Essay by Brian Machin


The earth, according to neo-Platonist theory, was originally no more than a heap of jarring atoms, but responded to patterns established by the stars and planets. Thus the earth’s forms reflect those of the heavens.

David O’Connor draws hills and trees, standing stones, sundials and pieces of slate. Yet these words don’t spell landscape – he draws from imagination rather than from nature. But this doesn’t render his sculpture any more difficult to see.

When making sculpture, O’Connor establishes a set of equivalents that correspond with topography, but don’t necessarily reproduce it. They represent the environment he experiences – a map in the mind, a vision rather than a prospect or panorama, occupied with our desire to place ourselves in relation to the world, to know where we are in it.

These sculptures have yet another dimension though; that of memory. They may contain things seen on walking holidays or close to hand in Wiltshire – familiar, worn objects. They may be universals; the sun and the moon – O’Connor sometimes represents their track across the sky; numbered off on a sundial or a moon-stone – here a marker rather than a mineral.

Some of the work is conglomerate; assemblage, collage, but this isn’t identikit landscape, or ‘anywhere, UK’. These are real pieces of his world. O’Connor makes sculpture about what it feels like to be in a landscape. The repeated motifs stem both from the landscape: – the stones, hills and trees; and from previous sculptures, performance and installation pieces: – the bars of slate, the ground markings that look like elementary map-making.

As map reading refers to real objects on the ground; using bearings and distances, O’Connor measures his whereabouts in both physical and mental dimensions. His is a world not just of height breadth and depth, but of distance and familiarity, memory and forgetting, a place where thoughts can count towards direction finding.

In the space between a sculpture and what it represents, O’Connor places himself, makes a personal and accessible vision of the world.

Jarring atoms, given patterns by suns and moons and the memory of a hill or view.

Brian Machin
November 1993