Kevin Connor has had a wonderful 60-year career in Australia, making a name as one of the country’s most respected artists. Known for his gestural landscapes and expressionistic figures and forms that haunt his works, he observes the human condition with a soulful and incisive eye. It’s a style that harks back to great German art traditions wrapped up in social realism and detached observations of daily life, seen in the work of artists such as Beckman, Kirchner and Dix.
His current show at Liverpool Street Gallery is one of the few commercial exhibitions of his drawings en masse in which works have been made available to collectors. With more than 200 drawings, hung salon style, this exhibition offers a fantastic opportunity to see a master’s work up close. It’s not a show that you should just think about visiting – it’s one you should run to.
You’ve probably gathered that this is going to be a biased review, but no one would begrudge Connor the dues he earned over a lifetime of dedication to his art. Put simply, he is the artist’s artist, and one of my particular favourites.
This large body of work primarily comprises pen and ink drawings, with some gouaches that take inspiration directly from his sketchbooks. He has produced a raft of A4 size works, and larger ink, watercolour and pen drawings in which the human form is prominent. The idea for this show probably derived from a recent successful showing at Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery. Connor was part of a group of artists who – under the moniker of the Blow-In Art Collective – worked in the town for two weeks then immediately hung their works in the town’s regional gallery. Kevin worked furiously, and the immediacy of his efforts really charged the artist with a fresh view of the importance of his works on paper.
Connor has won most major Australian art awards during his career, including twice winning each of the Archibald and Sulman painting prizes and the Dobell drawing prize. A few years ago, the Art Gallery of New South Wales dedicated a whole exhibition to 650 of his sketchbook drawings with great success. It was during this time that he offered perhaps one of his mottos in life: “Draw when you’re in a corner”.
After a recent decision to slightly downsize his studio, Connor has lately focused his attention on drawing from his sketchbooks and café observations to create a stunning show of works on paper. The subject matter in the exhibition has been his inspiration for years. There’s a favourite Sydney haunt, Bill and Toni’s Café, and also depictions of locations and characters from visits to Paris, London and India. There are works made while holed up in local diners and canteens during his travels abroad, or parked outside Centrelink or quietly enjoying public parks. He depicts the everyday person, socialites; and the down and out with equal measures of dignity and exuberance through his dancing and expressive line work. This show reveals the intensity and freshness of his representations and his vision of life. His love of drawing is evident…
“When I’m painting there is much more angst, despair… of pushing,” Connor once noted. “I’d be quite happy to spend the rest of my life drawing. I wouldn’t be that happy if I were just painting (laughs). I’ve kept sketchbooks always”.
Liverpool Street Gallery
4 July to 6 August, 2015
Selections from Kevin Connor’s sketchbook, pen and ink on Arches paper, A4 size
Courtesy the artist and Liverpool Street Gallery, Sydney