When did you start making sculptures?
I have felt the need to make things for as long as I can remember.
I was extremely fortunate to have been taught by the sculptor Frank Morris in secondary school. With his help, I made my first sculpture. It was a direct carving in beech called Torso. As an art teacher, I never met his equal: he imparted his love of form, craft, and material.
Who or what were your other influences at that point?
Other teachers at the college, most notably David FitzGerald and Timothy Brownlow, played a pivotal role in my education.
It was at this time I was introduced to the philosophy of Simone Weil.
After St. Columba’s College, you went to Bath Academy of Art in England, and also to study in Italy?
Yes, and I spent a year reading Philosophy, Psychology and English at Trinity College, Dublin in between. It was a period of great intensity – a strange mix of doubt and discovery. Four years in Milan gave me much more than I realized at the time. Looking back now, the Italian art education I received, cast the die in quite a distinctive way.
Why has Simone Weil been so important to your vision of things?
The essays and notebooks of Simone Weil made an enormous impact on me from the outset. In my late teens and early twenties, I read her writings over and over again. She gave clear, uncompromising voice to so much and more that I yearned to hear articulated. Simone Weil, in concluding one search, instigated a far bigger journey.
Central to her thought is the focus of attention. From her perspective, this is an attitude of mind akin to a pure form of prayer, that wide-awake innocence we associate with geniuses and mystics.
Weil was very interested in “gravity”, which is also one of your concerns.
Yes. We stand upright in defiance of gravity; every time we take a step we counteract a fall. In as much as we are matter, we share with every other part of the manifest world precisely the same subjection to gravitational force. This is necessity, not choice – it is part of the human condition, as its acknowledgment is a part of our humanity.
In my sculpture I have taken as a starting point this constriction, this metaphor of limit. Weight – the sense of gravity – has become the common denominator of my work. All my sculpture reads downwards.
Does your sculpture have meaning?
It’s rooted in a paradox.
When an act of attention is directed at matter here and now, in all its density and intractability, and precisely when an attempt is made to express what is always inexpressible, to hear what is always silent, something extraordinary happens – the object of attention is transcended and a reality beyond the immediate is touched. The fulcrum is attention: gravity has become an upward movement!
This sounds very metaphysical.
Well it is certainly very mysterious!
When you are working – sometimes, suddenly and quite unexpectedly, amid dust and backache, there is a flash of inexplicable delight – a sort of confirmation of rightness of the thing. What’s mysterious is that it’s so simple, almost obvious!