Peter O’Neill – Mixed Emotions on Canvas
A professional art career came late to Peter O’Neill but in truth, it was close to not coming at all. After two failed marriages and a botched suicide attempt, Peter O’Neill felt he had nothing and found himself in a New Jersey hospital hopelessly despondent and in treatment for acute depression. Then something clicked within him. He looked around at the others with truly severe mental impairments and realized that he did not belong where he was. He checked out of the hospital and literally, checked himself back into life. Peter’s childhood dreams had been to become an artist; but he received little in the way of positive re-enforcement. “I liked to draw when I was a kid, but art classes weren’t even offered and when I’d sketch in my notebook, they’d tell me, ‘stop drawing, and pay attention!’” With no positive influence, he took a job in real estate with the lure of riches and prestige. Still, Peter could never shake the feeling that art was his true calling in life. When his career crumbled along with his second marriage, he found himself at a crossroads.
So, in April 1996, with only his inner resolve, a heart filled with creative need and relatively empty pockets, he boarded a Greyhound bus for Florida determined to become an artist. “I think I was too numb to know the risk I was taking,” he said. It was just something I did.” At age 36, he arrived in St. Augustine with under $200 in his pocket and nowhere to stay. For a year, he eked out a living as a street artist, doing pencil portraits. His first commission earned him $15.00 – not a lot of money, but proof positive that people would pay for his work. Peter worked as a street artist for about a year and then moved into a small gallery on Treasury Street where he began exploring other mediums. He, like the Old Masters, finally settled on oils and continues to use them today. Mr. O’Neill is entirely self-taught, a fact of which he is quite proud. “I haven’t had to unlearn the garbage poured on students in art school,” he said. “I never had to shed the concept and design theories. I could immediately make art that connected with people and their emotions.” For him, art is a communication between the viewer and the creator. “It should never be judged.
There is no good or bad art, only the message of the piece. I am living proof of that. I paint from life experience. My work can be sad, sentimental, happy, rude, or whatever – but it must convey feeling at the core level.” Nowhere is that more true that in his work “Two Minutes of Silence,” painted in response to the September 11th attacks in Manhattan. The painting depicts a kneeling New York City fireman, his head resting on his shovel, against the backdrop of the collapsed World Trade Center. So powerful was the imagery of that piece that it was chosen by the FDNY and the office of the mayor to grace the cover of the program for a memorial service held at Madison Square Garden. Mr. O’Neill sold the piece for $20,000 and donated the proceeds to the relief fund. In addition, he has donated over 17,000 prints free to Fire, Police, and Emergency Service Stations across the country and plans to continue until the piece is in every station in America. “This is my way of saying thank you to these brave men and women who risk their lives every day.”
A number of Limited Edition prints have also been donated to raise an additional $100,000. CBS has referenced Mr. O’Neill as one of the fastest rising talents in America and joins FOX, NBC, newspapers, and magazines in touting his success across the nation. Several national galleries have purchased directly from the O’Neill Gallery to share his talents with their clientele. In March of 2003, Mr. O’Neill was commissioned by Independence Bank in Owensboro, KY to create a series of paintings based on the Revolutionary War titled “From When We Came.” The works depict the struggles of our forefathers. Several private collectors have also commissioned special pieces from Mr. O’Neill and are proud to own his work as part of their collection. Today, Mr. O’Neill owns one of the largest artist owned galleries in both St. Augustine, Florida and Charleston, South Carolina. His work is still on display in their permanent collection aboard the Disney Magic and the Disney Wonder. In June of 2009, Peter’s work was chosen to grace the set of the nationally syndicated television show Army Wives, filmed in Charleston SC. His iconic image ‘Two Minutes of Silence’ was hung in the General’s office on the set. September 2009 marked the grand opening of O’Neill Studios, INC, Peter’s third gallery! O’Neill Studios’ can be found on Royal St. in New Orleans.