It took a long time for Johanna Connor to come to terms with the fact that a successful career as a theatre set designer was over. When ill health brought her home to Schull in 2000, she wasn’t expecting that circumstance and opportunity would keep her here. Today Johanna is at the onset of her career as an artist; her work can be seen in the upcoming West Cork Creates exhibition and at the Blue House gallery in Schull. She was also due to fulfill a residency in New York this year, but this, as well as her first solo exhibition, have now been postponed due to the pandemic.
From a family of makers and creators, Johanna grew up with an artist father and baker-cook mother, a grandmother who took up painting in her 60s on one side of the family, and master upholsterers on the other. “Conversation around the dinner table was always one of food, art, making, design and living,” she says. “My path was destined to be one led by creativity.”
Taught by legendary designers and theatre makers at the world-renowned Motley Theatre Design Course London, Johanna designed her first show in Dublin’s Abbey theatre at the age of 25. “A very proud moment for me,” she says.
After almost dying in 2000, Johanna’s path changed course but her creative journey continued. “Theatre is a fast-moving industry, which was unable to wait for my slow recovery,” she explains.
In 2002, she formed a creative partnership with a fellow West Cork artist, creating beautiful illustrations for a book. She has also worked on a number of commissions and painted animal portraits.
In 2018, she returned to college and received a master’s in Art and Process at The Crawford College of Art and Design.
The daughter of well-known artist Pat Connor, Johanna says that growing up, watching him create, was hugely inspiring.
“Through him I found Giacometti, Egon Schiele and so many of the greats; as my interests developed, I was drawn to a diversity of artists such as MC Escher through to Mark Rothko, and then theatre introduced me to other worlds and other inspirational designers, makers and artists such as Paul Brown, Percy Harris, Alison Chitty… each turn and aspect in and of my creative career has introduced me to ‘more’.”
Johanna believes that what inspires us, alters constantly.
“As we grow and as we become more informed, our curiosities deepen and/or change. Our happenings, life experiences and the people we connect with and sometimes don’t, can influence us on many levels and when you least expect it. Everywhere you look offers something that has the potential to inspire, the potential to spark your imagination.
“It’s important to act on your impulses, ‘to do’ and in the doing you will eventually find your way…
“In my work I am exploring ideas of presence and absence. My work aims to create an immersive experience for the viewersß allowing them to find their own meaning and attachment to the work,” she explains.
For the last few years, Johanna has been nurturing her newfound passion for gardening.
This exploration is also finding its way into her creative work through drawing and painting.
Johanna loves realising the many possibilities and limits that materials have to offer. For her MA, she worked with paper and spray paint on a very large scale, leaning towards drawing and installation rather than painting.
“My favourite part of the day varies from day to day and season to season. Change is our only constant and I think that is why I have always found it hard to be a person with favourites’. Great moments happen all the time if we’re open to them,” she says.
Today, Johanna’s time is shared between working with horses part-time, working in her studio, working in the garden, and relaxing with family and close friends in beautiful West Cork.
“These past number of months with the Covid-19 lockdown have helped me realise that here, I can be the sum of my parts,” she says. “West Cork is and always has been my home.”