do with transit. It’s very heavily into the transit of people moving through cities. I don’t paint people ever, but I always paint the infrastructure around them…I like to have the environment be something that the viewer gets to immerse themselves in so they’re the first person looking at it, even though it’s from my perspective as an artist.

I’m represented by Wall Space Gallery, which is on Richmond Road, right in the heart of the area…It’s a bonus for me. I can walk over, I pop in and say ‘hi’ to the people, see the work that’s been changed and it feels like I’m connected to that. I love the gallery space [and] it’s good to feel really supported by the gallery I’m represented by.

That area (Westboro), it’s convenient for me, it’s comforting — [I] think it’s where I’d like to stay for the foreseeable future. I’ve lived in a couple of different areas of Ottawa and I just find that this one’s got everything.

You can walk to anything; you’ve got everything at your doorstep. I find the convenience of it quite lovely and it is very easy to get anywhere else in the city.

I’ve come and gone from Ottawa on a couple of different occasions and I’m really glad to be back this time. I think it’s an interesting point for the city.

There’s immediate changes right outside my door and that really appeals to me as an artist who is hyperfocused on that…I’m curious to see where it goes from here.”

Story collected by Maureen McEwan.

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