Art and attitude define Spring Unveiling

<p>Sally O'Neill, an artist from Sandy, touches up her untitled painting of a convent in the Columbia Gorge during her May 3 Spring Unveiling demonstration at Haystack Gallery.</p>

Painting is never far from Sally O’Neill’s mind.

“I can honestly say I understand why van Gogh cut his ear off,” said the artist from Sandy, letting out a jovial, down-to-earth laugh. “It will make you insane.”

O’Neill will go through stages when she’s “possessed” with ideas for paintings.

“I can’t even sleep. I’m just laying there at night: ‘Oh gosh, I want to try this and this and this,’” she said.

And then, she’ll wake up one day and think she’s all dried up.

“I’ll be like, ‘I can’t think of anything. I’m dead. It’s done. I’m done. Creatively, it’s all over,’ she said.

But these blockages never last very long.

“My husband will be talking to me, and I’m just looking at his face, thinking, ‘That shadow is cool. If I was going to paint you ...’ And he’s like, ‘You’re not listening to me,’” she said. “My poor husband.”

Flowers, light, buildings

It was nearing noon on May 3 — Day Two of Cannon Beach’s 14th annual Spring Unveiling Arts Festival, when the 13 local art galleries in the Cannon Beach Gallery Group were busily hosting artist receptions, exhibitions and demonstrations across the spectrum of visual media.

O’Neill faced her canvas in a back corner of Haystack Gallery — where she has displayed her work for about a decade — adding spots of color and texture to her untitled demonstration piece depicting a convent in Columbia Gorge’s Bridal Veil Falls.

Festival attendees gathered behind her to watch the oil painting take shape, become something real.

With a few simple strokes of yellow-white paint across a shadowy blue-gray facade, O’Neill suddenly gave the convent a merry sun-dappled look.

Soon the crowd behind her grew as large as is possible in the narrow space.

She set aside her demonstration materials, realizing that it was time to unveil three paintings of a similar style: a vase of flowers sitting in the sun titled “Fiore nel Sole” (“Flowers in the Sun”); another bouquet awash in the setting sun titled “Evening Light”; and an outdoor scene titled “Summer Shadows” that depicts a tan-colored structure surrounded by flowers and foliage, and little pools of soft sunlight dancing on the pavement.

Flowers, sunlight and buildings are her thing.

“I love the way the solid inorganic shape of the building is juxtaposed to the organic shapes of the plants,” O’Neill said.

Her finished pieces, she said, tend to look “flowing and free-form.” The way she lets light stream across her subjects is what gives her paintings their vibrancy and dreamlike quality.

Before she started painting in 1998, she was a music major in college and taught piano for many years.

Funny thing, though, about her music: “When I used to be heavy into it, and ... performing and so on, I had a real performance-anxiety thing.”

And here she was, doing artist demonstrations.

But there’s a big difference between performing a finished piece and creating something in front of people. Her painting demonstration was more like a solo jam session.

“I can’t imagine being more fortunate than to be able to do this and have people love it enough that they would be willing to buy it,” she said. “I feel so lucky to have something that I just couldn’t live without.”

‘Dubious Beasts’

The day before, L.A.-based artists Shing Yin Khor and Leslie Levings were busy sculpting a menagerie of fantastical creatures for their demonstration and exhibition, “Dubious Beasts: Symbiosis,” held in Archimedes Gallery.

Khor built a miniature habitat for her plump Pokemon-esque “Sea Banana” creature by gluing together “natural” pieces (rocks, gnarled driftwood, etc.) inside a diorama.

They draw much of their inspiration from the “crytozoology” tradition, which Wikipedia helpfully defines as “a pseudoscience involving the search for animals whose existence has not yet been proven.”

“Symbiosis” is the second of their shows in the “Dubious Beasts” series, which is all about “pseudoscientific inquiry and really cute tiny faces.”

Why “dubious”?

“We’re almost putting these (beasts) forward as though these are an educational exhibit in a natural history museum, but you would be right to be dubious about their origins,” Levings said.

The sculptures themselves are only half of the exhibit, however.

The other half is their faux-deadpan attitude toward their bizarre specimens, which helps to establish a mythology around them.

“We’re very straight-faced about it,” Khor said.

When people ask them, “What’s a Sea Banana?,” the women will stare at them and say, in apparent seriousness, “You don’t know? Didn’t you take biology?”

Levings sells a separate line of smaller, simpler creatures called “Beastlies,” all hand-made, that she sells online. This has become her primary means of income.

Khor, who used to build theater props, writes a comic series starring her beast characters, who inhabit a cryptology institute called “The Center for Otherworld Science.”

The artistic partners, both of whom are in their 30s, have been at this for five years and scoff at anyone who considers it child’s play.

“Oh come on — if you believe in them enough, they’ll come to life, right?” Levings asked.

“That’s what we keep hoping,” Shing said.

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