CAL2022.1 Derek O’Connor
Place of origin
oil on canvas
198 x 167.5cm
Winner Calleen Art Award 2022
On Derek O'Connor, by Peter Haynes (2023)
Born in Warwickshire, England in 1957, Derek O’Connor migrated with his family to Adelaide in 1969. After art studies there and periods of travel O’Connor moved to Canberra to study at the (then) Canberra School of Art (now ANU School of Art and Design), from where he graduated in 1988. He also completed a Graduate Diploma in painting from the University of Tasmania’s School of Art.
Since the late 1980s O’Connor has exhibited extensively in group and solo shows throughout Australia, most regularly with the now defunct Legge Gallery in Sydney. He was the subject of a major survey exhibition at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (2007), and his important solo exhibition, At home he’s a tourist, held at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space in 2017 was a critical and aesthetic success. Major group exhibitions include On the Brink. Abstraction of the 90s (Heide Museum of Modern Art, 2000); It’s a Beautiful Day. New Painting in Australia 2 (Ian Potter Museum of Art and Art Gallery of New South wales, 2002-03); Arthur Guy Memorial Painting Prize (Bendigo Art Gallery, 2007); and Velocity (ANU Drill Hall Gallery, 2014).
O’Connor has been the recipient of many awards and prizes including the prestigious CAPO Fellowship (2007); the Inaugural Canberra Contemporary Art Space Art Prize (2003); and the Pat Corrigan Award for Exhibition Development (1995). His work is included in numerous institutional, corporate and private collections including the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Canberra Museum and Gallery, Monash Gallery of Art, the Tamworth Regional Art Gallery, Artbank, Austcorp and the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria Collection. O’Connor currently lives in Canberra where, when he is not in his studio, he works part-time as an Exhibition Installer at the National Gallery of Australia.
Weather Report is a large and complex painting imbued with a commanding visual and conceptual presence. Its sombre pictorial majesty is enlivened by splashes of colour (purple, green, red, yellow) that are overlaid with painterly precision onto the dense and mysteriously black ground. Colour is used by the artist with especial sensitivity. His use of colour as an expressive tool is a given in his overall oeuvre. Here it is equally as important as an aesthetic tool in the artist’s creation of pictorial sites for contemplation and consequent active viewer participation. O’Connor’s use of layering is particularly effective. He uses it to not only highlight the activity of making a picture but to move the viewer through the sophisticated compositional structure that contributes to the brilliant painterly amalgam that is Weather Report.
Like most of his work the artist’s references to recent art that he admires (for example Gerhard Richter, Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Sigmar Polke) are muted and are present as quiet acknowledgement rather than as overt celebration. For these artists, as for O’Connor, the business of painting embraces philosophy and process. These dualities speak of the active engagement of the viewer in the artist’s painterly processes. His use of addition, erasure, scraping and layering and the energetically conspicuous application of these to his canvas through generous swathes of gestural paint create not only aesthetic tension but carry a conversely harmonious and mysterious drama to his pictorial configurations. Weather Report is indeed a painting about painting as much as it is about the layered and complex relationships between artist, artwork and viewer.