“Frequency” by K. O’Neill, 36″x48″, acrylic on canvas, online at K. O’Neill Studio
I just finished my first solo art exhibition in the City of Brotherly Love two weeks ago.
I had poured my heart and soul into creating the perfect collection of works to showcase, stayed up the night before the event going over the gallery’s lay of the land, and had run through a potential speech in the shower at least a dozen times. This was what I’d spent the last year planning. The show was over as quickly as it had come, and I was met with congratulations over its success come the end of the night from people who I didn’t know (that counts for something, right?) This was something I’d poured so much energy into, and yet I ended up crying in the car the whole way home.
I had expected this show to be cathartic, and maybe that’s my own fault.
The theme of the show, Lift Me Up, was born from a dark place I’d visited often in my long battle with PTSD. The entire backbone of the exhibition was built around the construct of uniting people from various backgrounds to come out, and albeit for a moment, celebrate the small victories that come from recovery (as I’m a strong believer in celebrating the little things). Anyone who is nodding along with what I’m saying right now knows recovery isn’t always pretty and sometimes you can’t even conjure words for the feelings you have (the inspiration for my piece, Frequency). For me, this inexplicable feeling of dread hit me like a tidal wave on the ride home and I couldn’t help but feel it, and be consumed (the Prosecco didn’t help either).
While I was busy being sucked into the riptide that are my feelings, tossed about and decimated by feelings of ineptitude and panic, the reality of something hit me and left me waterlogged on the shores of hysteria (the somewhat good kind though, when you can’t stop laughing at the irony of the universe).
The traumas we go through aren’t responsible for ‘making us who we are.’
In fact, that is a rather disappointing take, and one we should just throw out. I’d like to attribute my strength to myself, those who have picked me up after every fall, and my higher power. By saying trauma made us who we are, we are giving the credit to the people who have hurt us. Hear me out: the trauma I experienced didn’t make me a better artist, nor did it give me a talking point to base an exhibition around. This work, my work, and the blessings that have gotten me here got me the gig.
I’d attributed the beautiful works I’d created as being inspired by the anguish, betrayal and fear I’d experienced; when in fact I was always capable of making these beautiful works regardless of the trauma. I’d simply needed to find my own voice beneath the paint. In hindsight, I stood in a room of my own creations and did not see the faces of those who had hurt me.
I stood in a room of my own creations and found myself.