Luke Ryan O'Connor grew up in Lower Portland, northeast of Sydney, Australia. At the age of 18, he moved to Sydney to attend Sydney College of the Arts, where he originally explored painting, before finding his love for ceramics. Following his Honours year, Luke won a scholarship/ residency with kil.n.it (an incredible not-for-profit ceramics studio and workshop space that encourages an explorative, avant-garde approach to ceramics. More on them soon). He has now been working from the space for around 4 years, alongside fantastic artists such as Ebony Russell who we recently featured on Threaded & Thrown. Read on to find out more about Luke and to see a handful of his painterly, playful, 'camp' ceramics; a product of the fun he has exploring the medium.
What is your background? How did you start working with ceramics?
I never thought I would be working in Ceramics. I began attending Sydney college of the arts immediately after high school where I first went into painting. I struggled to find a medium that felt right for me. After two years I decided to defer my studies and take some time to travel and figure out what I wanted to do. I realised that I have always been drawn to technical skill-based mediums with a focus on working with my hands.
When I returned to study I chose two elective classes; ceramics and glass. By chance, ceramics was my first class for the semester. I was immediately drawn in by the wheel; first to create functional items, then progressively to sculptural work. I have been working almost exclusively in ceramics ever since (besides some woodwork when making plinths for display).
What themes do you explore in your work?
Conceptually I explore ideas of queer theory, referencing my own experience as a queer man. To be queer is be part of a decidedly ambiguous category, with no clear heteronormative path to follow. It is to be at odds with straight culture and actively confront assimilation. I make my vessels as an ode to this concept - where I refuse to adhere to classic ceramic functionality.
The pottery wheel is a universal tool that has been used to create ceramics that are easily replicated and uniform. Using such a tool to give life to my deformed works is an obvious attempt to interrupt the status quo. In the same vein, elements of my work are slip cast; typically a process used to reproduce intricate decorative objects. I choose to preserve literal trash - broken pieces of kiln shelf, low-grade building off-cuts and styrofoam - things that would otherwise be discarded and forgotten. This enables the elements to an otherwise overlooked experimental possibility.
Your pieces are super tactile and playful, they feel like a celebration of material and their capabilities. Can you tell us more?
I’m glad you think so! This is exactly the reaction that I am trying to achieve. A great deal of my time is spent testing and experimenting with different glaze and surface techniques that I can combine to create dynamic tactile surfaces. I spent a lot of time early in my ceramic studies making functional tableware. I think spending a lot of time holding and interacting with my own ceramic objects has given me a greater appreciation of the tactile.
I have a lot of fun making my sculptures and it’s my hope that this feeling is expressed through them. I try to tap into the spirit of ‘camp’ through my use of vibrant artificial colour and extravagant application of multiple overlapping glazes.
How do you develop your ideas and what’s your process of working?
Most of my ideas come through practice and experimentation with new techniques. My practice is really about building up a selection of skills and figuring out how I can combine the elements to create interesting forms and combinations. Most recently I have taught myself mould making which has enabled me to radically change my way of working.
Typically I start by picking a colour or combination of colours and use this to inform the vision of the work which I try to replicate in clay and glaze. I like to work fast, making multiple forms at once and using a heat gun to speed up the drying process.
How do you like to work?
Amongst periods of intense making (such as in the lead to an exhibition), I need to allow myself time for testing and experimentation. It’s important to allow for quiet periods to create new moulds, test glazes and develop new techniques that can be implemented within my practice. These periods allow my work to be constantly evolving and keep me interested and exciting about what I am doing and making.
I’ve been at kil.n.it for around 4 years. I originally won a scholarship/ residency with the studio following my honours year at Sydney College of the Arts. Included in this was a studio space and studio credit to use towards materials and firings. I have also worked for kil.n.it as a technician and ceramic teacher. It has been such a great experience to be part of the kil.n.it team. It is one of the few ceramic studios in Sydney with a focus on the experimental nature of ceramics and gives artists working in this realm studio spaces and access to materials and firings. Working alongside side other talented artists, like Ebony, has enabled the exchange of valuable feedback and critique which has been instrumental in the growth of my practice.
kil.n.it also caters to the local ceramic community through classes, workshops and communal workspace for the general public. If artists are in Sydney and looking to get into ceramics I would highly recommend checking them out!
A selection of Luke's work can be found in Berlin via Micael Reid, or slightly closer to home; at Modern Times based in Melbourne. Luke is open to commissions and invites you to get in touch on Instagram.