John O'Neill - Friday night foolRealms and Realities

John O'Neill and Richard Young
Gostins Gallery, Hanover Street
19th September - 29th November 2008

Reviewed by Adam Ford

The art of John O'Neill always strikes me as being more realistic than real life. He typically takes an everyday situation and spins it a little, so people's feelings and desires leap out at the viewer more than they would on actually seeing them. That's not to say he's a caricaturist - far from it - but he perceives that the folk at the bar might be smiling, but they are actually snarling inside, and so paints them that way.

His Biennial selection on the first floor of the Gostins building fills the cafe with lurid colour, in stark contrast to the tables, chairs, and the walls they hang on. In an important sense, O'Neill world isn't the Gostins world of trendy boutiques and meditation centres. No, it is the heaving city centre streets just around the corner, it is frantic and nightmarish nightlife, it is wherever rotten drunk people become CCTV stars, like Friday Night Fool (above left). In short, it is the Liverpool that hasn't been and won't be packaged for the Capital of Culture dollar.

O'Neill can do calm and tranquil, such as in two of his Sefton Park Palm House pictures. However, it is noticeable that there are no people in these images. This is in stark contrast to visions like the Great White Lie, a horrific collision of holiday and concentration camps, where daytrippers swarm under the ever watchful eye of some Dr Mengele/Oswiecim tourist board figure. Commercialisation and extermination are two sides of the same coin, it seems to suggest. Since the holocaust is so often written off as being an atrocity beyond human understanding, this would be a bold claim to make.

Down the corridor, some unsold paintings by Richard Young (1921-2003) are displayed. These skilled, impressionistic renderings of people, their postures and expressions are well worth viewing, but it is O'Neill who sees further.

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Comment left by Lis Edgar on 24th October, 2008 at 8:34
Dear Adam. Thank you for writing this review of Realms and Realities, but I feel you do Richard Young an injustice by missing a large part of this exhibition. On show are not only the paintings (a couple now sold), but also sketchbooks, drawings and other memorabilia in the display case inside my shop Collage. Because I only acquired from Richard's family a large quantity of work in early September, I did not have time to sort and frame all of it in time for the opening of Realms and Realities. I now have completed this task and I am hosting an evening in the company of Richard Young on Thursday 30th. October, 6 - 9 pm at Gostins Gallery, 32 -36 Hanover Street. This is an opportunity to view drawings, slides, sketchbooks etc. by this highly respected artist. I am inviting you to attend this night to see the completed exhibition. Yours sincerely, Lis Edgar Curator

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