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Experiential Learning Funds Support Ambitious Book Project

Supported by Experiential Learning funding from the Department of Art, Amelia O'Neill's self-published book is a record of both her painting practice and her personal history.

Last year, Amelia O'Neill (MFA 2022) created a proposal for a book project that has been in her mind for some time. One of the formative experiences of O'Neill's life was a disastrous medical event in which she broke her back while jumping rope during recess at the school where she was teaching. A benign tumor had consumed many of her vertebrae, causing them to shatter under pressure. Although this was a physically painful experience, the primary focus of her work is a trauma more difficult to describe - emotional pain, loneliness, and abandonment. In this project, she sought to explore and communicate the ways in which she finds solace through these difficult experiences.

About her book, O’Neill states, “On the surface, Bess is about a girl and a dog who become friends and go on an adventure together - through a little bit of this reality, and a little bit of an imagined reality.” Beyond this deceptively simple premise, Bess seeks to examine themes of loss, abandonment, darkness, and fear while also being hopeful, finding comfort in companionship and a bright interest in life lived outdoors. O'Neill used acrylic paint primarily to create images for Bess, but she describes her process as being deeply inspired by collage. She enjoys the way that changing value or scale in a painting can produce a pasted-together effect, pulling the image away from reality.

While the book format is quite different from the experience of seeing the painting itself, O’Neill is also interested in how a book format is more conducive for presenting a narrative. “You can set up paintings in a gallery and they communicate with one another that way", she says, "But a story makes a more literal jump to narrative.” She is also fascinated by coffee table books, and how they create an alternative art-viewing experience to galleries. The revisitable take-home aspect of books means they reach a wider audience. With a book on the coffee table, anyone can hold it in their lap and thumb through the pages. This meditative, personal, and linear experience, she says, is especially appropriate for the contents of her text. 

Amelia O’Neill is still contemplating the future of Bess , whether or not it should be published or a one-time art book. She feels excited about the possibility of further exploring the book form as a method of sharing her work, and feels that this experience has helped her grow into a more confident artist. Her professors and peers also provided a community to discuss ideas and feel supported in projects like these.

To learn more about Experiential Learning funding and how it is used within the Department of Art, visit this link.