The subjectivity of perception provides each individual with a measure of the world; the communication of these various measures defines reality. Each one of us is like an artist, continuously creating our own personal worldview often unaware of just how subjective it is. Heraclitus believed that the world was ‘one and many at the same time’; the tension held in this opposition is the tension inherent to life.
-Don Foresta, The many worlds of Art, Science and New Technologies, MIT Press, 1991.
Many-worlds interpretation agus rudaí eile nach iad is an exhibition of recent paintings by Geraldine O’Neill. Drawing on a wide variety of sources, she includes objects from within her household that have personal significance as well as images gleaned from the history of painting. Her emphatic use of children’s drawings, as well as the appearance of children as subjects within her compositions harks to the manner in which they come to terms with their world. Children often conflate playing, learning and dreaming and this is an important reference within the artist’s oeuvre. The content of O’Neill’s paintings constitute a collage through the history of image making as well as the personal history of the artist. These paintings are detailed and dense, replete with allegory and symbolism. Through her fascination with emblematic devices in northern renaissance painting O’Neill recalls motifs and iconography and considers them afresh.
In larger compositions she includes miniatures in the background – scenes unfolding and adding to the narrative of the painting. This device recalls the works of Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1515). In his paintings, a multitude of symbols contribute to the narrative. In Minion Man, O’Neill draws on the imagery from The Haywain Triptych by Bosch. On the closed exterior of the triptych, a wayfarer repels a dog with his stick. O’Neill pictures Bosch’s ‘wayfarer’ in a palimpsest of her own painted histories. While the wayfarer journeys forth, a young child looks outward; his eyes glazed in reverie. The appearance of the two figures together conjures ideas of exploration and the pursuit of knowledge through adventure and play. However there are also dangers lurking in the background and challenges ahead. The tension between these two worlds is a defining characteristic of the work and as such renders it both solemn and frivolous. As art historian Angela Griffith has noted in a recent article in Irish Arts Review;
Despite knowing the wider cultural, social and political contexts of the objects and artworks (re)presented, O’Neill does not create polemical works. Rather, through the beguiling visual properties of her paintings she seeks to draw the viewer out by drawing them in – compelling them to look, to see and, ultimately, think.
Within these paintings various realities co-exist creating a palimpsest where many worlds merge. By reproducing and combining images, as well as using different marks and gestures within the language of paint, O’Neill’s work adds a personal voice to an ongoing conversation that spans the history of western art to the present day.