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How Fran O’Neill’s work helped me appreciate abstract art

How Fran O’Neill’s work helped me appreciate abstract art

December 28, 2016 // by MOCA Staff

Scott Cathcart visits MOCA Jacksonville's galleries regularly with his wife and daughter. He was particularly taken by Fran O'Neill's work in Confronting the Canvas: Women of Abstraction, so much so that he sent her this letter along with a gift.

Fran ONeill Untitled Tiles Confronting the Canvas
Fran O'Neill's forty Untitled tiles appear in Confronting the Canvas. Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

Dear Ms. O'Neill,

I don't know how many times I walked through the Women of Abstraction exhibit at MOCA, but I know it was more than five. The first time I walked through, we went to the third floor, made the usual turn to the right, and I read about the artist and her artwork and moved along. I turned the corner and was immediately presented with your forty tiles, larger than life. I didn't really know what to make of them at first. I looked at them from a distance, then moved in and looked at them closer and more closely. My first thought was they looked like you had taken a geode, sliced a very thin slice off of it and then shone a light from behind it. Specifically, I wrote in my journal on July 7, 2016, “… the tiles looked almost like natural gemstone formations that had been sliced and had light shining through (sliced thinly, that would be).” I took a picture of the piece, took a picture of a four of the tiles that struck me at first and then moved on. On July 8, I delved a little further into your art and put a small picture of the forty tiles plus the four tiles in my journal and wrote a few notes to myself.

Scott Cathcart Tapes Photos
Scott Cathcart creates a grid to to photograph and send to Fran O'Neill. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.

My next to last visit was during an artists walk and talk with Jaime [DeSimone] that discussed the Women of Abstraction exhibit. I will confess that the only reason I knew that was happening was because I started following you on Facebook and you posted a link to it. It was a very informative talk, and afterwards I asked Jaime some questions about your work, specifically why you chose Untitled for the forty-tile work. She said she would ask you and then get back with me. That's when I told her about having pictures of the forty tiles on my whiteboard, so I could look at them further. I want to write a poem about them, but having a 10-month-old is making that move much more slowly than I would like. Nevertheless, Jaime contacted you and sent me back your answer to your title. I was immediately struck by your thoughts of using the word “coruscation” because of my thoughts of the thin geode slices with light shining through them. I sat and looked at the pictures after that revelation, and it immediately brought back to mind Christmas during my childhood. I've always been nearsighted and at night, after everyone went to bed, I would lay on the couch, take my glasses off, and watch the multicolored lights on the Christmas tree fuzz out into amorphous balls of light that flickered and changed shape, size, and location as I watched. With that lurking in my mind, I was looking through my Instagram feed and saw a picture that looked very similar to one of the tiles. I screenshot and printed it and took it to the whiteboard to compare. I had an epiphany-your pictures were an abstract view of nature that mimicked what I had done with the Christmas tree lights as a child. That set me off to complete this project for you.

Scott Cathcart Places Photos
Scott Cathcart places photos on the wall of MOCA Jacksonville's boardroom in preparation for shooting a photo of the grouping to give to Fran O'Neill. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.
Scott Cathcart and His Daughter
Scott Cathcart's daughter amuses herself while he hangs photos. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.
Scott Cathcart Shoots Photo Detail
Scott Cathcart shoots a photo of the grid he created. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.

I apologize for the longwinded explanation. I hope it gives you better view into my thoughts on your work and how and why I put these pictures together for you. That being said, please accept these two pictures as a humble expression of my appreciation for the beauty of your work. More importantly, please accept them as a token of my thanks for lifting the veil of prejudice that prevented me from truly enjoying abstract art.

Please continue to make your beautiful works of art. As long as you share your vision, you have one fan who will always enjoy them.


J. Scott Cathcart

Scott Cathcart Shoots Photo with Daughter
Scott Cathcart juggles his daughter and phone. Image courtesy of Denise M. Reagan.




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