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?
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!”