Long recognized as a master of avant-garde film, Pat O’Neill is probably the first American to receive an MA in moving image art. O’Neill began his studies at University of California (Los Angeles, CA) in 1957, working with renowned designer Henry Dreyfuss. In 1961, he began studying with Robert Heinecken, who like O’Neill, was coming out of design. Heinecken was, according to O’Neill, “bringing photography and Pop Art together and breaking the mold for what was acceptable in photography at that time.” O’Neill collaborated with Heinecken, and fellow students Carl Cheng and Darryl Curran on a multi-screen slide projector work, “American/Image Ideal,” for the 1963 Aspen Design Conference, organized by Charles and Ray Eames. O’Neill recalls that Heinecken “welcomed transgressions of the purity of the medium. We were encouraged to distort the technology, cook the negative, cut up the print, and even use its surface to paint upon.”
In the 1960s, O’Neill experimented with “serial projections of transparencies, followed by loop projections in 16mm film, and finally short films,” noting that this was “an extension of studio practice, using the film camera and projector in conventional and unconventional ways to make and present images over time.” While at school, O’Neill and fellow student Bob Abel attempted to build an optical printer, having seen such a device at a local production studio. The optical printer afforded O’Neill a chance to use “an array of photographic techniques, including fades and multiple exposures” and “maximize the medium’s plasticity several decades before computer-based composition systems made image manipulation widely accessible” (Manohla Dargis, “The New York Times”).
Drawing and sculpture have long been a part of O’Neill’s work. O’Neill’s fiberglass and resin sculptures reveal the exploration of the new materials associated with post-War America that was a broad interest for a range of LA artists. At this time, O’Neill was also becoming deeply involved in the Coronet Theater film scene and continuing to experiment in his own film-making. O’Neill’s film work was already recognized throughout the United States and Canada at this time; Gene Youngblood, for example, links Pat O’Neill in his 1970 book, “Expanded Cinema,” with Michael Snow and Stan Brakhage: “synaesthetic” filmmakers whose work explores cinema’s “extra-objective” reality—in opposition to television—the new “software” of the planet.
For his part, O’Neill states, “The question seems to be one of finding a satisfactory container for one’s observations.” Describing three-screen films, O’Neill goes on to point out that, “The individual parts were all made separately, so the film is not cohesive unless you can see it as a kind of journal, a collection of entries all by the same person but at different times and places. If you see it as a record of an individual who wanders the land and from time to time stops to comment on it, that is about right. The films move from one into the next, almost without interruption. All the time I was doing them, I was thinking about the form, thinking about a way to present film that was completely non-theatrical and non- sequential, that did not rely on any connection between its parts. This led to the endless-loop films, which were projected in rooms where the audience was free to come and go. I felt the need to get completely away from the theater situation as we know it.”
O’Neill’s series of optical print and collage works navigate the ways that humans interact with the 3-D world. By collaging elements in these works, such as 35mm print film, paper and glass, he creates a new 3-D space for that imagery to operate within. Through the manipulation of photographs and supportive materials, O’Neill gives way to the illusions of light and space. The subjects of his works become a summation of many parts – though the final image is singular, its presence has multiple explanations.
Pat O’Neill (b. 1939, Los Angeles, CA) received his BA in 1962 and MA in 1964 from University of California (Los Angeles, CA). O’Neill’s work was recently on view at MAXII - Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo (Rome, Italy). His work has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions at venues such as Santa Monica Museum of Art (Santa Monica, CA); Philip Martin Gallery (Los Angeles, CA); Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (Los Angeles, CA); The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Hollywood, CA); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA); Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley, CA); Cornerhouse (Manchester, United Kingdom) and Quinta do Quetzal (Vidigueira, Portugal). Additionally, his work has been included in group exhibitions such as The Map and the Territory: 100 Years of Collecting at UCLA, The Fowler Museum (Los Angeles, CA); Los Angeles, The Cool Years, Villa Arson (Nice, France); Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016, The Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); Artist’s Proof: Jennifer West, Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, PA); Site As Symbol, Fellows of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, CA); Paul McCarthy: Film List, Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); Los Angeles 1955-1985: The Birth of an Art Capital, Centre Pompidou (Paris, France); Summer of Love – Art of the Psychedelic Era, Tate Liverpool (Liverpool, United Kingdom; traveled to Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, Germany and Kunsthalle Vienna, Vienna, Austria); Future Cinema: The Cinematic Imaginary After Film, ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany; traveled to Nykytaiteen Museo, Helsinki, Finland and NTT InterCommunication Center, Tokyo, Japan); Made in California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA); Art and Film Since 1945: Hall of Mirrors, Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, CA); the Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum of Art (New York, NY); Cinema Immateriaux, Centre Georges Pompidou (Paris, France); and A Plastic Presence, Jewish Museum (New York, NY; traveled to Milwaukee Art Center, Milwaukee, WI and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA). O’Neill has received many prestigious awards over the years from organizations including Creative Capital, Center for Cultural Innovations, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, Los Angeles Outfest, San Francisco Film Festival, Rockefeller Foundation, American Film Institute, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, National Endowment for the Arts, Sundance Film Festival, and the Ann Arbor Film Festival. His work can be found in the public collections of Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, CA); Museum of Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, CA); Hammer Museum (Los Angeles, CA); American Film Institute (Los Angeles, CA); San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, CA); Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (Berkeley, CA); Chicago Art Institute (Chicago, IL); Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, MN); Carnegie Museum of Art (Pittsburgh, PA); Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, NY); Arts Council of Great Britain (British Film Institute; London, United Kingdom); Centre George Pompidou (Paris, France); Fondation Louis Vuitton (Paris, France); Archives du Film Experimental (Avignon, France); Musée d’art modern et d’art contemporain / Frac (Toulouse, France); Castello di Rivoli-GAM (Turin, Italy); Belgian Film Archive (Brussels, Belgium); Oberhausen Kurzfilmtage (Oberhausen, Germany); Film Archive of India (Calcutta, India); Kobe College of Art (Kobe, Japan); and National Library of Australia (Canberra, Australia) among others. O’Neill lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.