Art Review

The Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center Lands a Killer Matt O'Neill Painting

No institution has played a more important role in Colorado's art history than the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Among its collections is one dedicated to modern and contemporary pieces created by Colorado artists. It's a nice collection -- not on the level of the Kirkland Museum's, mind you -- but very nice, and it just got a little nicer.

Last spring, the center mounted Thrift Store Sublime, a solo dedicated to Denver's highbrow/lowbrow juggler extraordinaire Matt O'Neill, which I reviewed in May. During the show, O'Neill felt that museum director and chief curator Blake Milteer and assistant curator Joy Armstrong had done well by him, so he decided to give one painting from the show to the CSFAC -- and he let them pick which one (the museum already has two O'Neills in its permanent collection).

See also: Tour Matt O'Neill's world at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center

The painting, "Town Without Pity," from 2011, is one of O'Neill's parodies of classic abstraction that he's been doing for the past few years.

In it, he conjures up a dusty palette that looks sun faded. Over a layer of geometric patterns, some of which are reminiscent of the tiles on the Denver Art Museum's Gio Ponti tower, he put down a doodle in light-colored paint. Because he inserted shadow lines here and there, this scribbled skein of lines causes the geometric elements to recede behind it. As a result, O'Neill introduced the illusion of three-dimensionality to the ordinarily flat vocabulary of abstraction.

The CSFAC also owns "FFA Sweetheart," from 1995, which is one of O'Neill's signature surrealist high-school yearbook paintings, and 1997's "Terri," a Picassoid portrait that O'Neill has labeled as being pop-surreal.

"Matt's painting, 'Town Without Pity,' not only extends the language of his two previous works in the Fine Arts Center's collection," says Milteer, "but will also sing alongside abstraction by others from Charles Bunnell to Richard Diebenkorn."

It's really a win-win situation, with both O'Neill and the CSFAC being enriched by the artist's generosity.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia