Close-up: Josef O'Connor

How this gallerista in training is turning his fellow teens on to art

Rhiannon Harries
Tuesday 17 December 2013 14:58

When Josef O'Connor decided a few months ago that finishing his A-levels and going to university were not for him, his parents were understandably concerned. But this is not the tale of the average teen dropout.

While other 18-year-olds might have slumped in front of the TV, O'Connor has been hard at work curating an ambitious exhibition showcasing the best of London's nascent creative talent alongside high-profile names such as Marc Quinn, Annie Lennox and Rankin.

Blank Canvas has sprung from a website O'Connor set up last year, the cheekily named "Pollocks", where young people can share and discuss their art work. O'Connor hopes that by creating relaxed environments for people his age to enjoy art – whether on the net or in the Carnaby Street space the exhibition will occupy this week – he will reach an audience that might not set foot in a conventional gallery. Judging by the deluge of submissions receives – which are whittled down to the handful of impressive pieces posted daily – his plan is working.

Inspiration struck on a night out. "I was wondering how nightclubs could evolve," he laughs. "I wanted to do a concept night where everyone could paint on giant canvases, but I couldn't find a venue ready for that kind of anarchy. The website and show are the compromise."

O'Connor turned his youth to his advantage in securing more established artists for the exhibition. "I got Marc Quinn through Facebook," he confesses. "I sent his stepdaughter a message to pass on."

Will his parents' minds be set at rest on seeing the exhibition? "I'm not sure. On the first night we're having live life drawing; when they walk in to find six naked models, they might wonder what I've been up to."

Blank Canvas runs to 6 July at 1-2 Carnaby Street, London W1 (

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