When Eryn O’Neill first moved to Halifax and was living near Point Pleasant Park, a light from across the water always caught her eye.
“I noticed at night the landscape was quite dark, except this one area that was oddly lit,” says the 24-year-old artist now living in Ottawa.
The light she’s referring to is the Dartmouth refinery in Eastern Passage.
Soon enough, she was going down to the harbour to look at the cargo cranes, but she always found herself looking across at the refinery.
The refinery eventually became the focus of her final project at NSCAD University, from which she graduated in April 2008. Some of those paintings are currently on display at Argyle Fine Art on Upper Water Street, along with some of her other work.
Growing up in downtown Ottawa, she wasn’t used to seeing industrial sites such as a refinery.
“It was something I hadn’t really seen before,” says O’Neill.
She chose the refinery because she wanted to focus on something people saw all the time, but something that people could have a new appreciation for.
“I wanted to purely pick something that was just so regular, so a part of the landscape,” she says.
Part of what made the refinery such a good fit was that it is “so industrial and so functional, not aesthetic at all,” says O’Neill.
“It became quite a good subject for painting.”
She went over and took some photos from outside the refinery itself. O’Neill never sought permission to go inside, as the photos from outside were sufficient.
“I found I could get some really good angles from afar,” she says.
O’Neill was even more impressed with how it looked up close.
“It’s like its own little city in there,” she says. “Every time I took a photo, I’d find something new.”
O’Neill displayed the work in January 2008 at the Anna Leonowens Gallery at NSCAD.
She says the feedback was mixed, but mostly positive.
“I see it every day, but I’ve never seen that way,” is how many people reacted, says O’Neill.
Some people from Imperial Oil even came to the showing. They were impressed with her work.