While talking with our next featured artist, it became apparent to me that artists are, in many ways, like magicians. In fact, Pablo Picasso once said, “Painting isn’t an aesthetic operation; it’s a form of magic designed as mediator between this strange, hostile world and us.”
Last time, we featured the smoke tower mural that signals the entrance to the Cultural Corridor—the courtyard between Classical and Central High Schools. Now let’s take a look at an artist whose project occupies the opposite end of the Corridor. Prepare to have your mind blown!
Artist Profile: Dan O’Neill
From an early age Dan O’Neill wanted to be an artist. “Painting and drawing… that’s my thing,” he says. In college, he majored in fine art, receiving a BFA in Painting from Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and an MFA in Interdisciplinary Art from the University of Pennsylvania.
Dan’s wide body of work has appeared in exhibitions in Rhode Island, Philadelphia, New York, and Rome. He also applies his artistic experience as a studio technician at Roger Williams University, where he runs the wood shop, photo lab, and 3D printing and laser cutting equipment—and occasionally teaches painting and drawing classes.
INFLUX project: Razzle Dazzle
As an artist, Dan is energized by the inherent challenges presented by the space and surfaces he works on. For INFLUX, he was tasked with designing and executing a large-scale mural on the side of the Administrative building of Classical High.
“The opportunity was to change or make something striking in this place where there’s all this surface and really interesting forms—especially the hoods and the little embankment that comes out,” he notes. “I wanted to highlight them, but then also just start changing the apparent shape that was there, like camouflage.”
Born and raised in Providence, Dan graduated from Classical, which made this project more personal: “I have memories of what it’s like being here as a teenager and what the courtyard feels like…”
The lines, shapes, and shadows mark the rhythm of the school day starting at 8:00 in the morning, lunchtime, and then 3:00 dismissal. “There are completely different parts that are illuminated at different times, and then these raking shadows that go across it,” Dan explains.
Dan’s unique perspective and awareness of the space informed his artistic choices: “It just seemed like this site was screaming out for bright colors,” he says.
In fact, the mural’s colors reflect very conscious choices based on how sunlight and shadow make one color appear as two or more different colors. “I have a light blue and then a darker blue that would be that blue in shadow, so that when the sun goes across it, it kind of multiplies those and kaleidoscopes them into even more combinations.”
Turning architecture into sculpture—with paint
Through “Razzle Dazzle,” Dan has mastered the art of illusion by using paint to turn a building into a 3D sculpture. “If this were a flat wall, it would have asked for a different mural,” he says.
The diagonal lines and jagged shapes—and the name itself—are inspired by a type of high-contrast camouflage used on warships during World War I known as razzle dazzle camouflage. “Camouflaging sounds like it’s hiding, but it’s more about confusing the shape of something so that you could see it as other shapes,” Dan explains.
One of The Avenue’s goals for the Cultural Corridor was to bring something unique to the high schools. “The opportunities for students to learn through these works of art are limitless,” says Yarrow Thorne, founder and artistic director. “The ‘Razzle Dazzle’ piece, for example, can be a springboard for a history paper, a science lesson, or an art class.”
Waking up a space
All of the elements in “Razzle Dazzle”—the color, line, shape, and light—all serve Dan’s idea of showing that anything is possible.
“It’s not a figurative mural with a specific political or social message, but a feeling that the space is here for you,” he says. “To show students how this kind of brutalist, monochromatic concrete courtyard is really a canvas that’s waiting for all of this artwork to happen on it… That’s what I wanted to get across with the act of painting it.”