Robyn O'Neil. Image by Nikki Dalonzo.

Meet the Artist: Robyn O’Neil

Robyn O’Neil was born in Omaha, Nebraska in 1977, and currently lives in Los Angeles, California. She solely makes drawings. Her work was included in the 2004 Whitney Biennial. She is the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including a Joan Mitchell Foundation Grant, an Artadia grant, and the Hunting Prize. O’Neil has had several traveling solo museum exhibitions in the United States, and her work is included in noted museums throughout the world.

How would you describe your work in three words?

Tedious, emotional and mine

What do you listen to in the studio?

I love the human speaking voice, so I mainly listen to TV shows and documentaries. I prefer teen dramas or anything dealing with murder. Not dramatized murder – real murder. Forensic Files and Beverly Hills, 90210 have basically been on a loop in my studio for about 20 years now. 

Do you have a favorite object in the studio?

My favorite object in the studio is this small plastic cube I bought at a garage sale when I was about 10 years-old. It’s a dice for a mysterious game I’ve never been able to locate, so I still have no clue what this thing actually is. The sides are drawn images: a canoe, a dead tree trunk, a big red X, a hat, barbed wire and a flat tire. I’ve had it with me while I make art since junior high school. I say with no exaggeration, I aim to make my work as strong as this plastic game piece is. It embodies story, secrecy, refinement, and the trust that all humans can “read” images if one makes them properly.

How do you find inspiration?

I mainly find inspiration by removing myself from almost everything other than my own insular world. I’m not a seeker or traveler the way so many artists and writers are. I’m whatever the opposite of “adventurer” is. When I journey out, my imagination & drive completely goes away. It’s when I stay put and stay boring…that’s when I’m most on fire. I need to be left alone to be inspired.

Robyn O'Neil's small plastic cube. Images courtesy the artist.

The idea of Ruby City came to Linda in a dream. Have your dreams ever influenced your art?

I wish I could say they have, but my dreams are so lame. Mine are almost all anxiety dreams in which I’m not ready for an exam or can’t find my high school locker. I don’t know why at age 42 these are still subconscious concerns.

Robyn O'Neil, Staring into the blankness they fell in order to begin, 2008. Graphite on paper. 77 x 144 in. © Robyn O'Neil, courtesy Talley Dunn Gallery, Dallas, Texas. Linda Pace Foundation Collection, Ruby City, San Antonio, Texas.

What does a typical day look like?

I go directly into the studio, which is about 10 feet from my bed, and work while a bit sleep-hazy. Then I eat something, shower, catch up on emails (my least favorite thing). Next, I head back into the studio, pick something to watch while drawing, and go at it all day and most of the night. It’s really boring, monotonous and I love every minute of it. The only other thing I really do is eat awesome food when I’m hungry, and then I crochet at night while watching movies or YouTube tutorials about crocheting.

What advice do you have for younger artists?

Read constantly about things other than art. Do not focus on getting attention right away. Be okay with things taking time. Keep your focus entirely on the studio and not the career.

Have you been to San Antonio before?

Yes, and it’s hands-down my favorite Texas city!

What’s your favorite spot in the city?

Sam’s Burger Joint is what I wish every restaurant looked/felt like. I love that place! Also, any place that serves breakfast tacos is my favorite spot. California has not caught on to the magic of breakfast tacos, so when I’m back in San Antonio, that’s a must.

Did you know Linda Pace? If so, can you describe your first meeting? Your relationship?

I was lucky enough to meet and spend a lot of time with Linda while I was a resident at Artpace in 2003. When I first met her, I was relieved to see she was very warm and loving. Upon getting to know her further, that warmth was married with an intensely cerebral character. Conversations with her made it clear that she was always taking in so much more than most people ever do. There was always a lot on her mind, but not in a clouded way. In a thoughtful and maternal way. I always saw her as a quiet storm. And I love storms. 

Pick a work you like in our collection and tell us why it stands out to you.

Kim Jones’ “Untitled” sculpture is my favorite piece in the Ruby City collection. Kim’s process (this piece took almost four decades I believe) is unmatched by any other living artist. I bore witness to this because I was lucky enough to be an Artpace resident with him while he, in utter silence, covered an enormous room in graphite. The graphite drawings were maps of warring civilizations. He worked like a monk during daylight hours, and then would leave the building to play arcade games with teenage strangers at night. 

This piece stands out to me because he’s using the barest of essentials…wood and graphite. But at the same time, he’s using the most precious element of all as a medium…time. And he always does. He’s a legend, and this piece is extremely special. 

What are you most eager to see on the Ruby City campus?

I’m always excited to see Leonardo Drew’s work in person. And I’ve never seen “Untitled #48”, so I can’t wait to walk through and take my time with that piece.

This piece stands out to me because he’s using the barest of essentials…wood and graphite. But at the same time, he’s using the most precious element of all as a medium…time. And he always does. He’s a legend, and this piece is extremely special. 

Kim Jones, Untitled, 1974-2013. Acrylic and graphite on wood. 36 x 35 x 28 in. © Kim Jones, courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium. Linda Pace Foundation Collection, Ruby City, San Antonio, Texas.