Piper O’Neill’s work transports the viewer to a nostalgic past, with a contemporary eye towards the fleeting quality of time. While her first body of work focused on Victorian girls and their games, this new series is composed of imagery from Depression-era America and the iconography of the time. Inspired by carnival chalkware prizes from the early 20th century, Marking Time includes O’Neill’s signature collaged work, along with bronze and light sculptures of cowboys, Kewpie dolls, inane animals and other popular iconic personalities.
Original chalkware figurines were hand-painted by carnival workers as they traveled city to city. Often a suitor would win one for his girl, so she could carry it around and show-off his skill to others. O’Neill came in contact with many of these figurines and string holders through the collections of Dale Chihuly, a consummate collector of twentieth century pop culture objects. O’Neill’s attraction to these mundane throw away collectibles is found in their fleeting quality, mimicking the passage of time. Using dress pattern tissue as a canvas, O’Neill incorporates her visual lexicon of images into each piece, acting as a connective link throughout the entirety of her work, layering the imagery underneath and around the central figures. Stars, spiders, and flowers, along with stitched elements and red thread unite the various works. Pivotal in this exhibition is, “Don’t Fence Me In,” an installation of multiple bronze cowboys cast from original chalkware, measuring 7’ x 6’. Bookending the show is a large neon sculpture over custom wallpaper installation of a pistol-wielding cowboy titled, “The Lone Stranger.”
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