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An Artist's Love Affair at O'Neill Gallery

By Christian Burney

Peter O'Neill was once the epiphany of the "starving artist". He began his long artistic journey on the streets of St. Augustine in 1996. "He had very little to his name," says Noelle O'Neill, owner of O'Neill Gallery. "The only way to change that was to go to work. He put his head down and did just that."

Noelle believes other artists and young people alike have much to learn from Peter O'Neill's experiences. "When people told him he couldn't succeed, he proved every single one of them wrong," O'Neill says. "To this day, his work ethic stems from that pivotal time in his life. He wasn't handed the keys to his dream. He had to build the door first."

"My Piece of Heaven"

Peter O'Neill's work ethic is certainly sturdy. He finds inspiration everywhere he looks; when traveling, he won't leave home without a camera to capture anything (and everything) that brings him to a realization. "He sees inspiration in moments that most of us see as mundane," says O'Neill. "A family walking down the beach, the streetlights on a wet street, the way a strand of hair sits on a woman's cheekbone."

"His style is so versatile and his subject matter is so diverse that it would be wrong to show just one example of his work in the galleries," says O'Neill. And that's why there are three individual O'Neill galleries, one in St. Augustine and two in New Orleans. In each of them is a broad collection of Peter O'Neill's work, and each collection captures a different side of Peter's imagination and dedication.

"Vacation"

Of Peter O'Neill's works, one of his most cherished is "Two Minutes of Silence". It portrays a firefighter kneeling amidst a burning landscape of smoke and rubble. The original oil painting of the piece sold at an auction for $20,000 in 2001, and every last dollar of the sale was donated to the New York City Fire and Emergency Service Relief Fund.

"'Two Minutes of Silence' was painted at a time of mournful sorrow in our country and in my life personally, says Peter O'Neill. "Since then, I have changed as an artist drastically. When asked about his favorite piece of personal art, he provided an optimistic and, perhaps, poetic response:

"I don't have a favorite. I have love affairs with the painting I am working on at any given moment. I have to fall in love with it, give it my all, sign my name on it, and then someone else can fall in love with it."

"Art is communication," he says. "Once it is out of me, I am done with that thought".

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About The Author

Christian Burney will soon graduate with a BFA in writing from the Savannah College of...

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