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ART AFRICA spoke to Isobel O’Connor in the build up to her solo exhibition ‘DEEPER THAN SKIN,’ opening this Saturday at Objekt | Design | Art Gallery in Franschhoek, South Africa.

AA Newsletter 2016 Nov17 ODA1Isobel O’Connor, Azubuike, 2016. Charcoal, pastels on paper, 100 x 70 cm. All images courtesy of the artist and Objekt | Design | Art Gallery, Franschhoek.

ART AFRICA: When did you first become interested in portraiture?

Isobel O’Connor: My interest in portraiture started during my student years, where photography was part of my course. I still look at a face as though through the lens of a camera, looking at how light falls on bone structure, and trying to find the ‘story’ behind the eyes.

You work predominantly in charcoal and pastels. Is there a specific reason for this?

I like high contrast in my drawings. Charcoal powder allows me to cover large areas of paper with a fair amount of freedom, into and on top of which I can do detailed work with charcoal pencils. Pastel affords me a black that is more dense, and gives me the option of colour. Erasers work equally well on both mediums to create detail.

AA Newsletter 2016 Nov17 ODA2Isobel O’Connor, Zola, 2016. Charcoal, pastels on paper, 100 x 70 cm.

Please tell us about your upcoming exhibition ‘Deeper than Skin’?

‘I AM A WOMAN OF AFRICA’ was the title of a previous collection of portraits. Some of these were old faces, so this was the beginning of my fascination with lines and wrinkles, and the possible stories (apart from just age) to be found there. ‘DEEPER THAN SKIN’ is my homage to older women, where time and circumstance might have left grooves in a face, but where qualities such as strength, compassion, and humour never fade.

AA Newsletter 2016 Nov17 ODA3Isobel O’Connor, Condor, 2016. Charcoal, pastels on paper, 100 x 70 cm.

What is the relationship between your bird portraits and the images of women?

I wanted to highlight the beauty in the lined faces of older women, caused by the emotions and lived experiences. A lot of women are very self-conscious about these wrinkles. The bird portraits were a comment on their total unawareness of wrinkles, as opposed to the human quest to recapture youth by removing these lines. The birds became a flock all on their own though (initially a play on words/tongue-in cheek title ‘old birds and fine lines’ was bandied about, but sense prevailed)!

AA Newsletter 2016 Nov17 ODA4Isobel O’Connor, Ground Hornbill Eye, 2016. Charcoal, pastels on paper, 94 x 65 cm.

You begin each drawing with the eyes. By focusing on them, are you trying to capture some kind of overarching essence? And at what point do your subjects take on a quality of their own, if ever?

I often use geometric shapes as part of the face or composition, in order to suggest some element, such as repression perhaps. I usually start a drawing knowing what quality of the face I would like to emphasise. Occasionally though, once the eyes are on paper, something strange happens, and I am led in a different direction. Composition wants to change, emphasis wants to change – and if I persist with my original idea, the drawing just does not work.

Isobel O’Conner’s solo exhibition ‘DEEPER THAN SKIN’ will be on show at Objekt | Design | Art, Franschhoek from the 19th November until 10th December 2016. For more information contact Patrizia Litty: patrizia@objekt-design-art.co.za.


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