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"Drawing from Experience"
Kevin Connor, winner of the 2005 Dobell Prize for Drawing, speaks to Connell Nisbet about his art.
For artist, Kevin Connor, honestly “seeing” a subject and being able to recreate its essence on paper is the paramount enjoyment of drawing. It is the foundation on which most of his art rests and the most important lesson he can offer aspiring artists. But he doesn’t believe this is the main force driving entrants of art awards, nor the criteria for judging them. He won the first Dobell Drawing Prize in 1993 and judged the same award in 1996.
What are your preferences for drawing?
I work on the basis of drawing from life in sketchbooks. In my sketchbook I use a brush or a pen. I use the pen because it doesn’t actually give you anything much so you can concentrate on the drawing. You’re not trying to produce something that looks good. I also love drawing with Indian ink and gouache, then out of that comes painting. (That’s where an argument could begin - is that painting or is it drawing? But drawing is in everything. To my mind you could put a painting into a drawing prize and say “I’m putting in the drawing in that painting”).
What effect has drawing had on your approach to painting?
I could live without painting and making sculptures but I just could not live without drawing. Drawing is the very basis of everything. I could happily take my sketchbook and draw for the rest of my life and show nobody. I was drawing in the Wesley Food Hall near Westminster in London. A lot of ministers and priests eat there and poor people. And a priest came over to me and asked, “Are you a priest?” and I said, “No”. He said, “I just thought you were.” I think it was because I was so content. There is nothing really content about painting though. Some of my best paintings have started with no drawings, but they are always based on knowledge of the subject by drawings. For a portrait I do lots and lots of drawings until I really know the subject and then I tend not to bother with the drawings again until that subject is before me – like, let them come out of the paint.
How does drawing differ from other mediums as a discipline?
The main thing about drawing is that it’s the joy of not having to resolve something. When you do a painting or a sculpture or an installation there is a need to resolve the work. So there is that basic difference. With a drawing prize like the Dobell, all the drawings tend to be resolved. They’re exhibiting pieces not just for the love of drawing. So unfortunately it almost destroys what it aims to encourage.
But would you encourage young artists to enter awards like the Dobell?
I don’t see anything wrong with exhibiting the work in a superb setting like the Art Gallery of New South Wales with a chance of winning some money and letting maybe 50,000 people look at it, whereas with a one-person show 1,000 people see your work if you’re lucky. I think that’s great. It’s better to win an art prize than to write out a long screed applying for a grant.
Is the Dobell Prize growing in prestige?
I think it is. It was a good idea to move it away from the others because it can be an event in its own right. It needs a bit of a push, publicity and all of that. A catalogue every five years would be a good thing. The other thing is that it’s got some very good works into the collection.
What made you submit Pyrmont and the City 1992 into the first Dobell Prize over other drawings you might have had?
I think I thought it was an exhibition piece. If I was to be completely honest I might have put in a four inch by four inch little sketch that I liked better but there wouldn’t have been any point. I’m not too sure who said it first – I think it was Arthur Boyd – there was a feeling that it was a painting. He said, “If the artist says it’s a drawing, it’s a drawing!” and that’s true.
As the Dobell judge why did you choose Pam Hallandal’s Self Portrait in 1996?
I think it has a living presence. It is a good, finished looking drawing. I didn’t have any nightmares over it, which I have had for judging other prizes. Getting it down to the twenty-odd that is difficult. To be hung amongst a limited number is never good luck, but not to be hung is often bad luck. Judging art prizes is not an exact science.
Anything you would like to add?
I don’t want to be the old artist, advising … I’m the young artist … when you are up against a brick wall or in doubt, draw!
First published ‘Last Word’, Look, Art Gallery Society of New South Wales, August 2004, p. 54
Reproduced with permission, Copyright of the Art Gallery Society, Art Gallery of New South Wales.