Adam O’Neal: Ocean Drive

Tag Christof

July 12 2015

As far as I’m concerned, there is no art form more intuitively American than collage. Though the Chinese have mastered remix and wholesale appropriation this century, we have always been best at arriving at the strikingly new through pastiche. And while Paris feels like painting and Berlin feels like diorama and Shanghai feels like rendering, New York and Los Angeles and all the fifty states feel like collage: inscrutably layered, ever so slightly mis-proportioned and freely taking influence from anywhere that works.

Perhaps nowhere, though, feels more like collage than the South. Unlike New England or Pacific Northwest, all its defining characteristics other than hot, humid weather are entirely enigmatic. From from the Blue Ridge to the Mississippi Delta to the Everglades, there are few places as impossibly diverse that nonetheless make for a cohesive whole. Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky, which is dedicated to documenting and nurturing the cultural landscape of the modern US South, has just opened a new show this month on collage artist Adam O’Neal.

The Florida native constructs images primarily from advertisements and ocean scenes cut from National Geographic, that stalwart of American print that probably remains the most unchanged in scope, format and iconic form since its first issue debuted in 1888. His works make for “new and disorienting landscapes,” each displayed within a telltale yellow frame. From the Institute:

“When he was very young, Adam O’Neal began collaging with his mother. Together, they cut items from catalogs to create images of their own “dream homes.” Adam, the second of eight children, grew up in Loxahatchee, Florida, working for tree farms and plant nurseries and remodeling homes with local contractors. Upon graduation, he moved to Daytona Beach to work for a local Marina. He biked to work every morning along the waterfront and spent the workday driving a forklift, moving boats, and pumping gas. In 2008 he moved to Brooklyn, New York, to work as an art handler for galleries and museums, a niche job description he filled as an artist from a family full of construction workers.”

His work beyond the National Geographic pieces are re-framings on a grander, more abstract scale. His life and art “have been heavily influenced by his family life and occupational history,” and so various media related to his experience on the marina, as an art handler, from being around construction workers surface, totally transformed.

“Ever resourceful, he borrows patterns, materials, and processes from his industry. He recontextualizes blueprints, shipping crates, packing tape, and cardboard to create minimal, geometric compositions on canvas. His MudMaster series, named after his father’s own drywall company, abstracts house paint, drywall, and polyurethane through endless scoring.”

The Institute also sent over a copy of his excellent new zine, Ocean Drive, a fantastic compendium of his collage work (pick up a copy here).

Catch HARD WORK at Institute 193‘s Lexington space through August 1 and follow the Institute on Instagram at @institute193. Follow Adam O’neal at

Special thanks to Cat Wentworth and Phillip March Jones