Rachel O’Neill: At heart, I am an artist who has a passion for materials and light and the fabulous results that can be achieved combining the two.
I studied Fine and Applied Art at the School of Art and Design at the University of Ulster in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Applied art is similar to craft, but I always loved great design and have spent a fortune on design magazines and visiting international design fairs for inspiration and personal delight.
As a textile (or fiber) artist, I have a fascination with the edge of a material, which is unusual, as most artists concentrate on its surface. I explored various materials, but it was hook-and-loop fasteners—or VelcroT—that really excited me.
I loved the sound the material made and the texture of it. Hook-and-loop fasteners are, in my opinion, one of the most valuable, useful and innovative products available on the market.
The inspiration and development of [the shapes I use in my lighting fixture designs] completely stems from living in [the Midwest] and studying in Iowa. I was used to living on an island, which obviously is surrounded by water, but then I moved to Iowa for a year to study business at Cornell College. I had the most fabulous year living in the U.S.A., meeting the most wonderful people and learning. Naturally, I missed friends and family, but it felt so strange not to be near water, and this has completely influenced the way I design and create ever since.
Beaches in Ireland are different than those I saw in California. They are much more wild and ragged. The Atlantic tears away at beaches and rocks on the west coast of Ireland I really missed this when I was away. It felt unnatural to be away from the sea. When I returned [to Ireland], my work was more organic and influenced by shapes from the sea and Belfast Lough [the sea on the east coast of Northern Ireland], close to where I live. People often comment on how my work flows and moves or looks like underwater creatures.
I suppose, in a sense, living away from the sea unleashed a new way in which I found to be creative and explore ideas with materials. My work is not created around certain types of lights or fixtures. I find the right fitting for the sculptures I create. Sometimes I use neon tubes, which are low in energy and can be recycled.
I brought my designs to a fabulous company in London [called the British European Design Group] that supports artists and designers. They have been incredibly supportive and have invited me to exhibit with them in Paris at Maison et Objet, IMM in Cologne, Germany, and the International Contemporary Furniture Fair in New York. I have been delighted with the response.