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Chaz O'Neil

Meet the Staff: Chaz O’Neil, Artist Programs Coordinator

Get to know Chaz O’Neil, who recently joined the Ohio Arts Council staff as the Artist Programs/Percent for Art coordinator. Chaz is a visual artist whose work is inspired by science, math, and experimental exploration of material. In this interview, he talks about what he’s most looking forward to in his new role and how he hopes to draw upon his experiences and artistic journey to help Ohio artists on theirs.
 

Q. Can you tell us a bit about your background in the arts?
My background in the arts started at a young age. I was kind of always artistically inclined, even as a young kid. I started going to CCAD Saturday art classes, and then I went to an art primary school for a couple of years.

I am originally from Columbus, but then we moved away for a little while—my mom was in the military, so we moved around a bit. Then I came back after high school to attend Otterbein University. That’s kind of where I got most of my formal training in the early years of being an artist. Learning from instructors such as Nicholas Hill and Paula Nees and Joanne Stichweh, they taught me the professional part of being an artist in a community.

During my time at Otterbein, I got connected with the Ohio State Fair. I started as a gallery intern in summer 2005, and I went back every year. Eventually, after about five years, I was asked to be an assistant director. And then after about eight or nine years, I was still an assistant director, but basically the director of the exhibition.

I enrolled in grad school at Bowling Green State University in 2011, and I got to work in the gallery there under Jacqui Nathan. After grad school, I moved back to Columbus and started at Otterbein as the museum and gallery assistant.

I was in charge of installing exhibitions and managing the collection of the university. We had three gallery spaces and now we have four gallery spaces there. I eventually started to teach classes because they knew I had the background anyway. And so, that was what my previous job was prior to coming to the OAC.

Chaz O'Neil on the Charles Bridge in Prague in 2019.Q. You’ve had a busy past two years showing your work and traveling for various residencies. What have you been working on recently?

I have been afforded some great opportunities through the Greater Columbus Arts Council with the Dresden Exchange Program, which I received in 2019, and the Ohio Art League, which also sent me abroad to Can Serrat, Spain in 2019.

Otterbein also sent me to teach in Shanghai, China, twice: once in May 2018 and again in May 2019. It was at Otterbein’s partner school there called Shanghai Publishing Printing College. We would go for the month of May and teach in-person classes for students who would one day transfer to Otterbein to finish their bachelor’s degrees. I would teach the foundations of drawing classes with a class of like 50 students. Living in Shanghai for a month was amazing.

One of the pinnacles of my career so far was being included in the Greater Columbus 2020 exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art. That was such an honor. And I was recently juried into an exhibition at ROY G BIV in 2020. That just concluded at the end of September.
 

Q. How do you see your artistic background coming into play in your work at the OAC?

I have definitely been in the artists’ shoes before. Many, many, many times. Through success and rejection, which is a big part of being an artist. You don’t always get chosen for things. You don’t always get into exhibitions or get funding for things, so you just have to kind of learn to deal with that. So, I’ve seen it from that side.

I’ve also learned the importance of being aware of opportunities. Keep your mind open to art calls, calls for submissions, calls for proposals, grant deadlines, and stuff like that.

Now, being on this side of the process, I’m able to help artists with their applications and help get the word out to as many people as possible. I’m still learning about what the job will entail, but I can definitely be sensitive to artists’ needs when it comes to approaching our office.
 

Q. Is there any Ohio Arts Council program or initiative that you’re specifically looking forward to getting involved in?

Definitely Percent for Art. It’s a two- or three-year process for each one. I can’t wait to learn more about the artist selection process, do site visits, and go physically be in the places where this art will be on display.

It’s definitely a different world for me. I am usually more of a hands-on kind of worker. I like to work with tools and paint walls and patch and hang artwork. But being a facilitator is something that I am excited for. I am here to be of service to other artists. Which I was originally doing as far as being a gallery director at the State Fair and Otterbein, but it is just a different way of looking at it. I am appreciative to be here and be a part of this agency to help in a different way.
 

Q. What inspires your art?

Terraform at the Columbus Museum of Art during Greater Columbus 2020.My work is based loosely on space travel and abstract forms, science, and math. I kind of intermix all of those things together. My work is also very material-driven. I’m very interested in working with and playing with new materials.

My most recent body of work came out of my experiences in Dresden and Spain, specifically a visit I made to a museum in Freiberg, Germany, called the Terra Mineralia. It’s like five or six floors of amazing specimens of geodes and stones and minerals collected from all around the world. I took so many photographs of these specimens, like super close up, and saved them away for a while. Once we returned to the U.S. and we were kind of quarantined for a while, I was able to revisit these images that I took.

I kind of messed with them in Photoshop, played around with them, collaged them together, and then I wanted to print them. I got involved with the makerspace called The Point at Otterbein University, and I decided I would print those photographs on largescale-format printers onto vinyl. So, basically, they were like vinyl-adhesive decals. Then I would paint the photographs as well. There was that process of making abstractly or kind of haphazardly, there’s that control-versus-chaos that kind of comes into play in my work. Things are plotted and sort of grid-like, but then there’s kind of this messy happenstance that happens.
 

Q. How has your process or approach to artmaking changed?

The piece that I created for the Greater Columbus 2020 Exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art, was a mural made of vinyl that was 11-feet-wide-by-18-feet-tall. So, it went floor-to-ceiling.  I had never attempted anything like that before, but that’s kind of the way I work. I kind of just go for it, and I deal with the roadblocks or the challenges as they come up. I’m kind of quick on my feet when it comes to my practice.

The pieces that I made for ROY G BIV were kind of standalone pieces that were 4-feet-by-4-feet. There were six of them on display adhered to the wall. So, they looked like they were kind of cemented into the surface.

I created two murals on the wall there as well. For these, I drew two images with graphite pencil on the wall: one was a photo from the Mars Perseverance rover and one was from Curiosity. From these photographs they took, I kind of re-imposed them onto the wall in 4-foot-by-4-foot squares as well.

Each drawing took me about six hours to complete. And then after the show was over, we had to erase it, basically. So, it was kind of a new thing for me as far as the permanence of an art piece. I just kind of wanted to see what happened, what my feelings would be after I put all of this time and effort into this piece, and now it was just going to be washed off.

I think the people who got to see it are that much more connected to it now that it’s gone. Of course, there’s photos and videos of me making it, so we’ll always have that. But seeing it in person for those four weeks, you kind of had to be there for it.
 

Q. What are some of your favorite hobbies outside of the office?

One of my favorite hobbies is cooking. I think I’m a pretty good cook, and I come from a line of good cooks, as well.

I also enjoy rooting for my Central and Northeast Ohio sports teams, and I have recently picked up golfing as a hobby during the quarantine.

Traveling is definitely high on the list for my wife, Margarita, and I. Spain was probably my favorite place to visit. We spent our second wedding anniversary in Barcelona.

And we just bought a house in Westerville—we just moved in September—so we’re first-time homebuyers. We’re sort of learning the ropes on all of that, and we’re getting the new studio is getting set up in the new house.

Other than that, we just like spending time with our family, including our Pomeranian-Chihuahua, Scooter, and our cat, Frida.
 

ABOUT THE OHIO ARTS COUNCIL
The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at oac.ohio.gov.

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Article by Amanda Etchison, Communications Strategist
Photos courtesy of Chaz O'Neil



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