What is your medium? This is a common question we often ask when we discover new artists. Are they painters, sculptors, photographers, or performers? For Tom O’Connor, a single medium is too narrow a vessel for his unbridled creative flow.
The Brisbane, Australia-born artist has become recognized for his talents in contemporary abstract painting, with forays into the realm of sculpture, in addition to his photography. He also engages his body in performative forms and acting. With his thought-provoking creations and unique artistic vision, Tom O’Connor has become a beacon of inspiration, challenging conventional norms and inviting viewers to transcend their preconceived notion of what makes an artist through his vast artistic practice.
O’Connor’s art is not merely an expression of his creative talents; it carries a profound mission that seeks to illuminate souls and ignite conversations that go beyond the boundaries of the canvas, the photograph, or even his own body. Bridging the gap between art and life, his diverse art forms reflect the intricacies, struggles, and triumphs of the human experience empowering and acknowledging all those on journeys of self discovery.
Sitting with Tainted Magazine, O’Connor shares insights into his captivating artistry and mission, exploring the moments of beauty, introspection, and raw emotion that define his extraordinary body of work.
Multifaceted and Multidisciplinary
From his entrancing abstract brushstrokes to his intimate approach to photography and even the manner in which he embodies characters in his performances, Tom O’Connor’s work sparks something within each of us through his hauntingly visceral expressions. The versatility of his artistic abilities provides an opportunity for O’Connor to continually discover new ways to ingrain himself into the work in a way that is undeniably intertwined with his authentic experiences and yet resonates on a deeper primordial level with his viewers. Working in such a wide array of forms we cannot help but wonder, what fuels a practice that is constantly reaching for new horizons?
TM: Your work covers a wide array of creative pathways – painting, acting, and photography. Embracing this Renaissance Man energy, can you tell us in your own words how you describe your practice and how it came to embrace such a diverse range of expression?
TO: Wow, that is the first time I have ever heard renaissance man energy, but I’ll take it. I think doing a wide variety of creative things can seem a little daunting and even chaotic to some. It’s almost like people wish I would pick a lane. But to be honest with you, it all feels the same to me, especially when I’m creating it feels the exact same in my body. It doesn’t matter if I’m doing an abstract oil painting or a performance, the feeling of expression is the exact same.
I think what I’m trying to do with each of these expressions is to tell the truth, and to connect to something bigger than me. When I am creating in whatever sense it isn’t about me anymore, it’s about the story I am trying to illustrate. It’s about using whatever is going on in my life at that moment and how I feel about it and how it’s affecting my body to guide me.
Sitting in memories and nostalgia and also daydreaming about things that haven’t happened yet is a big gateway into my creation process. I am essentially always chasing a feeling in whatever format I am working on. When I think of an amazing memory my whole body can tingle, and it’s the tingle that I try to turn into art.
TM: Do you feel that there is a symbiosis between these mediums? Do they influence the work made by one another?
TO: They absolutely connect and there is an overall creative flow for me. I am an emotional artist and an emotional painter so the acting helps me to live in strong emotion – you’re always trying to sit in the deepest meaning of something and I think it really helps my painting. Just like acting, painting for me is very physical, kinetic, and instinctual – its body work in many ways.
The self portrait photography work is far more still and slow and isn’t based on personal memories or nostalgia as much. The photography work is based on bigger universal ideas of vulnerability, impermanence, and the self as currency. Artists turn their expression into art that is bought and sold but people also want to buy the artist himself in a sense – and a lot of my self portraits explore this.
TM: Contemporary abstraction is a phrase used to describe your work, especially your paintings. What drew you to working in an abstract manner?
TO: Since I can remember I have always been drawn to abstraction. When I was younger and in school I found a dullness in trying to make something look real. I now have a deep appreciation for artists who do realism and that is the kind of art I personally want to collect more of. But for me, the act of creating comes from the inside out not the outside in. Whether that’s a memory or a feeling that’s been sitting with me that finally bubbles to the surface, it’s coming from somewhere inside of me. I’ve always found that far more interesting and dynamic.
Emotions and feelings are ephemeral and ever changing and you can’t hold onto them, so what does that look like visually captured in paint? I often think about that when I think about what I want to explore in my work.
TM: A Los Angeles transplant from Brisbane, Australia, what influence do you find each city, and the act of relocating, has on your work?
