Have you painted any famous horses?
Yes, quite a few well known racehorses, Sea the Stars, Galileo, Moscow Flyer, for example. I do work for the ITBA (Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association) and for TRM Nutrition and they’ve commissioned many pieces for the likes of Coolmore Stud, Michael Owen and even HM Queen Elizabeth. I was also delighted to paint MHS Going Global for the Brodericks recently. However, for me, the horse is more than just a name. It can be a child’s pony or a world class champion, I see the beauty in all of them.
Need to Know: “Unbridled” opens tomorrow May 3 until May 24, at The Doorway Gallery, 24 South Frederick Street, Dublin 2; www.thedoorwaygallery.com.
Do you paint horses from life or photography?
I work with a lot of very talented photographers, along with taking my own resource images and sketches. For the Galan images, I flew to Bremen to set up the photoshoot with Andrea Zachrau and Galan’s owner, Alexandra.
Drawing from life is essential, I think, if one wants to develop as an artist. I use photos once I’m back in the studio.
Your love of horses is part of your family history I believe …
My grand uncle Mossie was the local blacksmith in our village and I have vivid memories of being in the forge with him when I was a child. It was so dark in there, the only light being a solitary dim bulb hanging from the rafters and the glow of the fire. My “job” was to turn the handle of the bellows and I took particular joy in seeing the red embers brighten and glow as sparks rose upwards to the darkness of the roof.
The smell of horse hair, the rasp of the file on their hooves, the thud of the hammer onto the malleable metal on the anvil are as fresh in my mind now as they were 30 years ago.
We closed the forge after Mossie passed away, but my love of horses only grew from then onwards. I think it must be a genetic memory that I work with horses, continuing the legacy of my ancestors, but in an entirely different field.
Anatomical precision, elegance and simplicity characterise Tony Connor’s work – as well as his unquenchable passion for painting horses. This fascination began at a young age working in a forge with his uncle and has since led to commissions to paint famous horses such as Olympian Greg Broderick’s MHS Going Global. HM The Queen as well Coolmore Stud are also some of his patrons. Of his new work O’Connor says, “Much of my work focuses on the balance between light and dark, about how much we hide, and how much we choose to reveal.”
Unbridled by Tony O’Connor
The Doorway Gallery, 24 South Frederick Street Dublin. From May 3rd thedoorwaygallery.com
A significant proportion of humanity is in thrall to horses, and artists who are horse painters tend to equestrian subjects to the exclusion of most others. Tony O’Connor is even more selective. He dispenses with the trappings of the turf and other distractions, and focuses intently on the magnificence of the animals. He comes from a line of blacksmiths, he notes, so the involvement is deep-rooted.
"Tony O'Connor, in the studio with one of his stunning subjects and inset, some of his amazing work soon to be exhibited at Dublin's well-known Doorway Gallery...."
"Investing in great equine art from today, there is a number of artists that lead the field. In racing art, (popular since the Tudors), Peter Curling is famed for his sporting and hunting works thrilling with life, and John Fitzgerald (Artist in Residence at the Curragh) is informed, accomplished and prolific with works regularly coming up for sale. For portrait work with tremulous muscular power that deftly catches the spiritual depth perceptible to all true horse people, Kerry born artist Tony O’Connor, takes his lead directly from the Renaissance, and the Silverpoint drawings of da Vinci. A graduate of the Crawford College of Art, now garnering worldwide attention for paintings that celebrate the physicality of the horse in intimate, breath-taking detail, Tony works from his Whitetree Studio here in Cork, and can be next seen in exhibition next spring in a show entitled All the Pretty Horses. Given the waiting list for his work and sell out displays at the Discover Ireland Horse Show at the RDS, he really is one to watch.
"Look out for this Artist"
Irish blacksmith is horse portrait artist with soul
By Susan Salk on October 31, 2012
Tony O’Connor at an opening in Cork, Ireland
Sixth generation Irish blacksmith Tony O’Connor says he grew up “with a pencil in one hand and a hammer in the other.” His eye for equine beauty combined with his draftsmanship talent and skill, impelled him to study art in his native Ireland, and today, although the art of horse shoeing runs in his bloodlines, it is the poetry of painting that sustains him.
