Profile: Mary Lovelace O’Neal (1942-)

Mary Lovelace O’Neal is an American artist and arts educator. Her work is focused on abstracted mixed-media (primarily painting and printmaking) and minimalism. She is a Professor Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley and retired from teaching in 2006.

Early life and education

Mary Lovelace was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on February 10, 1942. She credits her father for nurturing her love of the arts. During her childhood and adolescence O’Neal’s father, Ariel Lovelace, was choir director and professor of music at Tougaloo College and the University of Arkansas.

O’Neal attended Howard University in Washington, DC, from 1960 to 1964 and studied with David Driskell, Lois Mailou Jones and James A. Porter, receiving her B.F.A. in 1964.

O’Neal continued her fine arts education at Columbia University, studying with Aja Junger, Stephen Greene, Leon Golden and Andra Rat. While at Columbia, O’Neal became involved in the Black Art Movement in New York City, which further influenced her work. She received her M.F.A. from Columbia University in 1969.


Mary Lovelace O’Neal’s paintings have progressed through different phases over her long career, beginning with loose forms and evolving to more precise patterns. O’Neal has received numerous awards and exhibited in many national and international exhibitions throughout her career. She was invited as resident artist to participate in the international arts festival in Asilah, Morocco, in 1983. O’Neal curated an exhibition for the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago, Chile, “17 Artistas Latino y Afro Americanos en USA” in 1991. Two years later, she received the Artist En France Award sponsored by the French government and Moet & Chandon. In 2005, she was selected to represent Mississippi in the Committees Exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.

O’Neal started teaching full-time at University of California, Berkeley in 1978. In 1985 she became the first African American artist to receive tenure in the department of art, and then appointed in 1999 as the Chair of the Department of Art Practice until her retirement in 2006.

In 1984, O’Neal worked on monotype printmaking with Robert Blackburn at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York City. She enjoyed the process so much and she explored various other printing processes and printed over 200 prints at Blackburn’s shop over the years.

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