Echo’s Tree is the summation of Denis O’Connor’s recent Blumhardt Foundation Residency in Australia. During the residency the artist immersed himself in translation, reaching for images that might respond to the influential New Zealand poets of our time, including Andrew Johnston, Geoff Cochrane and Hera Lindsay Bird. Echo’s Tree also heralds a return to working with high-fired white China clay after a thirty-five year hiatus.
The artist describes his work as a method for ‘trying to find a language’ – be that through text or through visual languages of symbol and sculptural materials. Writing also acts as an integral component of his practice, whether publishing on his own work or that of others. O’Connor employs language as a bridge between image-making and storytelling. Indeed his collaboration with poets has been described as a form of translation. Fittingly then in this exhibition the artist has inscribed the length of a clay spirit-level sculpture with the last line from Hera Lindsay Bird’s landmark debut collection of poems: ‘this is a ransom note with no demands’.
O’Connor cites his Irish heritage as a generous prompt for his practice, with art-making seen as a useful form for an exploration of the mysteries of identity. His works, therefore, often have an autobiographical register which traces the interweaving of specific personal and generational storytelling within wider geographical and social histories. In this show O’Connor references and reimagines the imagery of the pishogues (from the Irish piseog, meaning ‘sorcery’ or ‘witchcraft’). These are objects employed in Gaelic folklore which are imbued with unseen energy and psychic gravitas and are understood to possess a living presence akin to a talisman. Through the form of the pishogue O’Connor finds his sculptures can carry much of their uncanny quality with them.