In this weeks’ Clubhouse Q&A, O’Connor talks about his craft, inspiration and goals.
Q: Please tell me about your background as an artist. Where did you receive your art training, and who are some of the artists you’ve admired? And also, please tell me about White Tree Studio, where your work can be viewed.
My background is actually in blacksmithing. I’m a 6th generation blacksmith, but grew up with a pencil in one hand, and a hammer in the other.
Fortunately the pencil was the lighter option, so I went down that route.
I went to art college at Crawford College of Art and Design in the late 90s, and received a Bachelor of Art’s Honors Degree and a hDip (secondary degree) in Art Education, and then promptly got a job in sales and forgot about art for most of the 1990s.
White Tree Studio is just the name I gave myself when I decided to give art a go again. It’s just my working studio at the moment, but the plan is to open The White Tree Studio Gallery eventually, and slowly start taking over the equine art world.
Q: Your portraits of horses are beautifully detailed and evoke such feeling and emotion. How do you illustrate such depth in your portraiture?
I actually don’t think my paintings are that detailed. I do start paintings with the intention of taking my time and doing an amazingly detailed piece, but for some reason, it comes together pretty quickly for me.
And I hate overworking things. So if it looks right— from a distance, and in low light, and possibly with alcohol in me— then I’m happy with the work!
I like to keep things simple too in my work. I rarely do backgrounds, so the viewer can truly concentrate on subject matter, without distraction of background material.
I figure that if there’s nothing else to concentrate on, you’ll focus on doing your best to get the horse looking good!
Q: Who are these horses who appear on your White Tree Studio website? And, after you find a subject, how do you begin a painting? Do you, for example, study the equine first, taking many photographs? Or sketch and paint quickly? What is your method?
A lot of the horses are fragments (a composite) of horses from photos, sketches and field studies.
We have an amazing equine culture here in Ireland, so I’m never too far away from beautiful horses.
When I have time, I usually set out with my sketch book and camera, and just do what I do— sketch really quickly— and then, when back in the studio, generally refine the sketches to see if I can make some kind of decent composition for a painting out of them.
I like working large: 30”x40” would be my smaller work, and I predominately use oils, but like to sketch in the piece with acrylics.
And, I typically work on two-to-three pieces at a time.
Q: What was it about the horse that inspired you to make art from their image?
Well they say that all art is an imitation of nature, and what more perfect example of power, grace, nobility and strength can you get than the horse?
It’s also in my blood to work with horses, coming from generations of men who shod them, I guess it was inevitable that I would end up doing the same!
Is it too egotistical to say I think I was born to do this?
Q: Do you own or ride horses yourself?
I don’t have my own horse yet, just my dog Pepper. She doesn’t really like me putting a saddle on her!!!
I have ridden out a bit. It’s good to get a different perspective from the horse’s back, but it’s difficult enough to sketch while hanging on for dear life!
Q: What is it, when you stand back and survey your work, that you see in each complete portrait? And what do you hope your fans see?
Well, first of all, I look to see if it’s executed correctly— is it in proportion, are the muscles where they’re supposed to be, does
it have four legs? The usual. Then, the emotion comes through for me. If it’s well done, it’s easier to convey emotion to the viewer. I hope my fans will see something that it looks good, and that it makes them feel
something inside (hopefully not anger or disgust) and leaves them thinking, “That boy can draw!”
Q: Are you represented by any galleries, and is the work on your website White Tree Studio available?
All the paintings on my website have sold. They are just up to show people a taste of what I can do; but, I update my Facebook page daily, with new works, and ongoing works, sketches, ideas and quite a few bad jokes and puns. So, drop by to Tony O Connor – Equine Art on Facebook if you want a giggle, and some art too, of course. I’m represented here in Ireland by a few galleries: The Doorway Gallery in our Capital city, Dublin; The 2020 Gallery in Cork city; and, two galleries in my home county of Kerry— The Bluepool Gallery in Killarney, and The Greenlane Gallery in Dingle.
