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John O’Carroll

The Cornwall born artist has spent most of his adult life working and exhibiting abroad in America, Holland and Egypt. He spent the last 23 years working as an archaeological illustrator in the Dakhla Oasis in Egypt’s Western Desert. There he developed his own version of an ancient art technique, which combines layers of natural pigments with layers of wax. The result is a series of paintings that analyse different aspects of light, space and elements of his natural surrounds.

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Give him raw pigment and he will make something beautiful.

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Alchemy is the art of transformation. Medieval alchemists sought to purify themselves by the process of transmutation – destroying their base or mundane selves to attain the ‘gold’ of enlightenment. To the medieval mind Alchemy was a mysterious and therefore divine process used by astrologers, occultists, and artists.

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The Alchemist coloured metals to make tinctures for health, longevity and immortality. The six primary metals – gold, silver, tin, iron, lead and copper, were glorified by a process of dividing, killing and resurrecting. If the colours black, white, yellow and purple did not arise in the mixing bowl, the chemistry had failed.

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Pharaonic documents on alchemy are pragmatic. They contain recipes for dying cloth, colouring gemstones and making artificial gold. In ancient Egypt the dyers of cloth were known as alchemists as they could transform plain woven cloth into textiles of great beauty and value. The word ‘artist alchemist’ in western art is associated with the colourfield painters of the nineteen sixties who gave new breath to an ancient craft.

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John O Carroll, like his Modernist contemporaries, makes ‘alchemy’ with paint and pigment to captivate the eye of the viewer. By calling upon their memories of place – no particular place, rather a place of sublime evocation, O Carroll draws the viewer into participating in an expression of his experience, bringing into consciousness an air of nature. Paul Cezanne always stated that nature is on the inside, and John O’Carroll has never relinquished the natural forms he experienced on his boyhood trips to Ireland: Slievenamon, the soft conical mountains of Tipperary – mother breasts, and in later life, the chalky flat topped cliffs of the Western desert, Egypt. These places have become his muse and master, forever emerging in new guises, surfacing and vanishing in the process of painting.

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John O Carroll’s PLACE paintings pay homage to ancient metallurgy and his understanding of pigments. A process painter of oblique symbols, O Carroll’s work reflects the timelessness of essential nature through his very – successful alchemy.

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“an affirmation of this visible which surrounds us and which continually changes, appearing and disappearing. Without the disappearing there would perhaps be no impulse to paint, for the visible itself would possess the [permanence] which painting strives to find” John Berger

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Words by Vera Marr

Exhibition Highlights

Collections (other than private):

Featured Artworks

Breath Series
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
210 x88 cm
Cornubia Series: Horizon
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
160 x 64 cm
Breath Series: Works on paper
Charcoal, paint and pen
70 x 46 cm
Breath Series IIII
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel set in a brass frame
120cm (d)
Cornubia Series II
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
120 x 120 cm
Breath Series
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
120 x 90 cm
Cornubia Series
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
120 cm (d)
Breath Series: Works on paper
Charcoal, paint and pen
70 x 46 cm
Cornubia Series: Atlantic
Encaustic, mixed media
120 x 120 cm
Cornubia Series: Sea Rocks
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
160 x 120 cm
Breath Series II
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
120 x 90 cm
Cornubia Series III
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
120 x 120 cm each panel
Sahara Series: Works on paper
Charcoal, paint and pen
70 x 46 cm
Cornish Icon
Pigment, wax on slate
80 x 30 cm each
Zephyr Series
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
160 x 64 cm
Breath Series III
Pigment, gesso, resin on panel with steel frame
120 x 90 cm