Art Imitating Life Garden Heaven 2018

By Ailbhe MacMahon

Bringing a garden to life 365 day a year, outdoor sculpture is a beautiful antidote to the unpredictability of the seasons.

One of the great pleasures of a garden is the slow transformation it makes throughout the seasons. It is a sensory shift, as flowers grow fragrant and wither, and branches drift between budding and barren. One contemporary feature of a garden, however, remains constant. Amid the changing weather, a piece of sculpture brings colour and character to an otherwise transient scene. No longer the reserve of the elite, a new wave of creatives are crafting homegrown work that is both accessible and affordable.

‘I choose to work in metal rather than in wood, as I have seen the wear-and-tear that outdoor art has to endure here.’
‘It is the joy of a sculpture to lift your imagination,’ begins Greystones-based sculptor Emma Jane Rushworth, who is best known for her woven interpretations of Irish wildlife. From twin hares to rusted-red foxes, Emma Jane captures creatures in motion through her lacy mesh frames. ‘I choose to work in metal rather than in wood, as I have seen the wear-and-tear that outdoor art has to endure here. Metal has a good chance of out-living the gardener!’ She advises the gardeners to disregard trends and act upon instinct. ‘Choose a piece that allows you to look out of your house, fall into a spell, and enjoy.’

For husband-and-wife team Michael Calnan and Gunvor Anhøj, the appeal of outdoor metalwork is its ability ‘to tie in with the fabric of the house’. Known collectively as Calnan & Anhøj, their current studio is based in the splayed demesne of Russborough House. The duo create work that is dynamic and impressionistic, brilliantly disrupting the serene calm of an Irish garden. ‘The design process begins with a connection for expression, a sketch, and then the making of the full scale work’. Deliberately counteracting the traditional static of sculpture, they often integrate running water into their work, and each piece is designed to give ‘sound, movement and aesthetic to a garden’.

For those unsure where to begin, Reen Farm is an inspiring example of a private garden-turned-gallery. When sculptor John Kelly first moved to West Cork, his wife Christina recognised the potential of the lush scene surrounding the farmhouse. ‘She turned to me one day and said she would really like to open the shutters in the morning and see sculpture in the garden’. Fourteen years later, Reen Farm is a fertile land of sculpture, hosting more than a dozen examples of John’s creative ingenuity. ‘The design process always starts with a drawing. From there on, there are many different approaches from bronze-casting to steel fabrication and laser cut-outs.’ In particular, his 1999 work entitled Cow Up A Tree, makes for a commanding silhouette along the ragged Reen Peninsula. A humorous piece depicting a realistic cow up a realistic tree, it is currently rooted opposite the crash and vigour of the Atlantic.
‘The costal elements bring ever-changing drama to the sculpture. I don’t think there is a better placement to be had, especially as we can enjoy it daily’.

Along with a turn in the weather, this autumn will bring the annual Sculpture in Context exhibition to the national Botanic gardens once again. Unveiling the wealth of outdoor artwork that Ireland has to offer, prices begin at a modest €50 for small-scale pieces. Organiser Jackie Ball offers simple advice to first-time buyers. ‘While art is always a good investment, the best reason to buy any sculpture is because it would be a harmonious addition to your garden. Buy sculpture you love.’ With this sentiment in mind, it has never been easier to grow your own state-of-the-art garden.