“Pacific Palisades has to be one of the most beautiful places to live,” artist Katie O’Neill told Rotary Club members during a Zoom meeting on February 9. She noted how the Pacific Ocean frames one side of the town, while the Santa Monica Mountains frame the other, including hiking trails and two state parks: Los Leones and Will Rogers.
“I’ve found my niche here,” said the painter, who has a studio on Via de la Paz where she will resume giving lessons once the Covid restrictions ease.
O’Neill, the daughter of Thomas (now deceased) and Virginia, grew up in the Palisades and attended Marquez Elementary, Paul Revere and PaliHi.
She was one of five kids and her mom taught her how to paint. “I took it for granted growing up here,” she said. “I had an idyllic Palisades childhood in the 1970s and 1980s.”
As a youth, “I did a lot of commercials and a short-lived sitcom,” she said, noting that her acting “paid for USC film school.”
The sitcom was called “Together We Stand,” until they killed off O’Neill’s TV father, Elliot Gould, and retitled the show “Nothing Is Easy” with Dee Wallace Stone as a single mom.
After graduating college, O’Neill worked as an assistant editor and in development in Los Angeles. She then moved to New York, where she “dog-walked by day” and was the house manager for Classic Stage Company, an off-Broadway theater.
After a year, her mom called and asked, “Do you want to open an art studio with me?” She returned home and the two opened their studio in Malibu.
“I taught,” O’Neill said. “I learned [a lot] by teaching my students.”
Eventually, O’Neill had two young sons and had to decide whether to keep the Malibu studio and move the family there or relocate the studio to Pacific Palisades. “I wanted to raise my kids here,” she said. One son is now a freshman at PaliHi and the other is a senior.
At her studio at 835 Via de la Paz, she taught adult and children’s art lessons until the pandemic forced her to close up last March.
“I still have rents to pay and kids to feed,” said O’Neill, who switched her focus from teaching to her art. “I’ve been painting seven days a week and selling enough [to cover the rents]. So far I’ve been able to survive with my paintings.”
She has created some of the most exquisite paintings of Will Rogers State Historic Park—one features the “tunnel” of eucalyptus trees that leads to the horse barns. “They are not replanting these trees because they are non-native,” O’Neill said, so she has preserved some important visual history.
“I am eternally grateful for Will Rogers and his heirs for donating this land,” she said, noting that much of her art has Will Rogers in the title.
She also captured the former St. Matthew’s Church sanctuary, prior to 1978, when it burned down during the fire that swept from Brentwood along the edge of Pacific Palisades.
O’Neill has also painted numerous lifeguard towers at Will Rogers State Beach. “The lifeguard towers have sustained me during the pandemic,” she said. “My second most popular print is the lifeguard tower.”
“After it rains, I will run down to the bluffs,” O’Neill said, noting she takes numerous photographs of the area and brings them back to help her create the painting. “I get all the pieces — it’s like problem solving — and I put them together.”
“It brings joys to look at all the vistas and views,” O’Neill said.
Many may remember that O’Neill’s paintings graced the cover of the Palisades Fourth of July Parade program the past two years.
She will paint on commission and hopes that she will be able to resume outdoor classes in March. One can view the current paintings that are on sale on her website (oneillsfineart.com) or stop by the store.
Lately, “I’ve been experimenting with diptychs,” O’Neill said. (A diptych is an artwork consisting of two painted panels.) Below is a piece of art entitled “Clearing Storm.”
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