O’Connell’s exhibition “Materials Matter” presents new sculptures using materials such as steel, bronze, stone and bio resins, to make hybrid, organic geometric forms she carves or constructs by hand …
These new works were created before and during the pandemic. Where and how do you work?
I work in a building north west of Cork city that was once an old creamery. It’s a big double height industrial space with an acre of land around it where I can show my big sculptures.
Fortunately, I could live there during lockdown and I got lots of work done, it was interesting to have no distractions from the outside world. The art world had ground to a halt, alarming but liberating, at the same time. Working alone I had to limit myself in terms of scale – all the new pieces had to be light enough for me to lift.
What materials did you use for these sculptures?
Normally I make sculptures in materials that go on to be cast in bronze but all the foundries were closed so I had to adapt to using materials in a more permanent way.
Living in the country, I tend to hoard materials so that was an advantage. I had a lot of jesmonite, it’s a bio resin that I use with glass cloth to give it strength. When it dries it’s as hard as stone so I have to carve it quickly before it cures. It’s a very versatile material and I found lots of inventive ways to use it. I dyed it and carving away the layers became a joy and, as one colour overlapped the other, the material took on an organic quality sometimes looking almost like stone.
If I didn’t like the result, I would wash over it with a paint, then later I started to draw tiny lines on the surface like Kantha stitching. This is a running stitch used to bind layers of cloth in India, they use fragments of old saris to make new textiles, an early form of recycling. I started collecting them when I lived in London and find them regularly when I travel.
These lines gave the sculpture a new kind of directional energy. I would draw on the sculptures while listening to music or podcasts and this kept me sane during the long dark winter months of lockdown. I also did a lot of drawing on paper but I’m not quite ready to show them.
Some of the sculptures were made in collaboration with stone carves in Pietrasanta, Italy …
Pre-pandemic I had taken a studio near Pietrasanta where I made a large commissioned stone sculpture for a new building in Ballsbridge. While there I had the most amazing facilities for cutting, carving and moving stone as well as the expertise of artisans who come from generations of people who have worked with stone. I discovered stone yards with collections of stones from all over the world Brazil, Guatemala, Angola, Iran, Mexico, Iraq etc and I started to make forms with certain stones in mind.
What was the inspiration for the hybrid organic forms of your new works?
When it comes to inspiration, I literally have a shed full of it. Near the main studio, I have two sheds, one is The Shed of Practicality, the other The Shed of Inspiration. The latter contains collections of things that intrigue me – bits of sculptures half made, found objects, organic matter, new materials that have potential. It’s like a library of physical things that prompt me in a certain direction, a vocabulary of forms that trigger my need to experiment and create. Inspiration can be everywhere and anything, but for me it’s the order of geometry that bring the sculptures into being.
Need to Know: “Materials Matter” by Eilis O’Connell RHA is on at Solomon Fine Art, Balfe Street, Dublin 2 until Sunday, June 19; www.solomonfineart.ie.
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