Mixed Greens is thrilled to announce Happy Little Accidents,
Coke Wisdom O’Neal’s sixth solo exhibition with the gallery.
This latest series of photographs is the result of unlikely
circumstances, namely Superstorm Sandy.
This exhibition marks a moment of departure from O’Neal’s
regular pattern of working. Instead of constructing a rigid
environment to explore identity, O’Neal embraces a chance
collaboration in which water creates the frame and reinterprets
his subject. On October 29, 2012, O’Neal’s Red Hook studio
suffered total destruction. Tools, books, completed artwork,
and unfinished pieces were ruined. And yet, as the floodwaters
receded, a series of old family slides emerged reborn.
Instead of accepting them as lost, O’Neal rescued the slide
sheets to scan and print.
While conflicts between man and nature are often contentious,
O’Neal sees this accidental exchange between artist and
nature as a fruitful collaboration—one that has strengthened his
interest in abstraction. The flood waters produced a series of
random results, and O’Neal found himself reminiscing about
his early experiences with photography. The storm acted, in a
way, as a reintroduction to a medium, and O’Neal is embracing
In Happy Little Accidents, the floodwaters serve as material,
subject, and framing device. Once-crisp images are now
cloud-like watercolors, often with distinguishable central
details preserved. Air bubbles result in a fish-eye effect
recalling the colorfully foggy nature of nostalgia and O’Neal’s
compulsion to save the past.
O’Neal has long been preoccupied with framing his subjects,
and the naturally occurring borders of each watermark make
this series no exception. In his ongoing Box series, twenty-two
foot tall plywood boxes serve as backdrops for the documentation
of both individual identities as well as whole communities.
In another body of work, Blue Nude, nude participants
elegantly and actively crouch within a Plexiglas box. The
confined space abstracts the subjects’ identities to small
signifiers such as tattoos and hair color. The boxes from both
series serve multiple functions, existing as sculpture, performance,
and a resulting photograph.
Before this exhibition, O’Neal was experimenting with abstraction
and studying Warhol’s Oxidation Paintings, but he was
questioning a photographer’s relationship to abstract markmaking.
The hurricane ultimately provided the freedom to let
go of what he was holding onto—both metaphysically and
Coke Wisdom O’Neal is a New York City-based artist whose
work has been exhibited in numerous venues throughout the
United States including the Center for Contemporary Arts,
Santa Fe, NM; Northern Illinois University Art Museum, DeKalb,
IL; Socrates Sculpture Park, Queens, NY; The Museum of
Contemporary Art, Tucson, AZ; the Furman Gallery at Lincoln
Center, NYC; Chuchifritos, NYC; and White Columns, NYC.
His solo exhibition venues include Mixed Greens, NYC;
Finesilver Gallery, Houston, TX; Evo Gallery, Santa Fe, NM; and
Aaron Packer Gallery, Chicago, IL. In 2009, he was chosen as
a finalist in the Hasselblad Master Competition. The accompanying
exhibition traveled to Hong Kong, Copenhagen, NYC,
and London. In 2010 he won an inaugural “25 for 25” grant
from AOL. He was a 2012 Foundation for Contemporary Arts
grant recipient and a 2013 NYFA grant recipient. He will be an
artist in residence, working on a large-scale community project,
at MOCA Tucson later this year.