Landscapes and livestock
Colour, texture and pattern enrich Aleda O’Connor’s work
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. email@example.com
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.