Michael O’Neill, They Waited More In Hope Than Expectation, 2007, oil on canvas, 61 x 51cm.
Michael O’Neill – Irish artist, writer and filmmaker – combines richly textured oil painting with a curious, sparse poetry often used to illuminate the inner life his subjects. While images of traditional rural life – farming, fishing, the ever-present forces of faith and family – can be found almost everywhere in Irish art (ever heard of Seamus Heaney? *jazz hands*), O’Neill’s work manages to do something quite unusual: evoke powerful feelings but without telling you what these should be. These are works of nostalgia but in a very particular sense of the word: they are, on the one hand, a celebratory distillation of a particular time and place, but the images are permeated with a unsettling hint of melancholy. Something has been lost that can never be recaptured however beautiful the picture.
I should mention that the artist is my uncle. Considering nepotism comes from Italian nepotismo (from nephew), the former papal practice of granting special favours to nephews or other relatives – this is a kind of nepotism (if we had any power or influence) in reverse. LT