Absences and Convergences II (Burren) 2015 Oil on Fabriano Accademia paper 200gsm 150 x 49cm
b. 1953 – Ormskirk, Lancashire, UK
Wigan Technical College School of Art, 1970 – 1972
North Staffs Polytechnic School of Art, 1972 – 1975
Birmingham Polytechnic School of Art, 1976 – 1977
Liverpool Polytechnic School of Art Education, 1977 – 1978
Martin B O’Connor, (MO’C) was born in a market town in West Lancashire and spent his formative years in Maghull, a growing dormer town in Merseyside but once a village located in the green arable farmland beyond Liverpool’s growing suburbia. It was in the countryside around the original 1930 ‘s building developments that O’Connor developed a passion for the poetic in the countryside. In hindsight, it was as a boy in the 1950’s, that long hours spent playing in these fields alongside the River Alt, day-dreaming, drawing and writing, was preparation for a life spent in appreciation of the poetic, forming a shaman-like perception of spirit of place with a profound love and understanding of the countryside.
After formal education he attended Wigan School of Art, Foundation in Art & Design and then completed a B.A. (Fine Art) at Stoke (Burslem) College of Art. He worked at various jobs to sustain his practice as a painter and then gained a place on the M.A. at Birmingham College of Art 1976 – 77 which gave him another year to develop his work – which showed early signs of a surreal, folk narrative, after which he moved back to his Liverpool environs to complete a PGCE Course in 1978.
In 1980, living off Hope Street, in the Bohemian quarter of the city, M O’C became imbued with the vapor trail of the “Liverpool Scene” – a last gasp whiff of beat poets and dank music joints redolent of the sixties cultural explosion which left Liverpool on a high basking in Jung’s quip about the City being the “Pool of Life”- this was the post punk era of “Eric’s” and the reinvented music scene with the thriving poetry and lively theaters, the visual arts in Liverpool had always made their own way – the Art College was always a nursery of local artists, who stayed and worked in artist run studios – several of those crossed over to the music scene, as Lennon and McCartney had done in the early 1960’s. Most artists tended to club together in grubby dank crumbling old buildings and just get on with it.
At this time MO’C was a visiting lecturer in Painting at Leeds School of Creative Arts working alongside Adrian Henri, Graham Ibbson, arch surrealist Tony Earnshaw and Jeff Nuttal. Sir John Moores bought his work and a number of exhibitions followed. In 1981 O’C took studio space at Bridewell Studios, an artist run studio complex based in an old police station and was also elected member of the Liverpool Academy of Arts where he mixed with various artists, including Adrian Henri, who collaborated with MO’C on a number of works, Maurice Cockrill RA and Frank Linnett, who shared a studio and exhibited with MO’C. A collection of poems entitled “The Thought Field” was produced in the period from 1997 to 2004 and indeed some of the imagery from the written material surfaced in 2007 when the paintings suddenly assumed a more pronounced vigor with the production of more confident vibrant works on paper resulting in an exhibition “The Whirligig of Time”, his first show for twenty years, at Astley Hall Museum & Art Gallery in 2012. The “Whirligig” became a totem theme for the of pursuance of notions and ideas that countered the cultural zeitgeist of the mainstream and start to walk down the rural pathways of working in wild and remote places, rural zones which were areas with significant historical cultural overlay.
In 2014 O’Connor was artist in residence at the Langdale site of the Merz – Barn where Kurt Schwitters produced his final Merz-bau, situated on a slope of the Cylinders Estate near Ambleside. This location provided fuel for the whole notion of working in rural locations heft with the legacy of the cultural iconoclast that was Kurt Schwitters. A diversified legacy managed in part for the resident artist to explore the “space in-between spaces” and it was here in 2014 M.O’C explored the notion of working in the traces of someone who was no longer there but whose presence very much was, in an ambient work called “Absences and Convergences”. The work produced at the Shippon inspired by the location resulted in 2015 an exhibition at the Shippon Gallery at the same venue entitled, “No One Left, No One Came and Nothing Happened”.This took as its theme the notion of absences and what happens in silence, a reflective take on the poem “Adlesthrop” by Edward Thomas, which provided a stepping stone or leaping off point to subsequent work at the Burren exploring ritual and status and the transition “betwixt and between” status (liminal states) and the celebration of nature.
The residency at the Burren College of Art in 2015 was pivotal in the clarification of the search of the distant voices and echos of the past both in the archaeology of the landscape and its physicality, allied or wedded to a perceived spiritual definition of the landscape linked with an anthropological context as historic artifacts give voice to the “Betwixt and between” liminal element which has become a prime focus of the work.
How this keyed in with cultural behemoths such as WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney is open in the sense that the spirit of a place taps into the essence of the experience of the sublime and its interaction with our own psychological and emotional perceptions….it becomes a narrative of who and where we are (“you are nither here nor there”) and our relationship to a particular place , be it a view, or the physical presence (of a mountain or a glen), its historical significance, or spiritual and emotive soul such as that referenced by Seamus Heaney in his poem “Postscipt” in the effect of soft buffetings “Blowing the heart open” on the Flaggy-shore in Co. Clare.
