Interviews

JOHN O'CONNOR: 16 Questions

On March 21st I met with John O'Connor at Read Cafe in Williamsburg Brooklyn. A representation of John O'Connor's piece Nostradamus has been included in the Unambiguous exhibition. John's work can also be seen at Pierogi Gallery in Wiamsburg Brooklyn.

AWD:How Personal is your work?

JOHN O'CONNOR: A lot of the info in the drawings is specific to me physically, emotionally, etc. At times, the more specific a work gets it begins to go beyond me - to become something else. However the strongest work doesn’t have to be tied to me personally. I think my best work has very specific information tied to bigger, wider-ranging issues.

AWD: Your work looks like they are charts that have been abstracted. What is it that you like about the dea of making data abstract?

JOHN O'CONNOR:Well, in the piece Nostradamus, the one in the magazine, I began by taking Nostradamus’ textual prohpecy on the end of the world and thinking about it as an abstract vision that he translated into a comprehendable, written form. I then re-translated that written text back into an abstract form via my own process - using the structure of the language. Then, within that I turned the forms back into language. I feel that the result is that I created something bigger than the actual textual information... reimagining an abstract vision. It might seem confusing in the process but it also makes the prophecy clearer in a certian way - simplifies it. I also like to add humor to my work - I think it makes the information richer, more experiential.

AWD: Your process seems organic in the way you conceptualize your pieces.

JOHN O'CONNOR:Usually the pieces start out simple then transform and grow unexpectedly. I never really know what a work will look like in the end.

AWD: Is your process about the loss of control?

JOHN O'CONNOR:At a point before moving to NYC, I was making abstract paintings that I could not resolve in any way - they were too contrived. Then I got interested in Cage’s work and in diagrams, notes- any mark that was accidental or unintentionally aesthetic. Inspired by these things, I tried to find ways to make marks without controlling them. At one point I made drawings of drum patterns by dipping jazz drummer brushes in ink - playing various patterns on paper.

AWD: Do you remember the first time you began this Process?

JOHN O'CONNOR:I think I was looking at the work of Cy Twombly, John Cage and others. I was thinking about the processes of other artists and how they managed to get to a point of freedom from aesthetic choices. Because of that, I tried to find ways of eliminating my own control over an image. This happend through my choice of materials and content. I was becomming interested in freeezing that moment of loss of control.

AWD:How planned out is your work now?

JOHN O'CONNOR:When I went to Skowhegan, I was using random elements, throwing dice, using lottery tickets. I began to include other information that was very poersonal to me, like recordings of my self talking in my sleep, and my temperature and blood pressure, and my weight fluctuations. I had always been embarassed almost, about the fact that I was recoring that type of information, but the drawings gave me freedom to explore it all.

AWD:How has your work changed since then?

JOHN O'CONNOR:My work used to be more diagramatic - looser, less defined almost. At the same time I was interested in really graphic images, since I had been a graphic desing major in undergrad. During the time I went to Skowegan I started to combine the diagrammatc aesthetic I was interested in with a more graphic sensibility. My work started to become more detailed and time consuming to make, but I always have found the labor intensive stuff meditative.

AWD: How did your work transform to the way it is now?

JOHN O'CONNOR:Being alone with my own work, away from the constant critiques of school, helped me define my own style. All the decisions in the work were left up to me to make - I couldn’t rely on anyone else’s advice. In terms of medium, when I started using colored pencil my work really changed. I began to like large areas of solid color, made with small marks repeated thousands of times. Kind of a simple, graphic form made via a laborious process. Those are two of the bigger things.

AWD: Do you ever stop making work?

JOHN O'CONNOR: I usually do not take long breaks. A day or two to reassess after a show or larger work. I don’t ever see myself stopping for a long period of time. I love the idea I can do this for the rest of my life.

AWD: Do you have a favorite type of art?

JOHN O'CONNOR: Not really, I tend to like 2-D work.

AWD: What do think the artist role in society is?

JOHN O'CONNOR:A lot of different things, to get people to look at things in a different way, as a start. This can then be tied to the social, political, etc. In my work, I’m trying to look at things in a different way.

AWD: How do you feel about the stage you are in with your work?

JOHN O'CONNOR:I’m happy for what it is now. For me to keep making work that excites me, there has to be constant change. Some element or elements in the work has to change. I guess it goes back to our talking about control. To throw myself off balance is the only way I can do something new, and keep inventing ways of making images.

AWD: Have you ever made the same drawing twice?

JOHN O'CONNOR: It’s funny you should ask that. When I was a kid, I did this drawing of the Boston Celtics that I thought was great. Then, the basement leaked and destroyed the original. I painstakingly redrew it but the second one wasn’t nearly as good as the original - much more rigid and timid. I think I realized even then that it was the excitement of creating something for the first time that made it so good to me.

AWD: What do you think of the title Unambiguous?

JOHN O'CONNOR:I like it. It seems mysterious and a bit ambiguous.

AWD: I know you do some teaching as well. Can you teach someone to be an artist?

JOHN O'CONNOR: I’m not sure. I think you probably can to a certain point. The person has to go the rest of the way on their own.

AWD:What do you think of Duchamp?

JOHN O'CONNOR: I love him.