Artist Pat O’Neal Finds Inspiration At Home

SANTA MONICA CANYON, CA—Walk through the Santa Monica Canyon home of Pat and Chic O’Neal at 373 Mesa Road and you feel like you’re in the middle of a gallery. There are custom art pieces—canvases of all sizes featuring still-life figures of eggs, imposing yet captivating figures reminiscent of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and assorted pieces in the early stages of masterpiecery—adorning most of the walls and up on easels.

Truth is, the O’Neals bought this charming French house, the one up the curved road, just a stone’s throw from the Pacific blue in Santa Monica Canyon, in large part because of its ability to host great art pieces (not to mention great parties, what with that massive deck) and host great art-making. After all, those long walls just beg for art, and Pat, the world-renowned artist responsible for most of the walls’ jewelry, is happy to oblige.

“One of the things we really liked about this house is that there are all these windows on one side to let in all the light, and great wall spaces to hang art,” said Pat.

Upon moving in to the home two years ago, the couple went about a subtle revamp that enhanced the already enchanting feel of the home; the open floorplan and bright, light-filled spaces of the four-bedroom, four-bath, 3,380-square-foot residence were improved by the careful and considerate additions of windows and glass-door panels, and the removal of glass blocks. The resulting home offers not just a myriad of lifestyle opportunities in line with the way people live today, but also considerable gallery space.

Just inside the home, you are immediately greeted by art created by the couple’s daughter and friends, not to mention several of Pat’s pieces. Beyond the entry, to the right, is an enormous living and dining room—so large it could be an art loft, which is apropos given Pat’s calling; as such, it serves as her studio space. Pat’s two most current themes are displayed generously throughout the house. Here, still life paintings of eggs mix and mingle with painted figures that evoke the aura of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

“The eggs were inspired by a trip to the market,” said Pat of a jaunt while staying in the couple’s vacation home in the art-rich Yucatan city of Merida, Mexico. “I saw these large hen eggs that were just extraordinary. They were all double-yolked, and they received and reflected light in a different way than I had ever seen. I was so enthralled that I took them home to my studio and laid them out to study.”

Pat expected that the egg series she began forthwith would remain in Mexico, but when she returned to California and her (former) studio at Bergamot Station, the desire to capture the essence of the egg remained with her.

“Using the different textures, colors, and compositions was very interesting,” she said.

Pat subsequently won a competition for the series, in Reno last year, when she had 24 different egg paintings. Now she has 35.

“I continue to work with them until they no longer speak to me anymore,” she said. “If it gets boring, I stop.”

Her prior series of paintings is certainly a testament to that. Pat worked on her Frankenstein series on and off for six years while spending time in the home (http://www.chateauphilippe.com/) of the couple’s son and daughter-in-law, Chuck and Sukeshi O’Neal. As homes go, this one is pretty far over on the castle scale. Chateau St. Philippe, as it is known, is one of Europe’s oldest renovated chateaus and measures 10 bedrooms, 10 baths, and 12,000 square feet; the renovation was managed by Chic O’Neal. Built in 1032, it is located in the Savoie Region of France that is, not coincidentally, nearby the spot where Shelley herself was vacationing when she wrote the classic tale.

“The view from the studio at Chateau St. Philippe is of the Alps, and the mountains you look out on are same mountains where the monster roamed,” said Pat. “Mary Shelley was summering in that area and was inspired to write the book.”

Pat’s Frankenstein Series was exhibited as a solo show at Frank Pictures Gallery at Bergamot Arts Center in Santa Monica, and in Santa Barbara at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum in 2007.

Back in the Santa Monica Canyon house, which the couple considers their “home base,” Pat has become inspired to complete a series influenced by an altogether different topic: children. “Watching them, seeing how they relate and noticing how, in general, we don’t change much, is fascinating,” she said. “I have been drawing children for years, and I go back through the drawings and work them up on canvas large scale. That is something I’m doing on an ongoing basis.”

Pat’s reputation as a world-class artist—she has had solo exhibitions throughout California, in New York, and in countries including Taiwan and France, and appears in collections all over the globe—continues to grow, and is undoubtedly fostered by the creative environments in which she has the opportunity to flourish. But no more so than in the Canyon, a unique corner of the Los Angeles basin that, thanks to its artsy-cool nature and relaxed quality, often finds favor with creative types such as Pat and Chic.

You need only stand out on the couple’s incredibly expansive deck—a deck so enormous and so welcoming of outdoor enjoyment, it hardly qualifies as a deck at all and deserves a better, more descriptive term. Something like dacre (an amalgam of deck and acre), perhaps—to realize just how different and special this place is. From here, with views of the four towering redwood sequoias in the home’s front yard that are somehow thriving in the land of the palm, you would hardly know you weren’t smack in the center of the Sequoia National Forest.

“It is very private up here, and the air is oxygenated because of the microclimate,” said Pat. “Up on the deck it’s so nice, because there is sunshine at all times of the day, it’s cooler than many other parts of the city, and then there is the view of the four redwoods in the front yard. There are just a few homes here that have the redwoods, which are so phenomenal. You usually have to go north of Santa Barbara to find those trees.”

From the front of the house, a staircase leads visitors down to a large entry courtyard that is framed by black wrought iron details and quaint sitting areas, both reminiscent of New Orleans’ French Quarter. The home is full of transportative little surprises such as this, like the covered balcony off of the master suite that affords private romantic moments with a backdrop of sea breezes, the French-style fireplaces, and the large, updated island kitchen that belies the 80-year-old age of the home but still maintains its character.

“We love the Santa Monica Canyon house and the area. The location is literally walking distance to the beach and to the ‘steps of the stars,’ where people come to get in shape—or stay in shape—by climbing the stairs,” she said. “We have excellent schools close by and can go to (Pacific) Palisades and over to Montana Avenue. It’s easily accessible to almost everywhere, but it has its own unique character.

“Last year we were in France for three months and in Mexico for five months, and here in our home base in between. We don’t normally stay in Mexico for so long, but stayed longer (because of the egg collection),” she added. “It is perhaps easier to be a well-known artist there because we’re just a few people in a big city with a viable (Mexican and Cuban) art community. I find it so fulfilling to be among artists who are influenced simply by the desire to create, and who are able to separate the art from the commerce.”

Pat fosters that desire regardless of where she is creating, and is able to enrich her career, and her life, through her art, her travel, and her belief that the right home is sometimes its own masterwork.

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