The Painting Imperative is delighted to feature the artist John O’Carroll whose work is influenced by the physical and material features of his surroundings. Born in Cornwall, O’Carroll lives and works between Cornwall, Cairo and Amsterdam. He has spent the last 23 years as an archaeological illustrator in the Dakhla Oasis in Egypt’s Western Desert, and his painting practice combines layers of natural pigments with layers of wax inspired directly from ancient techniques. John explains his work and his process…
I was living and working in New York in the early 1980’s when I met Jenny Lambert an artist engaged by the Dakhla Oasis Project. Having a life-long interest in Egyptology and being a skilled illustrator my encounter with Jenny allowed me to join the Project, an adventure that has had a direct and profound influence on my studio practice. As a result the combination of the landscape and environment from both my native Cornwall and Egypt has merged to create a unique interpretation of the elements.
In fact my work is best described as elemental; it refers to the elements of the environment as well as using natural and found elements to create it. A key constituent of the work is the sourcing of natural pigments, resins and waxes, followed by a meticulous, and alchemical, preparation and subsequent application through ancient processes such as encaustic and graffito.
Learning from the past experience of Jenny and art conservators working on the project I began to collect pigments from the desert and make my own paints using materials sourced locally; oxide pigments, camel bone glue, beeswax, acacia gum and gypsum. Archaeologists at Dakhla oasis had excavated some wax painted fragments of wood and as I became familiar with the encaustic ‘fayum’ portraits in the Egyptian museum in Cairo and fascinated by this method of early painting, I worked to develop my own methods in these methods.
Nowadays I spend approximately 4 month each year at the dig and also have a studio a stone’s throw away from the now famous Tahrir Square, traveling between Egypt, UK and the Netherlands, which has also been a great influence on my work and career. In fact, while the process has been led by influences of the desert landscape, my career has been led by support and opportunities offered to me in Holland.
My first adventure in the Dutch art world was with gallery owner Charlotte Daneel, and through the support of the Mondrian Foundation and subsequently Hester Alberdingk Thijm, Director of the AskorNobel Art
Foundation, I was able to create work on a larger scale developing installation pieces, exploring pigments in their natural form as well as through painterly application; a parallel and reciprocal process that continues in my work to this day.
Represented in Holland by Galerie Roger Katwijk, Amsterdam, and in Ireland by The Ivy Gallery, Tralee, O’Carroll has also exhibited at Holly Solomon Gallery, New York; Charlotte Daneel NL and South Africa; Nanky de Vreeze, NL & France. His work can be found in numerous private and public collections including AskorNobel Art Foundation, British Council, Library of Alexandria, and Blaisse Advocaten.