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.