Lean in close

In lieu of the typically prolix, and not-always-helpful statements of intent which artists like to hang alongside their work, Adam O’Neal substitutes a dictionary definition. The word he defines, which also happens to double as the title for his exhibit, is “open.” It seems like an obtuse gesture at first, but after you spend some time with this McGuffey Art Center exhibit, you’ll see that it’s easy to understand what O’Neal’s doing. Using simple lines and geometric patterns, easy-on-the-eyes color schemes, iteration, and uncluttered composition, O’Neal meditates on open, imagining what it’s visual equivalent might be.
In this small exhibit— it takes up only half of an upper hall at McGuffey— O’Neal includes variations on three simple designs. His “Inside Out” series each consists of a square bordered by three long, skinny rectangles like the top view of an open cardboard box. Here, as with all of his work represented, O’Neal keeps his design exactly the same while he varies more peripheral elements, like color, texture, or framing.
O’Neal juxtaposes various shades of royal blue in “Inside Out Blue,” for example. Then, in “Inside Out Black” O’Neal only uses black, varying the thickness of his line to give this work an overlapping, echoing quality not present in the former piece.
O’Neal’s minimalist and meditative abstraction is especially apparent in the series “Open.” O’Neal repeats an image here that looks like the outline of the top of a door which seems to simultaneously rise and dissolve as it does. O’Neal manages this effect with just a few lines. In one version, “Open Drawing,” O’Neal employs the black-and-white of charcoal on paper. Two others, done in acrylics, preserve the composition as they substitute subtly colored, textured surface for the white space. The face of the work looks scraped or rubbed, and in small smears around the few lines O’Neal uses in this work, reds, blues and purples.
This is a superficially simple exhibit that at first draws you in with its small variation in detail. But as you lean in to investigate these tiny details, following their shifts and substitutions from work to work, it’s the large, simple gestures that leave a greater impression.

Alan O’Neal’s “Open,” paintings and drawings, runs through April 28 at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.

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