Kathleen Laetitia (Kate) O’Connor died in the late hours of 24 August 1968, just before her ninety-second birthday. Fifty years ago today.
I am trying to imagine what a tweet from Kate would sound like. She was, in the context of her time, a dab hand at self-promotion—she had to be—and if I could spirit her into today’s world she would probably take to social media as though she was born to it.
Her voice is clear in my mind, but I can’t make the language work for Twitter. Nor the need for brevity.
A word to say that that nice young man Mr Lipscombe, very sensible type, is getting up an exhibition of my pictures at his salon at the Fremantle Arts Centre. I expect you’ll want to come. In haste to post, Kathleen L O’Connor #ParisInFremantle #AllTheSmartSetWillBeThere
The coming exhibition and my book Kathleen O’Connor of Paris celebrate her long life and a career that spanned six decades.
When Kate left Perth in 1906, ostensibly on a year-long sojourn to the Old Country, she was intent on pursuing a career as an artist. Paris, she said, was always her objective.
She spent most of the following fifty years abroad, exhibiting among artists she revered in the highly competitive salons of Paris, in many prestigious exhibitions, in two solo exhibitions. Her work was noticed, often lauded, by French critics. Financial reward eluded her, but her story speaks to a different kind of success.
In Australia, the Art Gallery of Western Australia staged two major retrospectives during her lifetime, and exhibitions in Adelaide and Melbourne brought her wide acclaim in the last years of her life.
I wish she could have known that there would be yet another retrospective at the state gallery. That her glorious decorative arts, very much the product of 1920s Jazz Age Paris, would be the feature of a new exhibition. That her paintings would become sought after, attracting high prices at auction. That her work would find its way into the national galleries of Australia and New Zealand, every state gallery and major collections across Australia. That fifty years after her death, she would still be an inspiration to other artists, and writers, too.
But none of us ever knows what the future will make of us, what our legacy will be.
I try another Kate-tweet.
A word to say that there is a book written up about all I have done, by that writer woman (you know the one? peculiar hair). The questions! She has taken liberties, I expect, but c’est la vie. #SheShouldWearAHat
Being There—Kathleen O’Connor in Paris
runs at Fremantle Arts Centre,
14 September to 4 November 2018, 10am–5pm.
Kathleen O’Connor of Paris
will be released by Fremantle Press in November 2018
and is available for pre-order now.
A pre-release launch of the book will be part of the exhibition opening,
13 September, Fremantle Arts Centre.
Photograph courtesy Richard Woldendorp