Paul O’Connor, the youngest of seven children, was born in 1961 to eccentric parents in Santa Monica, California. His mother, born and raised in London, Ontario, Canada, played pro golf and loved to gamble, sing, and laugh. Paul’s father, a lawyer from Saint Paul, Minnesota, seldom worked and spent most of his time involved in travel and the study of English Literature.
Paul’s early life included an education with the nuns at Corpus Christi School in the Paci c Palisades, California. He enjoyed regular family summers in Europe, where he visited museums and cathedrals in London, Paris, and Rome. This immersion into the nexus of art, architecture, and literature, so beloved by his father, stirred Paul’s creative imagination.
From 1970 to 1973, the O’Connor family lived in Oxford, England, where his father studied with the Jesuits at Campion Hall. Paul attended English public schools and began collecting coins.
The family returned to live in the Santa Monica Canyon, and Paul graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1979. He went to work on a commercial salmon boat out of Newport, Oregon, for one season before enlisting in the U.S. Navy.
During his three year deployment, Paul worked as a navigator on a guided missile cruiser and was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan. It was here that O’Connor purchased his rst camera, an Olympus OM-1 35mm. With this camera, Paul shot endless rolls of lm to capture clouds and seascapes. Always drawn to the horizon, Paul focused his lens on in nity—on the feelings of freedom and the vast spaciousness of the big sky.
In 1982, Paul received an honorable discharge from the navy and returned to Malibu, California. He began working for Don Bird, a building contractor who taught him the fundamentals of building. While remodeling the homes of celebrities on the famous Malibu Colony Beach, on his lunch breaks Paul could paddle out and surf.
O’Connor became interested in the study of economics while attending Santa Monica College, taking evening classes and working on an associate of arts degree. He received a scholarship to attend Pepperdine University and continued his studies full time. At night, he worked as a bartender catering private events fot the French, British and Japanese consulates.
During his last term before graduation, Paul needed a single elective course and decided on Beginning Photography. Still in possession of his camera from Japan, he felt sure he could achieve an easy A. It was the hardest B of his academic career. But his teacher, photographer Britt Anderson, captivated his imagination and aroused the possibility of communicating through imagery. Paul heard a voice that led him in a new direction.
The rst assignment required Paul to do an environmental portrait. He turned his lens on his friend Ron Davis, a renowned artist living in a Frank Gehry–designed home in the hills of Malibu. His portrait of Davis became the rst of many Paul would shoot.
Upon graduation in 1987, with a bachelor’s degree in economics and with the recommendation of his friend Ron, Paul went on to study photography at Pasadena Art Center. There he made fast friends with one of his instructors, the legendary Arcangelo Dante Ferrante. Archie was a great photographer and inventor of the Ferrante Code Light enlarger used by Ansel Adams. He transmit- ted to Paul not only technical aspects of photography but also a sense of humor and compassion.
On assignment photographing a model in Santa Barbara, Paul met Tizia on the set. The one-day shoot turned into a two-week stay and they were married within months. The honeymooners camped in Joshua Tree, Borrego Springs, and various spots in the Arizona desert. Paul found the vast space and open skies similar to the sea and felt at home in the silence and stillness so fundamental to his vision.
In Malibu, Paul had met artist Jim Wagner, who exhibited his work at Tops Gallery. Wagner invited Paul to visit him in Taos, New Mexico. The honeymooners drove to Taos and looked up the artist. The impact of the landscape and community fully resonated with the couple. On the third day of their visit in the summer of 1989, Paul and Tizia rented a place on the historic La Loma Plaza, near the center of town.
One of the rst Taoseños the couple met was Mike Reynolds—architect, builder, visionary. Paul struck a deal to do the photography for Mike’s rst book, Earthship I, in trade for a set of plans; soon after, he began building their house. Another early introduction to the Taos art community occurred when Wagner invited Paul to join the infamous Sunday night poker game, where the newcomer became a regular with the core group that included Larry Bell, Gus Foster, Ron Cooper, Kevin Cannon, and Ed Thomas.
The following year, Ron Davis bought land down the street from Paul, on the Hondo Mesa next to the Rio Grande Gorge, and began building a number of Navajo hogan–style buildings that became his new home and studio. Ron shifted from large abstract-expressionist paintings to sculpture and hired Paul as his full-time studio assistant to help make a new body of work. The seminal years spent working for Ron formed some of the strongest in uences in Paul’s creative process.
Paul and Tizia gave birth to their daughter, Sophia Loulou O’Connor, in 1990. That year, Paul also started building an earthship home that would take ve years to complete; worked for Ron Davis in his studio; and helped Tizia with her clothing company, Wags. At this same time, Paul became inspired by artist Rod Goebel’s series of painted portraits, and he set out to accomplish a similar project with photography, a labor of love that continues to this day.
O’Connor’s rst solo exhibition was in 1991 at The Bareiss Gallery in Taos, New Mexico. The show’s title, Taos Characters, featured 25 portraits of Taos artists in black-and-white silver gelatin prints.
Between 1996 and 2004, the O’Connor family moved to France to raise their daughter in the French school system. They purchased a 1927 Dutch barge in Holland and navigated it down the canals and rivers to Toulouse, France, where they lived on it for the next eight years. While remodeling the boat from stem to stern, Paul made sculptures with the scrap metal and wood. Too derivative of Ron Davis’s work, they were never shown or sold; Paul was inspired by the creations but didn’t feel they represented his own artistic vision. This discrete body of experimental work and practice, however, led to the current series of sculptures.
Returning to Taos in 2004, Paul continued to create photographic portraits of artists, which became the subject of several exhibitions; nally, in 2012, he produced a book of 60 selected images, titled Taos Portraits. The book won top awards in four categories from the New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards. Although he continues to make portraits, Paul felt a chapter had closed with the publication of his book. He allowed himself to turn to sculpture full time.
The process of building a new studio to work on the pieces that had been percolating in his imagination took about a year. To help contain the deluge of ideas, Paul selected the parameters of hexagons and quadrilaterals—hence the title of his show, 6s & 4s (Sixes and Fours). By 2014, he was making sculptures for his rst exhibit at The Bareiss Gallery in 2016. In the process of making these squares and hexagons, O’Connor discovered another critical element: a black hole became an integral part of these works. Symbolic of Paul’s meditation practice, the hole represents stillness, silence and spaciousness ... so spacious that even light gets lost in it.