In the years I have been working with artist Aleda O’Connor- whether it is from the curator or framer’s perspective- I have always admired her drawings. Her ability to capture a subject in such delicate and scrutinized lines with foundational materials of pen and paper is simply inspiring; after viewing Drawn, I am sure you too wanted to go draw onsite.
A few years ago, I planting the seed of a drawing exhibit. I persuaded O’Connor that I am not the only one who wants to see her drawings. Aleda O’Connor was finally convinced to release a curated collection of drawings. And the result is DRAWN.
“Drawn” has always planned to be an online exhibit, but what is often missing from online exhibits is a deeper conversation with the artist often had at openings of exhibitions. So, after spending a bit of time with the drawings, I have proposed a selection of questions to O’Connor that she has been gracious to candidly answer.
We hope that you as the reader find greater insight into what goes into what seems a simple drawing made with foundational artistic materials.
--Curator Andrea Jackman
AJ: What is it about the pen and ink medium that attracts you to it over your oil pastel artworks?
AO:I enjoy drawing in any medium. I use pen and ink more for sketching outdoors and oil pastels are my primary studio medium. Pen and ink are portable and available at any time. I do not need to carry a lot of colours around; just a couple of pens, some white charcoal and a sketchbook. When I do take oil pastels outdoors, I have to carry a lot more stuff including the heavy panels.
AJ: Is there a reason you choose a coloured-toned paper vs white?
AO: Toned paper provides a middle tone into which I draw darker tones and, if I want, add highlights in white. This immediately gives me a wide range of values.
"Staple Kit for Onsite drawing"
AJ: In your show statement, you mentioned a staple of supplies you take with you when you go drawing. Tell me about other key items artists might like to have out and about.
AO: Most of the time I keep a sketchbook and my Lamy drawing pen with me. I keep this mini-kit together in a shoe-bag. When I go out for a planned day of sketching, I take an ultralight folding chair that fits into a small knapsack along with my sketch kit, water and a snack. I used a basic stool for years, but now I really enjoy the back support that the chair gives me. Most of the time, I draw in a Robert Bateman 8 1/2” X 11” sketchbook, held on my lap, or on sheets of toned paper taped onto a support board. I bring my camera and sometimes binoculars. An umbrella not only shelters me from rain, but also provides shade, and occasionally a shield from cold wind.
"Luxuries of the studio"
AJ: What is an item that you use in the studio that you cannot use when drawing onsite?
AO: Apart from my full range of art materials, I have a big heavy-duty easel on casters, and lots of props and lights. Also, I can work in larger formats indoors.
AJ: Of all the places you have traveled, which one do you connect to the most and why? What makes this region special?
AO: It is hard to pick one place over another. I really love the landscape and weather in Ireland, where I lived for a while, and have family and friends. For the same reasons, I enjoy Atlantic Canada. I have visited Grand Manan twenty times or so and it is a very inspiring place to work.
“Teatro Greco, Siracusa”
“City Walls, Coast Siracusa”
AJ: How does knowing the history of a place affect your drawings? Does it affect the focus or primary subject matter?
AO: The history of a place is revealed in the landscape, architecture and objects nearby, even how buildings are organized. It is interesting to think about the people that live and work in a place and the clues they leave: a stone cutter’s marks, a bicycle chained to a post, a satellite dish or farm bell. A fence, for example, reveals things about the people who lived there and built it, whether it is made of split cedar rails or painted pickets, stones picked out of a field or chain link. The outbuildings around a farm or fishing stage were built for a purpose and tell a story. I like to tuck myself into a corner where people don’t really notice me and where I can watch things unfold, sheltered from the sun, wind and traffic and just draw what is in front of me.
AJ: En plein air often is romanticized. Tell me about a time when things were not cooperating and not going as planned.
AO: It never goes as planned. Sometimes a van parks right in front of your subject or the boat you are drawing leaves the dock. Once while I was painting it, a crew painted a wall a different colour. There can be wind, rain, too much sun or cold, or ants. There are also people who want to tell you about their sister who is an artist as well.
"Onsite Pantry Exploration"
AJ: How would you rate your visual memory? Does it assist or hinder you in your drawings?
AO: I am working on it. Every drawing informs and sharpens visual memory, and also my recollection of the time spent drawing then and there. It makes me more observant generally. But the point of drawing is about just being in the world and finding what is there, looking intensely as things are revealed as the drawing unfolds.
“Saint Hilarion, Wide View”
AJ: Is it hard to part with these drawings as they relate to a specific time and place, like a travel journal?
AO: Yes. Drawing is a form of ‘Slow Travel.’ It takes time and patience. Each drawing evokes memories of a place and related events. It is helpful to refer to a drawing as reference for something else, even if it is just studying how something is made. A drawing is more useful than a photograph, because drawing is also an exercise in editing and simplification: focusing on or emphasizing the essential elements of the subject, which a photograph cannot do.
AJ: In relation to your drawings, what does ‘vulnerability’ mean to you?
AO: It takes vulnerability to draw in the first place, to look at something and make myself open to what it is, and then, to figure out how to gather what I can see and understand to construct a response. Every drawing is a record of what I have noticed and cared about and, in a way, a time-lapse record of handmade marks that respond to a subject.
AJ: Over the past few months, you have been drawing with a group online. Tell me how this is similar and different to the travel-based drawing workshops.
AO: Drawing with other people is fun, whether in person in a studio, outdoors or online. And it helps with discipline, by which I mean actually work to a schedule, but also pacing myself and stopping. I learn so much from looking at how other people confront and solve the same visual challenge.
I began “parallel” drawing at home with online companions just weeks into the pandemic. While I miss the three dimensional in-person experience of life-drawing in a studio, online life-drawing turned out to be way more interesting than I expected. The camera distorts the figure in very interesting ways. It has provided opportunities to draw some really excellent models from all around the world, which I have enjoyed a lot.
AJ: If you could have one of your drawings in a permanent art collection, which one would it be and what institution?
AO: That’s a difficult question to answer. I would be very flattered if something were selected by the Art Gallery of Hamilton. The Grand Manan Art Gallery has one of my drawings of a wooden winch, used to hoist heavy fishing nets, in its Permanent Collection.
“Cork City: Rain Slick”
AJ: Drink & Food paring... What drink & food do you think is best to consume while being immersed in the “Drawn” exhibition?
AO:I would enjoy a glass of Ontario Chardonnay made by Vida Zalnieriunas, the vintner and owner with Richard Johnston of Chadsey’s Cairns Winery in Prince Edward County, along with some grilled shrimp.
Since moving to Hamilton in May 2012, I have been documenting the city and its inventory of wonderful residential, commercial and industrial locations. But it was not until Barry Coombs began documenting the urban landscape in the city that I fully embraced this project. After focusing mostly on rural and maritime landscape for more than a decade, the shapes and colours of Hamilton’s cityscape are a change of direction for me.
I graduated in Fine Art from the University of Guelph. I have been working with Oil Pastels on wooden panels since the early 1990s. Though I was introduced to the New York Ash Can school of painters when I was still in art school, and always admired Edward Hopper, I did not discover the wonderful pastels by Wolf Kahn until I had begun using pastels myself. His landscapes and use of colour made a permanent impression. For many years I have also referenced the compositions, structure and brushwork in Richard Diebenkorn’s paintings and Henri Matisse.