Canberra artist Derek O’Connor’s dynamic paintings come to life through rich and sumptuous swathes of oil paint paired with energetic brush strokes. His full-bodied abstracted canvases are tantalisingly seductive, as movements of vivid paint melt into one another. Derek is an artist who layers paint, then erases and then paints again – it is this honouring of the paint that gives his works such meaning and power. He says of his practice, “To be a painter in the 21st century is to swim in an ever-expanding matrix of technology, special effects, photographic processes and art created using installation, video and performance. Making art historical references in your work means selecting from a monstrous array of art movements in a world rife with political, environmental and humanitarian issues that are all potential fodder for art. Concurrent with my interest in the recuperation of anachronistic technologies – books, expressive painting – lies a deep commitment to the medium of paint as a vehicle to embed meaning through a process of application and erasure.” Whilst many of his works appear spontaneous and dynamic, they are products of a highly contemplative and gradual process of layering and waiting, allowing for the abstracted forms to slowly emerge. This highly intellectual and intimate process produces works that engage the viewer on many levels. A notion echoed by art historian and critic, Sasha Grishin, who contends that the power of Derek’s paintings lay in their ability to “first seduce the eye and then engage the mind in a slow journey of contemplation and meditation”.
Born in Warwickshire, England in 1957, Derek moved to Australia in 1969 and now lives and works in Canberra. He graduated from the Canberra School of Art with a BA(visual arts) before completing further study at the University of Tasmania School of Art in 1992. Since graduating, he has exhibited widely both nationally and internationally. In 2017, Derek’s achievements were celebrated in ‘At home he’s a tourist’, an exhibition held by the Canberra Contemporary Art Space. This comes a decade after the Canberra Museum and Gallery held ‘Derek O’Connor: 10 year survey’, a major exhibition curated by Mark Van Veen honouring the artist’s career. In 2022, Derek was awarded the Calleen Art Award, an acquisitive prize for the Cowra Regional Art Gallery collection. Derek is also a regular finalist in significant art prizes throughout Australia including the Blake Prize, the Mossman Art Prize and the Arthur Guy Memorial Art Prize. He was also the recipient of the CAPO Fellowship Award in 2007 and the Canberra Contemporary Art Space Inaugural Art Prize in 2003. His works are held in several prominent collections including the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Victoria, Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery and the Canberra Museum and Gallery.