15 Irish Sculptors to know now, The Gloss September 2022


From the smallest most intricate ceramic works to stone sculptures of monumental scale, the artistic integrity, technical skills and ingenuity of these irish sculptors is to be admired …
One of the must-visit exhibitions this month is “Sculpture in Context 2022” at the National Botanic Gardens, Glasnevin. As the longest-running, largest and most important sculpture exhibition in Ireland, this pivotal event in the arts calendar attracts a large public and critical audience and is a chance to see and appreciate the work of more than 140 artists including Michael Quane RHA, Jen Donnery, Martin O’Keefe, Tracey McVerry and Fiona Smith. Their works are exhibited throughout the 50 acres of the gardens and in the Gallery of the Visitor Centre. Before you visit (or book a group tour of the exhibition which runs until October 7) here’s all you need know about some of the exhibitors and their contemporaries.

John Behan is credited with playing a major part in the development of sculpture in Ireland over the last 50 years, and is best known for numerous public sculptures such as the vast “National Famine Memorial” in Co Mayo or “Arrival” at the UN building in New York. Behan’s work is highly expressive; his pieces are marked by an initially perceived roughness that quickly melts into a surprising delicacy of form. Crafted in a white or brown patina or with a polished bronze surface, his pieces often reflect difficult themes of Irish history and identity in a remarkably subtle way. He has been awarded many honours over the years and became a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1990, having been an Associate of the Academy since 1973. He is also a member of Aosdána and was conferred an honorary Doctor of Literature by NUI Galway in 2000. An exhibition of his new works will take place at Solomon Fine Art, Dublin 2 from October 27 – November 19;

Michael Quane lives and works in Coachford, Co Cork, and is the winner of the McKeon Stone Award at Sculpture in Context, 2022 for “Aqualung Buoyancy”, made from Kilkenny limestone. He explains: “This Sculpture was originally titled ‘Making Buoyancy’ when it was first created in 2003. It has been exhibited many times in the years since and has had a name change in 2018 when I felt that the existing title wasn’t the correct catalyst to yield the best set of responses or questions asked regarding its content. Aqualung Buoyancy I feel is tilting in the right direction. Are there trifling kinds of buoyancies created from valuable life resources? I wonder.”

Originally from Kerry, Aoife Bambury currently lives and works in Co Kildare as a visual artist and sculptor using bronze as her core material. Inspired by her interest in popular culture, pop art and the designer toy movements, Bambury’s work includes abstracted elements from the animal world. Through her process and working of bronze her work can take on the appearance of different materials, and at first glance could be manufactured from vinyl or another plastic. She continuously experiments with contrasting patinas and with lacquer, as well as high gloss finishes on bronze. She likes to highlight the clash between high art and high street, and how these lines become blurred in the works of artists that she admires such as KAWS, Sterling Ruby and Murakami. Having studied at post graduate level at NCAD and at Crawford College, CIT, Cork. Bambury learned bronze casting techniques during extended study periods in Burkina Faso, West Africa. As an emerging artist, her work has been included in many group shows over the past few years, such as Sculpture in Context, CIACLA (Contemporary Irish Arts Centre Los Angeles) and the annual exhibitions at The Royal Ulster Academy;

Dubliner Corban Walker is widely recognised for his installations, sculptures, and drawings that relate to perceptions of scale and architectural constructs. His local, cultural, and specific philosophies of scale are fundamental to how he defines and develops his work. Walker’s latest public sculpture, “Bushy”, was unveiled this year in Dublin’s Bushy Park as part of the Sculpture Dublin initiative. His forthcoming solo exhibition “As Far As I Can See” takes place at the Crawford Gallery, Cork from October 2022 – January 2023;

Anthony Scott is known for his stylised bronze animals and figures, often inspired by Celtic mythology and literature. Born in rural Fermanagh, Scott attended university in Belfast and completed an MA in Cardiff in 1993 and now lives and works in Sligo. His forthcoming exhibition “Hunter/Hunted” at Solomon Fine Art (from September 29 to October 22), shows his skill in depicting the animal form and his interest in ancient Irish stories of shapeshifting. The exhibition also includes striking human figures – hunters, warriors and kings – demonstrating his interest in the mythologies of other cultures;

A graduate of Galway Mayo Institute of Technology, Donnacha Cahill works in bronze and steel and is renowned for his ability to create sculpture that tells a story. He is known for his “Inquisitive Hare” series as well as his “Slieve Aughty Goat” and has been commissioned to create large-scale work for such institutions as The Department of Education, RTÉ, Dublin Airport, and many others. One of his signature pieces, “The Gramophone”, is a larger than life art installation that has appeared at many arts festivals such as The Galway International Arts Festival and Kenilworth Arts Festival in the UK. He is inspired by his every day surroundings and observations from his home in Athenry, Co Galway;

