MAstars 2011: Liam O'Connor, MA Fine Art

MAstars 2011: Liam O'Connor, MA Fine Art Liam O'Connor, Mobile Phone as Candle, 2011. Painting. 106cm x 106cm. Credit: Liam O'Connor

Gordon Dalton selects Liam O'Connor from Swansea Metropolitan University for MAstars

Many musicians, writers and artists have used alter egos and pseudonyms. Mainly, this is to hide from the pressures of fame, to differentiate from another artist of the same name, to make themselves look more interesting or to create work that is distinctly different from the usual oeuvre. 

Artist Liam O’Connor would probably admit to all of the above, but for the most part, using the nom de plume of Casper White was in the interests of creating a dialogue with himself and his audience about painting. Casper White could be seen as a separate entity altogether from O’Connor, exhibiting as an unaccredited 13th artist in O’Connor’s MA show. The only immediate connection between the two was that their work was next to each other, separated only by a specially created book featuring a conversation between the two artists, exploring their own practice and links to other artists.

At its best, O’Connor’s painting has a grand, almost gothic approach to portraiture. Faces hide behind veils or wire fences; self portraits done in the style of John Singer Sargent; teenage girls attempting séances or looking as remote as Millais’ Ophelia. For the show, O’Connor’s two paintings featured a red headed girl, lit only by the light emitted by a mobile phone, with only the bed sheets and a skull for company. Accompanying drawings were etched onto layers of glass. These layers, along with the highlighting of details and the use of modern technology spill over into the work made by Casper White.

O’Connor, acting as White, paints directly onto ice blocks, letting layers freeze before adding another section. Once completed, these are then defrosted under the gaze of a video camera. As the layers melt, they emit a bizarre light as cracks appear and water and paint drip slowly down the block. This process is looped and presented on a screen, framed as if a painting. The effect is of a bizarre picture of Dorian Gray, stuck on both fast forward and rewind.

Accompany the video ‘frames’ is a real block of ice on a shelf, containing one such painting. As it melts, it creates one unholy mess as it drips down the wall, an act of creative destruction.

O’Connor is a portrait painter who happily acknowledges technical developments, along with the (not so) simple pleasures of painting (and putting them in the freezer) just as those who came before him have done. Through the creation of Casper White, O’Connor’s dialogue with the history and future of portraiture is open and explicit, without fear of embarrassment. White’s revealing of a process, although in reverse, allows O’Connor to talk about painting. The time may have come for O’Connor to lay Casper White to rest, perhaps commemorated in a painting or a video. Knowing O’Connor, Casper White may find himself wrapped in a freezer body bag, lit only by the light coming from an open freezer, before O’Connor slams the door.

Selected by Gordon Dalton
Published July, 2011

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