In September 2017 a further residency was completed at YGAT (The Gate) an arts centre and gallery in St. Clears, in S. Wales. Based in the Laugharne, home to Dylan Thomas in various locations, but famously at the Boathouse on the estuary of the River Taff, I had hopes to tap into that literary tradition and it was apparent from the landscape, with its wood covered rolling hills and estuarial mud-flats, Castle and pilgrim churches (often abandoned alongside megalithic stones standing in adjacent fields), that a certain magic in the Landscape proved sufficient muse to Thomas as he worked away in his writing shed. My work focused on the landscape elements inspired by some of his work but also, perhaps more acutely, to the empty and ruined Pilgrim churches on the Pilgrim route to St David’s, the graves of pilgrims who passed away en -route, and the various stone works , fortifications, megaliths and assorted ground works which gave the area its strong identity and sense of place. In October I exhibited some of the work produced on the residency alongside some of the Irish works completed in the Burren. The title of the exhibition “The Pilgrim’s Muse”, summed up the influence and motif of the programme as the whole idea of pursuing the nature of awe and splendour of the sublime in wild zones was, in essence, becoming a pilgrimage.
It is now the beginning of 2018 and I am in the planning stages of a residency in Scotland to complete the Quartet of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, to which the Hebridean Islands, with their remote beauty which has attracted many a monastic and artistic pilgrim and to Skye whose cultural referee, the poet Sorley Maclean, gave such a definitive and distinct Gaelic voice in the response to these islands wealth of dramatic wonderment, or as Iain Crichton Smith, in his poem “Aberdeen” states,
“Riches are what we find
in what is transient, perilous and oblique
the random glitter of the sun and wind.”
An exhibition will be curated which will unite the work of all 4 residencies which will tour selected rural venues in England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales.
1976 Paintings – John Brown Gallery, Nescliffe, Shropshire.
1976 Windsor & Newton Expo, Birmingham City Art Gallery & Museum.
1977 Northern Young Contemporaries, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.
1977 New Work, The Gallery, Somerset College of Art, Taunton.
1978 6 Young Contemporaries, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool.
1978 Six Artists, Cannon Hill Park Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham.
1979 Members Exhibition, Liverpool Academy of Arts, Pilgrim St. Liverpool.
1980 Merseyside Artists, Adelphi Hotel, Liverpool.
1980 New Work, Merseyside Artists – Liverpool Academy of Arts, Liverpool.
1980 Bridewell Artists – Edinburgh Festival.
1981 Drawings & Graphics – Royal Teaching Hospital Liverpool.
1981 Drawings & Graphic Works, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool.
1982 Bluecoat Invitational, Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool.
1982 Drawings, Bridewell Gallery, Liverpool.
1984 Small Works, Merseyside Artists – Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool.
1986 Bridewell Group Show, Bridewell Gallery, Liverpool.
1986 Merseyside Artists 3 (MA3), Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.
1986 MA3 – Atkinson Art Gallery, Southport.
1987 MA3 – St. Helens Museum & Art Gallery, St. Helens, Lancashire.
1987 MA3 – Prescot Museum, St. Helens.
1987 MA3 – Grosvenor Museum, Chester.
1987 MA3 – Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead.
1987 Bridewell Artists – Blackpool Museum & Art Gallery, Blackpool.
2012 West Lancashire Open, Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk, West Lancashire.
2013 Astley Biennial, Chorley, Lancashire.
2017 Lancashire Open 17 Chapel Gallery, Ormskirk, West Lancashire.
2018 Royal Cambrian Academy Open 18, RCA, Conwy, N. Wales
1988 Plagued by Daemons – Bridewell Gallery Liverpool.
1988 Plagued by Daemons – Bluecoat Gallery Liverpool.
1991 Myth & Mischief – Arts Centre, Skelmersdale, West Lancashire.
1980 “Personages”, Paintings, Drawings & Installation, Pilgrim St Gallery, Liverpool Academy of Arts, Liverpool.
1980 “Poem” Installation, Sandymount Strand, Co. Dublin, Eire.
1989 “Alchemical Motifs”, Bridewell Gallery, Liverpool
2003 “Sepulchre”, Installation, Our Lady’s RC Church, Lydiate, Merseyside
2012 “The Whirligig of Time”, Astley Hall Museum & Art Gallery, Chorley.
2014 “No One Left, No One Came and Nothing Happened”, Shippon Gallery, Merz-barn, Ambleside, Cumbria.
2017 “The Pilgrim’s Muse“, YGAT (The Gate) St. Clears, Camarthenshire, S. Wales.
1980 – Leeds School of Creative Arts Snr. Lecturer Fine Art
1982 – Stoke -on-Trent College of Art Visiting Artist /Lecturer
1982 – The Bluecoat Gallery, Liverpool – Artist talks
1985 – Crawford Arts Liverpool – Project Artist
1985 – MYTAP Liverpool – Project Artist
1987 – MYA Heswall, Wirral – Project Artist
1989 – Tate Gallery, Liverpool – Artist Lectures /Talks
2014 – Residency at Shippon Gallery, Merz-Barn, Ambleside, Cumbria.
2015 – Artist in Residence, The Burren College of Art, Co. Clare, Ireland.
2017– Artist in Residence, YGAT, St. Clears, Camarthernshire, S. Wales
Private in UK, Europe and Australia
Sir John Moores
PEN @ Tate Britain London
Liverpool Echo & Daily Post
Merseyside Arts Magazine
West Lancashire Champion
Country Life Magazine
BBC Radio Merseyside
BBC Radio 4