TO: When you have lived for a while in two different countries you feel like you have almost lived two lives. There is an expansion that happens, I have dear friends in Los Angeles and dear friends back home in Brisbane. Had I not moved my world wouldn’t be as expanded. The flip side is that I also experience a sense of loss, as I can mourn for a life I could have had if I stayed back home.
Brisbane is a sub-tropical city surrounded by amazing beaches like Noosa and Byron Bay. There also seem to be only two seasons – summer and less summer. So I kind of live in that state all year round and I can do that more easily in Los Angeles as opposed to New York or London where I also considered moving. The environment in Australia is so alive – the sounds, the smells, the color, the light. This all impacted my psyche, my soul. So it’s no surprise I love using vibrant colors in my work now.
In Los Angeles, I’m very inspired by the creative people around me and the different rhythm that the city has. This motivates me and makes me feel at home. The light here is also different to back home and this has an effect on my sensibility as well.
TM: When thinking about the future of your practice, are there any other mediums you hope to experiment with, and how would they fit into your larger practice?
TO: I feel like the sky’s the limit. Art for me is so incredibly liberating because you can literally do anything and express yourself in whatever way is meaningful to you. I would love to explore performance art more deeply with the hopes of creating some works in the future. I just finished reading Marina Ambramovic’s memoir Walking through Walls and I love how you cannot separate Marina from the art she creates, she is her art, she is art. I look up to her very much.
Isolation, Identity, and Innovation
These three words encompass O’Connor’s journey, mission, and vision for his artistic practice. An unrelenting commitment to genuine expression allows his brush, camera, and his body to become a portal of inspiration. His stories and compelling displays of emotion empower individuals of all backgrounds, especially those who have felt silenced or stifled within queer communities, to find their voice. This beauty that lies within each of us is inextricably tangled together with the dualities of life. This means that the fears, anxieties, and struggles are as much of what makes us extraordinary as the joy, the hope, and the excitement. Through his work, O’Connor shares how art has the power to manifest this balance in a way that unifies rather than leaves us feeling disconnected.
TM: Thinking about your broader practice, are there any overarching messages that you feel permeate throughout the work you create, messages you want your audiences to take away, that come to life in these various forms?
TO: I think to hold things in life more closely and to appreciate moments more. The amazing and the dreadful, the elation and the heartbreak. To remember to feel and to allow yourself to be moved by whatever is in front of you. All these human things are so beautiful. I want to turn up the saturation of these things as I continue on as an artist creating work.
TM: An underlying mission within your creative practice is creating visibility for those who have not felt represented, granting them a platform for their voice. What drew you to engaging your art in this way?
TO: Growing up gay in Brisbane was hard. I had an amazing family and loving parents but the small world around me outside my family was more difficult to navigate. I never felt I fit in in high school and the sense of detachment I felt was hard.
I went to an all-boys Catholic school where I felt all my talents and the things I could do weren’t really seen or valued. Who I was and what I did wasn’t the ideal and that was made very clear to me at the time. It’s important to me in my work that as I move forward and progress I offer back to queer young people who were like me. If I can motivate them, make them feel seen and understood and valued I will be incredibly happy.
TM: How do you manifest this mission into the work that you do?
TO: I think by being true to myself and believing in myself and bringing myself to the work. It takes courage to create something personal and then put it out in the world. It’s vulnerable because what if people don’t like it or you bomb? I’m looking forward to working with more community groups and organizations that support queer youth and working out the best ways I can support them.
TM: To wrap up our conversation, can you share with us what you think art has the power to accomplish and the impact it can have?
TO: Art for me is the human experience and it transcends barriers. It can move you and affect you and make you think. It’s a mirror for our own experiences in the world. One of the things I love most about art is its power to bring people together and give meaning and reflection. It’s important to slow down and art does just that.
TM: Lastly, thinking about what is next on the horizon, can you let our readers know what upcoming projects are in the works and any new trajectories you are planning with your multidisciplinary practice?
TO: I had the privilege of exhibiting at the Holden/Marolt Mining & Ranching Museum alongside Buckhorn on July 1st. The showcased collection, titled ‘I Dream In Color,’ featured a series of artworks that I presented to the audience in a rustic setting, demonstrating the juxtaposition of art and nature. Presently, my focus lies on diligently preparing for my upcoming solo exhibition, ‘FLOAT: Figments of Nostalgia, Daydreams of the Future,’ set to take place in Aspen, Colorado this August.