The Sculptor: Tina O’Connell

January 18, 2012

Rather than simply accepting my surroundings, Tina has inspired me to stop, look and consider. A mother, teacher and artist who finds inspiration from “everything we look at but don’t really see.” …


where are you from?
I am from County Limerick in Ireland, near a small village called Boher, Irish translation means ‘road’. I grew up on a farm, I loved it, this is where I cultivated my interest in materials and the fundamental laws of gravity. I lived there for 21 years, it will always be home. I went to a catholic boarding school up the road for 5 years, there I came to understand feminism. Here was a group of women running a big business. All of them with a degrees not bad for FCJ (Faithful Companions of Jesus) nuns.

what type of art do you create?
Site specific Installation / Sculpture / Video. Over the last few years I have been reworking the traditions of sculpture. From a formal starting point, in the auspicious movements of the modernist tradition, my work re-defines a contemporary relationship with the object. Our understanding and experiences of the object,
our expectations of solid material form, the criteria for selection of the object, our personal physical memory, and the possibility for sculpture as spectacle itself, have all been explored in depth and I hope with great sensitivity. I work primarily on Sculpture as is reflective of my own professional practice, as well as over-lapping my interests in areas of material based research in the context of contemporary sculpture. I am interested in how the museum provides a context for the collection of sculpture, and ways in which monumental and permanent form can be challenged.

where do you get most of your inspiration?
Everything we look at but don’t really see. At home, many years ago, we had a white Aga stove, one day when I was about eighteen, I sat down and looked at it, suddenly it made me laugh. It had been there my whole life, but this was the first time I had actually looked at it. If my work could do that, make you think about something you had always accepted but never considered, I would be happy.

do you play music when you create?  if so, what’s on the playlist? Souad Massi Jay Z Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh Snow Patrol and Martha Wainwright Johnny Cash Damien Rice and Doreen Curran De La Soul Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan Jim White Seasick Steve Yann Tiersen The Battles Revolutionary Road Score Nick Cave and Warren Ellis The Assassination of Jesse James

you’re giving one of your creations to your all time favorite artist. what would it be and who would you give it to?
Not really the answer to your question, as I don’t really keep any of my work, but in keeping with the magic here goes! I would love to give back to Rachel Whiteread, her “House” that Hackney Council knocked down. I believe that this was a seminal piece of public art, and when I moved to London in the late 80s to do my MA at Chelsea College of Art, we were still under a dark shadow thrown by Margaret Thatcher – Culture and the Tories don’t mix, and it seems we are back there today. As I write this, enormous cuts have been announced to the funding of public arts, and there is no culture of philanthropy in the UK to replace it, unlike the USA.

what do you collect?
Artist prints, for less the 100 pounds you can live with some amazing works, Catherine Opie, Mark Wallinger, Norman Parkinson, Rodney Graham, John Latham, Gustav Metzger, Wolfgang Tillmans and many more.But as I live in a house of boys I feel I have the right to saturate them in all things girlie. I collect shoes, bags, clothes, ceramics furniture, jewelry, glass etc, and my best bargains were found at Brick Lane in East London back in the late 80s (now a super trendy and overpriced imitation of its former self), all classic, so still stand the test of time, something I still stick to.

would you encourage your children to follow in your footsteps as a fine artist?
Absolutely, but I would add it’s a way of life not a career. I have been SO lucky art has given me everything, a fantastic liberal education in Ireland, London, England, Marseille, France, my beautiful Husband, and our even more beautiful son, Cassius. Meeting the most extraordinary people who have helped me over my 20-year career, all the fantastic students I have met, not that all of them appreciated my opinion, all the brilliant factories I have worked in where nothing was ever a problem, it was those amazing people who taught me there are only solutions! see below… this public art is a recycled diving bell for a submarine, a tribute to my material magicians.

how long have you gone without inspiration?
I am very good at lying to myself.

what books do you love?
All art books, we may not have a lot of money but somehow my husband and I always find money for these.

what’s your favorite piece of jewelry?
My Andre Ribeiro wedding ring, black rubber and diamonds, and my Cameo set, as it reminds me of my mother.

what are your favorite shops?
Charity shops, and here in London, the posh areas are fantastic! I have found the most amazing  finds,
United Nude has a sale shop in Bermondsey near Tower Bridge in South London, your very own pair for 50 quid!!!

what is your most delicious kitchen creation?
Beetroot Torte, I found this recipe in an early 90’s ‘Wallpaper’ magazine, I love baking it, it’s where sculpture meets alchemy.

which of your pieces makes you most proud?
A piece entitled ‘In Dublin’. In 1999, whilst doing a residency at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, I placed a one tonne sphere of Bitumen in the first floor living quarters of an abandoned pub as an offsite work for Project Arts Centre. The sphere then sinks slowly through a hole cut into the bar below, unwinding slowly onto the ground like an enormous tube of thick black oil paint being slowly squeezed. During the Private View, the gathered crowd put a bet on when it would touch the floor, and added a whole new dimension to the work. The piece was a comment on the unbelievable expansion that was happening in Dublin at the time, and now, it seems even more poignant. I remade the work for PS1 in New York, and more recently on a smaller scale in Germany and London. It led me in a new direction, and in a critical appraisal, created its own myths.