Ailsa O'Connor (1921 - 1980)


Ailsa O’Connor (née Donaldson) was a painter, sculptor, printmaker, art teacher and activist who was involved with Melbourne social realist artists from the early 1940s to the 1970s. She studied art at RMIT, the George Bell school and Melbourne University. Her politics and art were closely linked; she was a member of the Communist Party of Australia from the 1940s, the Union of Australian Women in the 1950s and of the women’s movement in the 1970s.

Writer and curator Janine Burke writes of Ailsa’s work: ‘Her talent blossomed in strong and sensuous images of women – bathing, resting, holding children, standing together or alone. She promotes a realist philosophy as a return to humanist values as an alternative to what she saw as the nihilist direction of modern art.’ (Field of Vision: a decade of change: women’s art in the seventies, Viking, Ringwood, Victoria,1990, p6.)

Examples of Ailsa's art work and details of her life and writings appear in her book Unfinished work: articles and notes on woman and the politics of art, (Greenhouse Publications, Richmond, Victoria, 1982, 239 pages). The Introduction includes the table of contents and a foreword by Julie Copeland.

The following links open the sections of the book Unfinished work as PDF files.
These may be slow to download.


1 Biographical context

2 Why realism?

3 Women artists and feminism

4 Reviews

5 Being practical