Luke Ryan O’Connor

Words: Luke Letourneau

Photography: Josh Bentley

Luke Ryan O’Connor makes spectacularly embellished vessels in clay. He’s been a resident artist at Kil.n.it Experimental Ceramics Studio since 2017, sharing space alongside some of Sydney’s most interesting established and emerging artists working with the medium, including Glenn Barkley, Ramesh Mario Nithiyendran, Mechelle Bounpraseuth and Ebony Russell. In May 2020, just as the world was settling in for a long-haul isolation, Artereal Gallery launched Back from outer space, O’Connor’s debut exhibition as an artist on its roster and his first solo at a premiere commercial gallery.

The exhibition was presented entirely online and completely sold out, an encouraging sign of O’Connor’s evolution as an artist, his growing audience and the power of a commercial gallery’s guidance.

I first met O’Connor in 2017 when he was fresh out of Sydney College of the Arts and making ceramic vessels with surfaces of subtle talons and voids finished in earthy monotone glazes. At the time, I was collabo- rating with artist Louise Zhang on an exhibition featuring artists who we saw as reflecting camp horror movie aesthetics through their practice. O’Connor’s work was attractive because the vessels had a familiarity in the way they exhibited a tradition in their form, and yet all of the minor pinches and holes on the surface added a strange layer of mystery.

In the years since, O’Connor’s vessels have become much less subtle in their embellishments and more technical in their construction. An early standout exhibition was his solo show HUNKS (2018) exhibited at the artist run initiative Wellington Street Projects. The exhibition featured a series of vessels formed on the pottery wheel and finished with a collection of hand-built flourishes, including squiggles, shards and grips, all shooting off the surface of his finely caressed vessels. If O’Connor’s previous works were subtle, this exhibition marked his transition to gregarious and fun.

This period of O’Connor’s work also performed a more personal role within the artist’s queer identity. O’Connor, as a person that I know, isn’t quiet, but seems reserved. His works however are colourful, blingy and camp. In our conversations he has acknowledged his works are in fact the outlet where he channels this side of himself.

As a ceramicist, O’Connor is disciplined. Teaching himself new skills has always been the driving forced to the evolutions in his practice. In the lead-up to Back from outer space, he taught himself to slipcast a mould-making technique for ceramics – creating a greater sense of control over his embellishments. He also produced the base vessel forms between the wheel and through hand-building, allowing for a greater variety and randomness in the vessels.

Artereal Gallery appears committed to see O’Connor realise his great potential. The gallery included O’Connor in its 2020 Sydney Contemporary exhibition, where he sold out on day one. In July 2021 it will launch a second online solo exhibition, bringing his works to Melbourne for the Spring 1883 art fair a month later.

This article was originally published in Art Collector issue 95, January to March 2021.

FOLLOW THIS ARTIST

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

READ MORE

Artist Profile: Tim Silver

Blood sculptures that melt in the warm air on opening night, chewing gum soldiers that visitors tread across the gallery floor and jaffas that melt into hair gel are all exchanges of substances that are part of the process in Tim Silver’s artworks. To Edward Colless they form a poetic theme of sickening, contaminating love like the kiss of a vampire.

Artist Profile: Makinti Napanangka

Makinti Napanangka, now over 70 years old, paints on the ground in the open air hunched over her canvas, her brushstrokes confident and instinctive. The efforts of her day’s work are eagerly sought by institutions and collectors all over the world. Jennifer Isaacs visited this prominent desert painter’s remote home base at Kintore, to watch her work.

Artist Profile: Pilar Mata Dupont

Reflecting on a haunting familial past, Pilar Mata Dupont grapples with the fractured narrative of her ancestry in dark, beautiful and theatrical images.

Artist Profile: Judy Darragh

In forms from photography to installation, Judy Darragh takes us into spaces of both memory and physical experience, along the way combining the social, political and personal.

Artist Profile: Jonathan Dalton

Challenging us to decipher what is real and what is unreal, Jonathan Dalton asks us to keep our critical thinking at the fore.

Artist Profile: Joan Ross

In works that comment on collecting, both institutional and personal, Joan Ross attempts a rewrite of history, but in a witty, self-effacing way.