Denis O'Connor

Unearth: The Ceramics Room

11 March – 16 April 2016

Denis O’Connor’s current exhibition at Two Rooms sees the artist revisiting his porcelain clay works after 33 years spent as a sculptor and poet. Serving as something of a precursor to an Australian residency, where O’Connor will work exclusively on ceramics, the current show includes a number of archival vessel and wheel-thrown porcelain pieces from the collection of Stuart Newby. In addition, many of the early ceramics reappear in the new slate drawings – a medium for which O’Connor has become renowned over the last 30 years. Reimaged and reconfigured, the ceramics become fragments of the artist’s memory-load, provenance and inspiration. Indeed, several slates pay direct homage to the influences that informed O’Connor’s early clay work with the ceramicist Ron Nagle, Italian still-life painter Giorgio Morandi, surrealist Joseph Cornell, and Japanese Tea Ware from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, all leaving their mark.


Another sub-set of slate works in the show, Found Shards, also take their starting point from O’Connor’s early ceramicist days, although this time it’s the debitage[1] found around the artist’s now-derelict kilns, which were used throughout the 1970s and early 80s. Rethought and repurposed, they now function as components in small operettas drawn on slate fragments. Across the works are homages to the late Barry Brickell, Len Castle, and the art dealer Denis Cohn, all of whom were early supporters of O’Connor’s ceramics.


O’Connor’s porcelain clay works received critical acclaim in the 1980s, and they continue to delight and attract audiences and collectors. Their high level of skill and innovation saw him win the 1985 Frances Hodgkins Fellowship at Otago University in 1985, and a major exhibition of his ceramics, Songs of the Gulf, followed at the Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki and the Dowse Art Museum. Subsequently, O’Connor’s art practice has mainly been in the realm of sculpture, which has seen him secure numerous accolades including the Moet & Chandon Art Fellowship, and numerous grants from Creative New Zealand. Over the years O’Connor has been commissioned to write about ceramics. In addition to his artworks a selection of his writings will be available to read in this exhibition. Exhibitions of his work have been staged at most major New Zealand institutions and galleries including City Gallery Wellington, Christchurch Art Gallery, and, in 2008, he was included in the exhibition Ābhar agus Meon/Materials and Mentalities that was curated in conjunction with the Sixth World Archaeological Congress at University College Dublin. O’Connor’s work is richly represented in public and private collections throughout New Zealand including The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; Auckland War Memorial Museum; University of Auckland; Waikato Museum of Art and History; Dunedin Public Art Gallery; Hocken Library, University of Otago and The Govett Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth.

[1] “debitage, n.” Archaeology. “The unworked chips, flakes, or other waste material produced in the making of stone or flint implements.” Oxford English Dictionary Online. December 2015. Oxford University Press.