You are also attracted to the Stoics. Where do they fit into the picture?
The Stoics, Plato, and the Pythagoreans share an inspired vision of the nature and order of the world. The Stoics read hidden and passive consent – not servitude – on the part of inert matter to the other reality that created and governs it. Limit and absence become the evidence of what is beyond limit, present. Simone Weil observes that the many mythologies surrounding the rainbow must have originated as an expression of this very particular view of the world.
Not so long ago I made a sculpture for Rathdown School in County Dublin called Chi. The piece is a homage of sorts to the Greek Stoics and reflects my attraction to their thought.
Much of your work has been made, or commissioned, for specific public locations. Is this the artistic context in which you feel most comfortable?
It’s a very different context. Mainstream sculpture is made up of a complex interweave of concept, design, and material which must find a three-way balance. There will be occasions when the concept initially leads design, others when design governs the choice of material. There will also be occasions when the starting point is the material, which leads to the design, concept evolving later. If the right blend of all three is not reached, the work of art will usually fail. A sense of effortless and inseparable fusion is the hallmark of rare fulfillment.
Now in the case of work commissioned for a given place, material, design, and concept must first and foremost be considered in relation to the context. This leads to a litany of decision regarding juxtaposition, scale, choice of material, colour, weight, liability, function, and so on. The integration of sculpture with architecture or landscape implies working within set constraints. The challenge is to convert restriction to solution. When sculpture and place transform to appear inevitably twinned, something magical is brought out into the broad daylight of the public domain.
You have a strong interest in architecture?
Basic components of architecture; a door, threshold, arch, passage, a window – the process of building itself – offer infinite possibilities to the sculptor. Sculpture that can be entered immediately crosses into the domain of architecture. The end purpose may differ, but I’m increasingly drawn to the idea that public sculpture properly belongs to a field that is composed of both disciplines. Journey Inland, in Madrid; A Pagan Place, in Andorra; El Arado y las Estrellas, in Ecuador are examples of a blurring of the line between architecture and sculpture.
Could you develop that idea?
Journey Inland was originally conceived as a threshold or archway. Its central axis leads towards an ancient olive plantation. The dominant vertical elements had crosspieces in the early models. These were later abandoned and the design simplified. The eventual installation consists of a series of truncated timber verticals, one of which elbows out of plane. They are anchored to large steel base plates set out in grid formation. Structurally, the installation is a play on an architectural environment such as a church nave. But whereas the architectural rhythm of columns, arches or whatever, will normally be regular, the pattern here is intentionally irregular. The grammar is architectural but the punctuation is sculptural.
I have worked for and with architects over the last 20 years, most notably with the Irish firm, Scott Tallon Walker. Tulach a’ tSolais was a collaborative venture with a good friend, the architect Ronnie Tallon.
What was the thinking behind that project?
It was built to coincide with the bi-centennial commemoration of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Though inseparable from the events of a very bloody insurrection, it was primarily conceived as a monument to the first attempt to establish popular democracy on this island, to the Enlightenment philosophy that had come to Ireland from America and France during the latter half of the 18th century.
Numerous place names throughout Ireland incorporate the word “Tulach”. It is associated with Pre-Christian burial mounds and has particular resonance that connects it with Celtic solar festivals where the natural and supernatural worlds fuse or intersect.