I also have plans to get representation in London, and hopefully Dubai in the very near future, so if any of your readers are gallery owners, as they say in the movies, “Call me!”
"A large crowd attended the opening of artist Tony Connor's latest exhibition Stag and stallion recently at the Doorway Gallery, Dublin. Fellow artist Peter Curling did the honours at the event which features 23 new works. they range in price from €950 to €4,800 and the number of sold signs indicated that the artist priced them correctly"
Tony O Connor Equine Artist
It's been a hectic few months for arts new success story Tony O'Connor. His work has never been more in demand. With a constant stream of commissions, as well as keen gallery interest, life is on the up and up for this Cork based Equine Artist.
Tony's latest artistic venture entitled Equinessence is being hailed as a must-see for horse enthusiasts. The show runs until Christmas in the Elec. Engineering Building, UCC and is open to all. With prices ranging from 100 to 800 theres something for everyone and just in time for Christmas too! Viewers will enjoy choosing a piece either as a treat for oneself or as a unique gift for someone else. And if you cant make it to the exhibition some of the images can be also be picked up online at www.WhiteTreeStudio.ie
If you love horses this is one not to be missed!
Tonys success in creating such organic yet sophisticated images perhaps lies in his bringing together a degree in fine art, encompassing the technical know-how such instruction begets, a disciplined approach to horse anatomy and an undeniable passion for the equine form. His superbly accurate renderings and meticulous draughtsmanship result in an experience that is both unmistakable and unforgettable. While these images speak volumes to the horse lover, the lavish use of the black medium evokes a certain opulence and style giving Tonys work a much broader appeal. Anyone who appreciates classic elegance cannot but be drawn in.
To Tonys eye, the horse is already perfect in nature. He just tries to do justice to that absolute quality in his paintings. In his current work the void of background and simplicity of the pieces serves to highlight the natural physical perfection of the horse.
In recent years Tony has been involved with the Irish Horse Welfare Trust and designs their Christmas card. He is also currently involved with several Equine Charities in the U.K.
Artist Tony O'Connor holds new 'Stag and Stallion' exhibition in Dublin
The Doorway Gallery, Dublin will host an exhibition by Tony O’Connor called ‘Stag and Stallion' , starting on Friday, May 29th between 6 and 8pm on 24 South Frederick Street. The exhibition will run until June 26th.
Says Tony: "In this body of work, I wanted to explore the contrasts between light and dark, the use of negative space and to use a looser style brush stroke to build up form and shape, whilst retaining a true-to-life depiction of the horse. My larger canvases depict studies of Friesian horses, a typically black horse, but flecks of violets, blues, ochres and siennas gleam from their glossy coats, illustrating that everything isn’t always simply black or white.
"The darkness of the canvas and the emergence of the horse symbolises that no matter how dark, how bleak and how empty things may seem, beauty, power and strength can prevail.
"The stag paintings stem from a desire to paint our native wildlife in all its splendor. Having witnessed the rut in Killarney and seen how explosively powerful these creature can be, I wanted to capture their beauty and strength in as realistic way as possible. I used a natural linen, primed with rabbit skin to give it an under lying warmth, and did away with any “background” so we can concentrate entirely on the animal in front of us. I wanted to capture the tense feeling of whether he will charge or take flight."
Born in Kerry in 1977, Tony O’Connor studied Fine Art at Crawford College of Art & Design where he also gained his Higher Diploma in Art Education. Presently, Tony can be found working at his Cork-based studio, creating ever-evolving pieces of equine art.
Tony is proudly connected with the Irish Horse Welfare Trust, having designed their Christmas cards for the previous three years. He is also currently involved with Redwings Equine Charity in the United Kingdom.
“If I never sold another painting … I’d still paint horses”
By Marianne van Pelt on May 26, 2014
Tony O’Connor grew up in a family of blacksmiths and says horses are in his blood. Marianne van Pelt talks to the equine artist with a growing international reputation, as a major exhibition of his works prepares to open.
Irish equine painter Tony O’Connor is something of a dark horse. In a limp art market in a historic recession, he has come out of nowhere to have sell-out solo shows in Cork, almost 90,000 followers on Facebook and an avidly anticipated new solo show, Stags and Stallions, which opens on Thursday and runs until June 26 at the Doorway Gallery in Dublin.
