Catching up with… Grace O‘Connor

Series: Graduates of the RA Schools

Published 20 November 2014

From her studio in Southwark, the former RA Schools student Grace O’Connor describes how her experience at the Academy formed her future painting practice.

  • RA Schools alumna Grace O’Connor taught herself to paint in oils when she was 10 years old. Driven by her obsession with Victorian painters, in particular the artist Aubrey Beardsley, she left her hometown of Waterbury in Connecticut in 1993 and arrived in England, aged 16, to pursue her dream.

    Grace attended the RA Schools between 1996 and 1999. It was the perfect opportunity to explore all the things that Grace was eager to know but couldn’t learn by herself. But as a first year student, having to paint in a shared room took some getting used to.

    “I loved the Life Room, especially the drawing tutor Norman Blamey RA for his kindness and precision, but I’d never painted alongside other people before. At first it was weird because I was supposed to paint in my ‘cubicle’ - and everyone could see me. Everybody was used to that but I wasn’t, so I’d paint at home and then bring my work in. By the second year I got my own studio in the Schools and I loved it.”

  • Grace O'Connor in her London studio

    Grace O'Connor in her London studio

  • Grace now works in a studio in Southwark, South London, which faces out on to busy Clink Street. “Finding a good studio that you’re happy with – and that is affordable – is always the trickiest challenge after art school. I moved here in 2000 and have always shared the studio since. I love it because, although it isn’t very big, the light, the neighbourhood, the awful piped-in sounds of Gregorian chanting from the Clink Prison Museum below, which I have come to know and love, and the ease of the commute all make it perfect.”

    Grace’s origins emerge in everything she draws. The American landscape, people – in particular teenagers – and real life situations are intertwined with a surreal atmosphere that takes viewers far away. And above all the memories that made the RA Schools a precious experience, Grace cherishes receiving a little treasure from her favourite tutor Timothy Hyman RA. “I remember he said that I found my voice at the Schools. His observation has stayed with me because when you find your voice, you just stick to it, and for the occasional moments when you deviate from it, you can always go back to what you feel inside.”

    Having been shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize in 2007, over the last few years Grace has had shows at galleries including Paul Stolper in London, Beaux Arts in Bath and, most recently, a pop-up show at Grosvenor Gallery this October.

    Take a look at the gallery below, showing Grace at work in her studio and her favourite paintings.

    Grace O‘Connor will be showing new work with Paul Stolper Gallery from 21 - 25 January 2015 at the London Art Fair.