TAKE MY BREATH AWAY....
Awesome....... Breathtaking..... Stunning..... Just some of the words that sprang to mind when I first saw Tony O’Connor’s art work. The paintings will speak volumes to any horse lover, his superbly accurate renderings and meticulous draftsmanship result in a photorealism that is both unmistakable and unforgettable. However his lavish use of monochromatic black and white gives an opulence and style which makes his work appeal to a broader audience. Anyone who appreciates classic elegance cannot help but be drawn in. The sheer scale of the pieces, void of any background, serves to highlight the natural physical perfection of the horse. His success in creating such breathtakingly beautiful images perhaps lies in his bringing together a degree in fine art, encompassing the technical know-how such instruction begets, a disciplined approach to horse anatomy and an undeniable passion for the equine form. There is nothing in the painting to detract the viewer’s focus from the horse, the musculature, expression, movements of the tail and mane. The monochromatic also gives the pieces a certain opulence deserving of the majesty of the horse.
Born in Kerry in 1977 Tony excelled at art from a young age, winning every competition he entered. His earliest childhood memories are of being with his Grand-Uncle, Mossie in his smoke filled forge, shoeing the local horses and ponies. With six generations of blacksmiths behind him it is hardly surprising the direction Tony’s artwork has taken. Tony still has strong memories of ‘helping’ his Grand-Uncle “I remember seeing what I thought were huge horses being held by this huge man, and thinking I want to do that. I think that part of the reason my paintings are shadowy and dark is down to a lingering memory of that dark forge,” Tony recalls.
In 1997 Tony moved to Cork to study Fine Art at the Crawford College of Art and Design, where he also gained his Higher Diploma in Art Education. Even then horses were Tony’s main interest. “It was during college that the horse thing kicked off in a big way so much so that my tutors en masse suggested that I consider at least trying something else,” Tony recounts, “I did and it worked out fine – I had a sell-out degree show featuring a modern take on landscapes. After that most of the pieces I did involved landscapes and horses. The current work abandons landscapes altogether. I really admire the spirit, power and beauty of horses. There’s something so graceful and compelling about them. My paintings celebrate that.”
Artists don’t usually have very clear-cut career paths and Tony is no exception. Since leaving college in 2003 he has held down a day job in tool sales in order to pay the bills while he works at establishing his name in the art world. Three years ago Tony married Rowena who he says “has been fantastic through this whole process. She teaches Psychology and has the benefit of long summer holidays, which really helps when it’s all hands on deck.” Tony and Rowena are also proud parents to Isolyn, an incredibly funny two year old.
Tony’s studio is an expansive loft above the tool shop where he is to be found most nights often accompanied by Pepper, a chocolate Labrador. Tony works mostly in oils as he says “I like the feel of the paint - to me it gives a richer depth to a piece. You can move the paint around more without the use of gels and mediums, and if you make a mistake, you can just wipe it away.”
Inspiration can strike at any time, “It could be the way a shaft of light falls in a particular way on the body of a horse or the movement and grace of a galloping horse across a beach or paddock. I usually just doodle away and then an idea hits me so I sketch that out, or paint it up roughly in acrylic and if I feel it’s coming out ok, I'll restart it on canvas, or continue with the original sketch and use oils on top of the acrylic. Sometimes I have an idea in mind and I will seek out suitable images from which to work. Other times it’s through doing general research that I happen upon something that looks interesting and sometimes a piece just evolves as I contemplate it or work on it. Painting can be quite an organic process and have a life of its own.”
Tony does find it frustrating, holding down a ‘proper’ job, when he would prefer to be painting, “It’s the time element that’s frustrating more than anything. I’ll have all these ideas running around my head and will just want to get cracking on them straight away. At the same time when you know you only have a specific number of hours to work on something it focuses you more so there’s less time wasting when I do get to paint I suppose.” Tony continues, “The time element is frustrating more than anything. I’ll have all these ideas running around my head and will just want to get cracking on them straight away.”
“I’d love to wake up one morning, open the curtains, and look at my studio across a dewy garden, and know that that’s where I work, where I create. I don’t think I'd look at it as work though. I think if you love doing something, it’s not a chore but a pleasure. It would be great to achieve recognition for my work and to expand my commission work. Doing commissions gives an artist the opportunity to work on images that one may otherwise never have done – clients have very interesting ideas when it comes to commissions. I’m also keen to make the work more accessible – I’ve just added a prints page to my website featuring many of the current exhibition images. This evolved from public feedback - as some of my originals are 5x6 foot and not everyone wants something that large.”
Tony’s first sales were a tremendous boost to his confidence. As he was hanging the pieces for the exhibition he saw two ladies admiring one of the paintings, and minutes later came a nod from the curator that it had sold. There were three more nods like before the exhibition even opened. Over the past number of years Tony has been doing commissions so he had some experience of selling but as he says “the feeling of selling at your first solo exhibition is on a different level.”
You can see some more of Tony’s images on his web site www.whitetreestudio.ie