“When it comes to inspiration, I literally have a shed full of it,” says the Northern Irish sculptor who now lives and works in Cork. “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.” O’Connell is a founder Director of the National Sculpture Factory in Cork, a former member of the Arts Council of Ireland, a member of Aosdána and a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy;

Husband-and-wife team Michael Calnan and Gunvor Anhøj have been creating works in iron, steel, bronze and copper for more than 20 years. Their current studio is in the beautiful demesne of Russborough House, Co Wicklow. Their speciality is forged bronze and cor-ten steel sculpture for the garden and their works have been included in public collections including The Irish State Art Collection, The Department of Foreign Affairs, The Office of Public Works and The Crafts & Design Council of Ireland’s Permanent Collection;

Liam Butler’s work is inspired by his immediate surroundings in Connemara, where he lives and where he has created art work in metal for nearly 30 years. His windswept trees express the harsh winds of the west coast, his birds include herons, robins, and various other sea-birds native to Ireland, and the iconic Galway Currach has also featured numerous times in his work. He also depicts people from families to fishermen, each one capturing the movement and life of the real thing. His former career as an industrial welder gave him a complete understanding and mastery of his materials. As a self-taught sculptor he began by exploring and creating works in stainless steel. When he graduated to using copper, he says it had a liberating effect on him. “It was more pliable and malleable than steel and allowed me to express myself in a more personal and exciting way.”

Currently on in the grounds of Dargle Cottage Estate, Enniskerry is an exhibition by sculptor Patrick O’Reilly, who works between studios in Dublin, Venice, Madrid and the Auvergne. The exhibition, which runs until September 18, includes 50 outdoor and indoor works in his inimitable style. Dynamic and innovative, the works often reflect his own feelings, personality and frequently reference the animal kingdom. Many of his works are light-hearted – such as his bronze “Teddy Bear” of which he has said, “From childhood days our first memory is that of a bear. He personifies innocence, companionship and trust. He is a pure spirit and symbolises unworldliness. As adults many of us remember this childhood time with a reverence, as sadly this era must end. Life must take its course and is never stationary. The Bear marches on with a look of resigned acceptance. He keeps going despite life’s turbulence and uncertainty. He is silent and does not complain. All my figures, even if they are teddy bears, take the form of humans. A teddy bear is a very non-threatening animal, but a bear is very vicious, so it’s that combination. He’s got enormous power. He could eat you, but he is very gentle. Teddy bears are universal.”

John Fitzgerald’s enthusiasm for horse racing and the colourful gatherings at racecourses have meant that he has established himself as one of Ireland’s leading contemporary equine, sporting and portrait artists. He has had many prestigious commissions from private clients including many of the leading horse owners, trainers and jockeys. He also creates sculpture, made at Cast Foundry in Dublin, using the lost wax or “cire perdue” technique. Fitzgerald’s bronzes use rich (colour) and multi-coloured patina to create a subtle depth and compliment the texture;

Catherine Greene is a figurative sculptor working in bronze and latterly mixed media. Her versatile output ranges from large scale civic, private commission and large exhibition pieces to smaller sculptures that explore the figure in the context of the sensual and often surreal world which they inhabit. Major commissions include the equestrian memorial of the patriot Thomas Francis Meagher in Waterford, the Memorial to comedian Dermot Morgan, Merrion Square Dublin, and the central altarpiece sculpture of the crucified Christ in the new basilica Fatima Portugal. She has exhibited consistently at the RHA, Dublin and RUA, Belfast and the Botanic Gardens, Dublin;

Working from her studio in Co Meath, Orla de Brí is very much a hands-on sculptor, enjoying every aspect of the work, from the concept of the first drawing through to the varied and sometimes challenging physical processes. “I work both in small and large scale. I have made many site-specific public pieces which I loved working on but a piece doesn’t have to be big to be powerful – sometimes a smaller work can really draw you in,” she told me. Her unique, elegantly stylised figures and objects, in a variety of materials, including bronze, steel, stone and fibreglass are instantly recognisable to many;

Russian by birth, Vadim Tuzov is now an Irish citizen having lived in Dublin for over 20 years. Tuzov’s style is unique, and is produced in small, limited editions by hand, using the lost wax (or cire perdue) process. The earliest examples of this process date from around 3000 BC and are found both in ancient Egypt and Ur. Tuzov performs the whole bronze sculpture creation process with his own hands – from a piece of clay to the patination. This confident handling of materials, coupled with an understanding of anatomy, results in “living” sculptures, which portray the essence, strength, and grace of his animal subjects. Much of his inspiration derives from his childhood and his early fascination of wild animals;

Galway-based Donnacha Treacy works predominately in bronze, but also carves out of stone on figurative and equestrian form. He showcases regularly in the RHA annual exhibition, the Vue Art Fair, and successfully exhibited over a decade with the recent retired Gallerist Ib Jorgensen;