World Class New Zealand: Art with no boundaries

The “O” in the Studio: The Spaces of Artists is documentary inspired by artist Denis O’Connor, and produced and directed by Stephanie Bennett of Rongo Productions (see box story). O’Connor, respected sculptor, writer and artist, guides us through the film with conversations and interviews with leading UK art historians and scholars.
The artist in the studio is the central theme. Studios are confined rooms, private sanctuaries occupied by one artist for three, four or even five decades. O’Connor focuses on two very different artists, Francis Bacon and Lucien Freud and through this, reveals himself and his own studio.
He travelled to Europe to talk to those involved in the archaeological survey of the most famous studio in the 20th century – the Francis Bacon Studio in Dublin. The exclusive interviews, with everyone from the curator to the archaeologist, reveal fascinating detail and stories of the excavation and relocation from London to the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin.

The entire studio was gifted by the Bacon estate and houses over 7000 items including unfinished paintings and personal effects, all of which can be seen in relation to his work.
O’Connor talked to the distinguished UK art historian Martin Gayford, best-selling author of Man with Blue Scarf, describing his two-year experience of sitting for portrait by painter Lucien Freud. O’Connor and Gayford discuss the influence great artists like Piet Mondrian, Alberto Giacometti, Brancusi, Philip Guston and Rodin had on the two painters and how their identities were mirrored in their studio environment.

O’Connor is currently completing the final works in seven-year project portraying the artist as horse-masked figure, The Tangler. major work from this project, The Tangler’s Cave, was reinvention of an artist’s studio inside horse float. The controversial sculpture was awarded the Premier prize at Headland Sculpture on the Gulf in 2011. An interview with Irish social historian Noel Mullins provides insight on the origins of the tangler character in rural traditions in Ireland, with footage of horse fair in Kilkenny.

Sequences in O’Connor’s actual studio on Waiheke Island include an interview with his late daughter, Dr Blaze O’Connor (d.2009), who recounts early childhood experiences of this studio. She later became celebrated archaeologist and art historian. In this poignant interview, Blaze muses on how the child dreams their future out of the parent and threatens an archaeological survey on her father’s studio after completing the survey of the Francis Bacon studio and its relocation.
David Mitchell is the elder statesman of architecture in New Zealand and an articulate cultural commentator. He has observed O’Connor’s art practice over three decades and has commissioned artworks that have been integrated into award-winning buildings and public spaces. These site-specific sculptures have been hidden dimension of O’Connor’s studio practice, requiring broad historical research and an insight into the character of client and place that is akin to the portrait painter and sitter.

In the documentary Mitchell discusses with the artist how he goes about finding coded image that reflects the resonant material and space into building where this can be best dramatised. Filmed sequences reveal these most private of commissions.
The documentary also features collaboration with Irish actor Conor Lovett, one of the world’s leading interpreters of the work of Samuel Beckett. Lovett ‘voices’ and performs Denis O’Connor’s ‘other self’ in cameo appearance and recital.

Excerpts of the yet to be completed documentary can be seen online at
O’Connor and Bennett are still actively seeking funding for post-production, archival photos and footage.

For enquiries regarding the documentary please email [email protected] M

Gathered around this carved limestone ‘camp fire’ are symbols of the traditional crafts and trades that built New Zealand. The road builder, the stonemason and the engineer are represented by the ‘tools of their trade’ and the fruits of their labour.
The engineer of the title is Ernest Hayes, Central Otago inventor, and the Birdman is Sweeney, character drawn from classic Gaelic literature.
“I like my work to appear easy and familiar, the backyard vernacular imagery, grammar of things almost taken for granted,” says O’Connor.
This work is on display in the Gibbs Galleries on the ground floor of the Auckland Art Gallery.

Like Denis O’Connor, producer and director of the documentary, Stephanie Bennett is Waiheke Island resident, having moved there from the US in 2008. She produced Headland: Where Sculpture Meets Nature, documentary about the now internationally renowned sculpture event ‘Sculpture on the Gulf’ which takes place on Waiheke every two years.
She has been producing, writing and directing documentaries and concerts since 1981 at her US based company, Delilah Films.

Prior to moving to New Zealand she produced the first ever “rockumentary”, The Compleat Beatles, which sold over one million copies, and set the standard for all of the company’s music documentaries and concert films to follow. Following this success, Bennett established reputation as an artist advocate awarding her trusting relationships with music artists all over the world.
She says O’Connor is the perfect guide in pursuit of the subject of The “O” in the Studio. “He didn’t simply interview our subjects; he engaged them in one-on-one conversation – equal talents exploring views on the subject. It is unique and insightful in way that differs from normal documentary style.

“This documentary interweaves the characters in Denis’ story, all of whom have relationship with him – through his daughter or via his connections with his ancestral homeland, Ireland. It’s no coincidence that Francis Bacon would resonate with Denis due to the synchronicity with his late daughter’s archaeological and published work on the Francis Bacon studio. Similarly, the connection with Lucien Freud and Bacon, the private sanctuary of their studios was paramount to their art practice.

“I wanted this film to be very much Denis’ vision and I enjoyed the role of capturing these intimate and revealing conversations giving the film unique style and ‘voice’. The film examines Denis’ history and that of other great artists through their very personal creative spaces, giving us rare insight into their world. Our access to personal memorabilia, footage and photographs add to the richness of what promises to be fascinating film with wide appeal.

“Our aim is to make feature documentary that can be distributed internationally because of the wide-ranging discussion with authoritative scholars who vividly bring 20th century art history to life and return the studio to its central position in an artist’s life and work.”

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