“Metaphysically, a thing in itself never expresses anything. It is the relation between things that gives meaning to them and that formulates a thought,” writes Hans Hoffman, in his essay “The Search for the Real in the Visual Arts.” This is an elaboration of his ‘Push-Pull’ color theory, which argues that the interplay between warm and cool colors creates depth and movement (in the context of Tom O’Neil’s work ‘colors’ can be seen as any element, any decision, made on the canvas). Hoffman is concerned with the interrelation between the decisions made on the picture plane and the effect these decisions make on the resolution of the piece. O’Neil follows this school of thought, producing work based on the serendipitous conjunction of improvisational elements; his work is a process of discovering this serendipity.
Hoffman’s theory focuses on the benefits of conflict within the concerns of the picture plane but his point is universal: life and death, subject and object, love and hate, creation and destruction — at all moments we exist within dualities, defined by our relationship to the innumerable decisions (and non-decisions) that comprise existence. O’Neil’s paintings are the results of his struggle with these dualities. Every time we meet, Tom introduces me to another perspective on his dueling considerations, ideas on art and existence he’s been wrestling with for years and which, he admits, have no sure answers, a statement he makes proudly — he relishes his work’s ability to comment without presenting a conclusion. He encourages these oppositional elements to bicker and brawl, circling them again and again until he finds that magical point where the elements are at peace and the painting can rest.
As this experiment continues I’ll explore these opposing forces in detail, starting from the ground up with the daily battle between his intentions for a piece and the near-gleeful ways he thwarts them. It’s grand territory to explore and, true to the search, there may be no sure answers but, as Tom says, “trust the process, not the destination.”