In fact, O’Connor’s highly realistic paintings of gleaming horses gazing thoughtfully at the viewer are in such demand he can’t keep pace.
“The build-up for this show was difficult,” he explains, sitting on a beat-up leather couch in his grey industrial studio surrounded by light and dark canvases in various states of completion.
“People kept coming here to buy the paintings I’d done for the show. Even the prep drawings flew out the door. So many things pre-sold. It’s a problem.” He smiles. “A good problem. I never forget how lucky I am to work at something I love. People ask me what I’d do if I won the lottery – I’d buy more paint.”
Indeed, O’Connor is covered in paint – paint on his loose jeans, paint on his big pale hands, paint on the soft knit hat he wore. But just a few years ago it didn’t look like O’Connor would ever paint again. Although he graduated from Crawford College of Art in 2002, he dropped out of the art scene a year later and took a job as a sales clerk at Carey’s Tools in Cork.
“I was living next door to the shop. I didn’t know what to do. I told them – this is only temporary – I’ll be here six months.”
Nine years later he was still there.
“The Careys are a great family, and we’re close. But I didn’t really do any painting during those years. I drew the Carey Tools Christmas cards for them, and I drew a bit for my own sanity. But I didn’t paint.”
Then fate intervened. He entered the “Key to a New You” competition on Red FM. First prize was several sessions of personal training and a couple of sessions with a Life Coach. Tony won. He was delighted with the personal training sessions – he’s dedicated to his workouts – but thought the Life Coach stuff was something for “hippy dippies”, as he says. Still, he agreed to one session. He came away a changed man.
“The coach asked me, ‘What’s stopping you from doing what you love?’ I said – there’s not enough time; I have children, a job. But he asked me what I did in the evenings. He challenged me. By the time I left his office an hour later, I had a plan for a solo exhibition by the end of the year.
“I went back to the gallery where I’d had a group show as a student and asked them about a solo. They remembered my horses – from ten years before! They said,‘how many paintings do you have?’ I had one. I needed 20.”
The Carey family let him use an attic space as a studio. He painted whenever he could snatch a bit of time. “I was so tired and so happy,” he says, beaming at the memory of it.
That show sold out. So did the next one. So did all the paintings he took to the Royal Dublin Horse Show.
“I’ve done three years at the RDS,” he says.
“Some people who come to my stand tell me they fly over from the UK especially to buy my work.”
What explains his phenomenal success?
He looks shy. He tugs at his knit hat and shrugs. “I don’t know. People get very emotional about the paintings. One woman came into my stand in Dublin and looked all around at them and just burst out crying. She kept saying how sad the horses were.”
I know what she means. The horses seem to look at me as if they know me, equine Mona Lisas full of mystery. A grey with wide expressive ears drops its head; a bridled bay peers up from under a long forelock; a blue-black Friesian marches steadfastly toward me. Certainly, there’s something poignant about them. I ask him if his horses really are sad.
“I try to get the eye right,” he says. “The eye is the centre of the painting – it’s the window to the soul. But I think maybe a lot of horses are sad, in a way. They don’t have an easy life. They’re beasts of burden. That’s why I do things for charities like the Irish Horse Welfare Trust. I feel for the horses.”
O’Connor’s horses may be sad, but they’re also beautiful: shining vital creatures full of movement. The canvases are simple and dark, and the strong, precise, muscular forms of the horses’ bodies catch the light, emerging like a sign of hope.
Why does he paint horses?
O’Connor looks at me with his own large, gentle eyes. “When I’ve painted, I’ve always painted horses. I grew up in a family of blacksmiths so I guess they’re in my blood. I’ve done other things, but I always come back to them. If I never sold another painting for the rest of my life I’d still paint horses.”
Somehow, that seems unlikely to happen.
"Sometimes it takes the hands of an artist to show us the magic of forms we take for granted in daily life - just look at Moyvane native Tony O'Connor's incredible horse paintings as he prepares to launch a new exhibition in the capital."