Artistic License: Niamh Barry

Barry’s “LIGHT ON EARTH” exhibition at The National Museum of Ireland features unique light sculptures in bronze and LED …


A Dublin native, Barry is an innovator in the creation of “edge lit” pieces using LED technology and is widely recognised as one of the first, if not the first, adopter of this technique globally.

How did you come to specialise in bronze and LED?

Over a lifetime of working with metal and light. I made my first ever illuminated metal piece in 1991, using mild steel, lead and candles when I first graduated from NCAD. It has been an ongoing process of making things and making mistakes ever since then. If you are not learning new things then you are stagnant and that is not good for creativity.

What is the process of your design – it seems to be an elaborate and collaborative exercise?

It’s not collaborative in the sense of the origin of the design/aesthetic but definitely in the execution. I work with a very talented and skilled team of eight people in my studio who help me to realise the pieces. Most pieces take hundreds of hours to hand make and are usually of a scale that it takes more than one person to move them, let alone make them.

Can you tell us a little about the pieces selected for “Light on Earth”?

“Light on Earth” is a celebration of my work over the last ten years. The collection consists of six pieces which took hundreds of hours to create.

“En Pointe II” is an avant-garde table with sleek angular lines.

“Model of a Staircase” is a model of a unique large-scale piece measuring 8.5m commissioned for a private house in central Paris.

“The Model of Vessel Scape” is a sculpture I was commissioned to create for the new Central Bank of Ireland.

“Walking” is a series of preliminary sketches and bronze maquette, which ultimately led to my first freestanding sculpture.

“Gesture II” is a mirror-polished hand-formed solid bronze opal glass mosaic with LEDS while Vessel II is a voluptuous light sculpture with LEDs.

Finally, “Propulsion” is a large, bronze LED light sculpture specifically commissioned for the exhibition and like most of my pieces is site specific and the relationship between the piece, the space it occupies and the viewers is key.

Which piece will you be donating to the museum?

“Fouette” (prototype) is an important piece in my story because it was the first bronze and glass edge lit piece I made and I have donated it to the museum. I have also included some large scale drawings and paintings.

What have been some of your most rewarding commissions?

I think the ten-metre-long piece I was commissioned to make for the Central Bank of Ireland is a stand out piece for me. Actually, it’s in the lobby which is a public space and anyone can go there and view it.

Need to Know: Niamh Barry’s “Light on Earth” exhibition runs from now until December 2019 at The National Museum Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks. Admission is free.

Penny McCormick

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