John Scorror O’Connor was born in Leicester in 1913 where his father, whose family had come from County Tipperary, was an optical instrument maker. After Wyggeston Grammar School, Leicester, and Leicester College of Art, John O’Connor attended the Royal College of Art, London (1933-1937), where his teachers included Eric Ravilious, John Nash (q.v.) and Robert Austin. His love for wood engraving probably came from Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) who, from 1920 to 1940, produced some of the finest engravings of the period.
In 1937, aged 23, O'Connor made engravings for an edition of Joan Rutter's poems, Here's Flowers - An Anthology of Flower Poems, the first of many books he illustrated. From 1940 to 1946, he served in the RAF, still producing a few wood engravings, such as a sketch of Berlin in ruins, made when he arrived with allied troops. When he returned to England, still wearing his flight lieutenant's uniform, he met his future wife, Jeannie Tennant, a teacher, in Filey, North Yorkshire. They married in 1945, and spent their honeymoon cycling around the Yorkshire dales.
After war service, O'Connor taught at Hastings School of Art, before moving, in 1948, to Colchester where he became principal of Colchester School of Art. His colleagues included Richard Chopping, who designed dust jackets for the James Bond novels, his own former teacher John Nash, and Edward Bawden, one of the finest British printmakers.
After retirement in 1964, he became a visiting lecturer at St Martin's School of Art until 1975, when he decided to move to Kirkcudbright, in Scotland, taking advantage of the untamed landscapes and countryside. Then between 1977 and 1984, he returned to teaching as a lecturer at the Glasgow School of Art and until 2001 he produced a monthly wood engraving for Richard Ingrams’s magazine, The Oldie.
In 1947 he was elected to the Royal Society of Painters-Etchers and Engravers and in 1965 Senior Fellow of the Royal Watercolour Society. In 1990 he became an Honorary Member of the Society of Wood Engravers. He was also a Member of Colchester Art Society.
John O’Connor was a prolific wood engraver who, before he became a painter in oil and watercolour, was widely known and esteemed for his wood engravings and gouaches. O’Connor loved nature and much of his work includes landscapes. Although he never considered himself belonging to any movement, one could say that his work, as a painter, was more expressionist than impressionist, his brushwork being typically free and his subjects often enigmatic. This is certainly the case here with this portrait of a young girl called Jenny Bone, probably painted at a time when he published his book on landscape painting in 1968. Jenny Bone died tragically in a car accident at a young age.
1955 Royal Academy of Arts, London
1958 Zwemmer Media Arts, London
1973 The Minories, Colchester, John O’Connor and Edward Bawden; John O’Connor Workshop
1977 Glasgow School of Art, Graphic Work Retrospective
2004 Abbott and Holder, London
Clare College, Cambridge
New Grafton Gallery, London
BLAKENEY, E.H., The Funeral Oration of Pericles, The Dropmore Press, London, 1948
BUCKMAN, David, Dictionary of artists in Britain since 1945, Art Dictionaries Ltd, Bristol, 1998, p. 920
JONE, Sally, John O’Connor at the Goldmark Gallery, Goldmark Gallery, Uppingham, Rutland, 1993
NATIONAL ART LIBRARY, John O’Connor, information file
NYREN, John,O’CONNOR, John (illustrator), The Young Cricketer’s Tutor, Hodder & Stoughton,1948
O’CONNOR, John, Canals, Barges and People, Art and Technics, 1950
O’CONNOR, John, Landscape Painting, Watson-Guptill, 1968
O’CONNOR, John, The English Scene, Whittington Press, 2004
RUTTER, Joan, O’CONNOR, John (illustrator), Here's Flowers- An Anthology of Flower Poems, publisher unknown, 1937
RUTTER, Owen, We Happy Few, Golden Cockerel Press, 1946
Illustrations for Harper’s Bazaar, House and Garden and Radio Times