Land­scapes and live­stock

Colour, tex­ture and pat­tern en­rich Aleda O’Con­nor’s work

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - REGINA HAGGO

What to do if you en­counter a bunch of sheep on a coun­try road?

Aleda O’Con­nor gets the urge to pick up her oil pas­tels.

“At times, huge flocks that are be­ing driven along by a shep­herd have sur­rounded me,” she tells me. “While I waited for them to move safely out of the way, I was able to take close-up por­traits more than once.”

“I’ve drawn them at the Riverdale Zoo and Black Creek Pioneer Village in Toronto, in the Cotswolds, in New­found­land and Ire­land. I snatch any op­por­tu­nity that presents it­self.”

The Hamil­ton artist’s pas­toral pieces are part of Ef­fects of Weather, a gor­geous ex­hi­bi­tion of land­scapes at Earls Court Gallery.

O’Con­nor cre­ates with oil pas­tels and works in a loosely rep­re­sen­ta­tional, soft-edged style. By lay­er­ing the oil pas­tels on the surf ace, scratch­ing and scrap­ing them, she ends up with a paint­ing that is en­riched with colour, tex­ture and pat­tern.

In “Three Sheep Road­block,” O’Con­nor lets a trio of black-faced sheep take cen­tre stage.

“Th­ese are Ir­ish sheep,” she re­calls. “Some­times, driv­ing on small coun­try lanes, I’ve come across sheep ei­ther stand­ing about in my way, or march­ing down the cen­tre of the road.”

The three pro­tag­o­nists stand res­o­lutely in the mid­dle of the road and look out at the viewer. Their round- ed bod­ies are en­livened by small patches of var­i­ous colours.

O’Con­nor builds up the sunny land­scape with soft-edged shapes that are sim­i­lar to the sheep bod­ies, but are less struc­tured. This al­lows the sheep to stand out.

An all-over pat­tern of thin, scrib­bly lines an­i­mates the com­po­si­tion and unites all the dis­parate el­e­ments.

“Per­haps their sim­i­lar­ity to clouds in­spired me to con­sider paint­ing sheep in­stead of my usual land­scapes,” O’Con­nor says. “When I was hunt­ing for places that are shaped by weather, I dis­cov­ered sheep. If they weren’t shel- ter­ing from snow, rain, fog or wind, they were hud­dled into shady spots to es­cape the burn­ing sun or search­ing parched riverbeds for pools of wa­ter.

“Their pres­ence im­me­di­ately soft­ens a land­scape and con­nects it to the peo­ple who farm the land and raise and de­pend on sheep for their liveli­hoods.”

She cap­tures a more dra­matic mo­ment in “Sheep Run­ning.” A small flock hud­dles to­gether and runs. Dark clouds are gath­er­ing above them, wind rus­tles the grasses. The colours and pat­terns of the ovine bod­ies make their way into the clouds.

“I find storms in­tox­i­cat­ing. I look for ways in which weather al­ters the ap­pear­ance of land­scape, some­times mak­ing it al­most ab­stract.

“A heavy mist or fog changes colours and flat­tens shapes, for exam-

ple, while wind af­fects the con­tours of trees or the surf ace of a field of grain. It whips clouds across the sky or trans­forms bod­ies of glassy wa­ter into churn­ing waves.”

In “Grand River Win­ter” a sheep­less land­scape, clusters of white lines in the wa­ter and lace­like white pat­terns on the trees suc­cinctly de­scribe win­ter’s cold­ness. O’Con­nor ap­pro­pri­ately re­stricts her colours.

But in “Indigo Bluff,” jewel tones take over. In the bot­tom half of the com­po­si­tion, thin, mul­ti­di­rec­tional lines make vis­i­ble the move­ment of wind, it­self in­vis­i­ble, through the tall grasses.

Regina Haggo will give an il­lus­trated talk, A Workspace of One’s Own, ex­plor­ing how women artists through the cen­turies painted them­selves at work. It takes place at the Art Gallery of Hamil­ton on Thurs­day, June 1, start­ing at 7 p.m. For more in­for­ma­tion go to art­gallery­ofhamil­ton.com and click on Events + Stu­dios, or phone 905527-6610. dhaggo@thes­pec.com

PHO­TOS BY DOU­GLAS HAGGO

Aleda O’Con­nor, Three Sheep Road­block, oil pas­tel on panel, 36 by 48 inches, $2,500.

Aleda O’Con­nor, Sheep Run­ning, oil pas­tel on panel, 36 by 48 inches, $2,500.

Aleda O’Con­nor, Indigo Bluff, oil pas­tel on panel, 36 by 48 inches, $2,500.

Aleda O’Con­nor, Grand River Win­ter, oil pas­tel on panel, 24 by 36 inches, $1,800.

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