Artist Kat O’Neill left a career on Wall Street to focus on the artistic path. A series of photographs celebrates creative passion in a solo exhibit, “Kat Walk,” at the White Room Gallery in Bridgehampton.
O’Neill is a multifaceted artist. Born and raised in New York, she studied dramatic writing at graduate programs including New School, Columbia, and Circle Repertory; produced four plays in Manhattan; and recently wrote and directed short plays at Guild Hall. O’Neill settled in East Hampton circa 2005 and began to truly show her work in 2015, acquiring the role of co-director/partner of The White Room Gallery in April 2017.
Why did you become an artist?
I always moved to the beat of my own drum, often paying the price for it. I realized early on that I had different priorities, but I also wanted to be my own woman, not dependent financially or emotionally on anyone. So, I sequestered the right brain, majored in economics, and did the Wall Street thing for a while, and I was good at it.
I certainly could have made more money on Wall Street, but there is nothing like hearing people laugh at something you wrote, or witness them truly reacting to a piece of art that you created. As any creative will tell you, the artistic path is filled with potholes. Putting your soul on the line for all to judge is unceasingly rough—even for the thick of skin—but the pleasure quotient when you get it right is pretty hard to beat.
Why is your website Themed “Inside + Out?”
I create pieces that can live indoors or outside. Clients have put my work around fire pits, out in the garden, poolside. I have a piece mounted on my garage, one on the deck, and two just leaning against trees. A graffiti image of Frida Kahlo lines the driveway. It is like a photographic sculpture garden.
What can visitors expect to find at the show?
I have one voice that speaks through my many passions. For this exhibit, I have east meeting west. The west encompasses graffiti and some urban images, with choppers and prison stories mixed in. The East End includes the sculptural style tombstone series, abstract Montauk Reflection series, some large industrial pieces, and a few photographs of local beauty.
Describe your artistic process.
I shoot a thousand darts in hope of one bullseye. Digital affords me that freedom over film though, if you look at my negatives, you might conclude that I executed the same strategy. For my layered photography, I actually set up the piece on a wood canvas and then I shoot it from a ladder. Afterwards, I discard the pieces. It is my version of ephemeral art—the original is gone and the photography is a limited edition of 12.
So, I guess you could view it as an elongated departure. Eventually fleeting. For my sculptural layered photography, as in the tombstone series, I sketch out what I want each to say. It is a bit of trial and error. I know what I want to hide, but sometimes the layered image just doesn’t work. And then I re-navigate.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE PLACES TO PHOTOGRAPH, PEOPLE WATCH?
I used to take photographs off the back of a Harley. It is the best way to travel in the city. Something about a well-appointed hog brings out the best in people. [I love to people watch in] Union Square in the city. A curb on the Bowery. Main Beach in East Hampton. Seedy bar—anywhere in the world.
what is the significance of your tombstone series?
I think life and death are more compatriots than rivals. Embracing death is part of life. The history of the tombstones, coupled with the decay over time, creates beautiful monuments to lives long gone and reminds those still here, to live. I also hide the personal elements by adding thematic elements, thus elevating the tombstones to a new life, a new narrative.
Your water photographs looks like paintings. how do you achieve this effect?
I was going for that look but I don’t do any Photoshop. I do play with saturation a bit, but mostly it’s the exposure. I really wanted the reflections of the boat to create their own forms, adding to the abstract feel of the pieces. That is a series that I just began last year.
“Kat Walk” is on view through Sunday at The White Room Gallery located at 2415 Main Street in Bridgehampton. O’Neill will be installing seven late pieces at Page Restaurant in Sag Harbor come April, with another show at The White Room Gallery August 1 to 9. Visit www.thewhiteroom.gallery or www.katoneillgallery.com for more information. Also find O’Neill on social media @Katoneillgallery.