If Robyn O’Neil’s Hell triptych (2011), on view in the back room of her Inman Gallery exhibition, is a nod to Hieronymus Bosch, her other works in the show are more akin to doodles writ large. The largest drawings from 2022 are small, or even midsized by O’Neil’s standards, and they contain miniature elements ranging from children’s book illustrations to botanical studies to cave paintings. Rendered delicately in graphite on unprimed canvas, the works feel less like drawings than encounters. It’s as if a too-smart-for-school student’s desk graffiti has been delicately transferred to fabric, stretched, and hung on the wall.
Yet for all their visual busyness, the pieces aren’t alienating. Something I appreciate about O’Neil’s approach is that she uses relatively straightforward materials (graphite, canvas, paper) to create an easy-to-comprehend complexity. She also gives you room to breathe. Drawings in the show are predisposed to feeling unfinished, but here the blankness is a welcome respite. Spots of raw canvas become recovery and reset points to help navigate the pieces’ microenvironments. O’Neil used the same atmosphere-creating technique in her previous works, which were surveyed three years ago at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. In her current pieces, however, the blank space is more tangible, more real — impacted by the simple choice of canvas over paper.
Rounding out the show is a selection of smaller drawings. These are more complete in and of themselves and play on the artist’s love for repetitious, compacted landscapes. On one hand this is a greatest hits exhibition for O’Neil: it brings together her famed tracksuit men in Hell and miniature versions of forms we see in her other, larger, career-defining works. But it is also a weigh station — an artist kicking the tires on themselves and their influences, taking stock and figuring out where to go next. This is a logical point for O’Neil in 2022, coming off of critical success and an early-mid-career survey to boot. We’re lucky that instead of going through this introspection alone, in a sketchbook or on a Pintrest board, she’s giving us a window — a well-thought-out and visually captivating window — into her mind.
Robyn O’Neil: Hell and the Paradisal is on view at Inman Gallery in Houston through November 5, 2022.
I become subtly incensed whenever a museum’s postcard selection is lackluster. To me, it is the purest of souvenirs: small, affordable, transportable, and — if you so desire — shareable. I often end up collecting these more for their card properties than their post function. They’re a document of what I’ve seen, where I’ve been, and what I like. Oftentimes I’ve wondered, apparently as Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom do, if I was one of the lone survivors paying for physical, printed reproductions of artworks instead of collecting them on my phone. It appears, surprisingly, we are legion.
Hill and Bloom, who are collectively known as MANUAL, turn collecting (or, maybe, well-intentioned hoarding) into art. Their nine photographs, currently on view in the back room of Moody Gallery, chart accumulations of objects across years — mostly art postcards and other ephemera sourced from their own and their friends’ collections. A few of the postcard works become portraits of taste. For these images, the duo asked their friends, “Do you have a stash of postcards?” The results were arranged into layered mandalas, collapsing centuries of art historical associations into one image.
On the most basic level, the photographs promote a sort of tactility specific to piles. A face-down smattering of polaroids forms a black hole in one picture; a jumbled heap of old postcards, address-side up, composes another. If you’ve ever played 52-card pickup, you know the drudgery of arranging rectangular objects back into a nice stack. Because of this, these photographs propagate unease: this feeling, of chaos and the impending need for work, mixes with a foreshortened perspective that makes the images seem just a little off. MANUAL is using their eye to play into ideas around art history, spinning a time-tested technique (foreshortening is thought of as a painter’s tool) to make the collections their own. These aren’t straight photographs of postcards, but are instead unique images composed of images.
While the conceit of photographing photographs is well-tilled land, MANUAL’s pieces are fresh and unironic in a genre that could feel saccharine. They highlight the unique beauty that happens when objects, each with their own peculiarities and flaws, are assembled en masse. I appreciate this, as it helps justify my own impulses to collect postcards, photos, and the like. If anything, MANUAL’s works are an allowance: for pleasure, for unassuming beauty, and for relishing in one’s hoard.
MANUAL: Being in Touch is on view at Moody Gallery in Houston through November 5, 2022.