Words by John Tynan, Head of Education, Training & Development Design & Crafts Council of Ireland, 2017.
Take five noted practicing craft and design artists, each individually recognized for their creative skills and master craftsmanship in all things metal art, combine the product of their individual hand-crafted toil into one overall collection and the result is some of the finest contemporary art metalsmith work to be found in Ireland today gathered under one roof in an engaging exhibition entitled CRUX – A Dialogue in Metal.
The lively variety of artistic styles on display is one of the strengths of this exhibition – an artistic dialogue created when contrasts of simple plain surface shape is juxtaposed alongside detailed intricate refinement; of when beautiful natural sweeping curves are seen side by side with intricate decorated adornments; of the dialogue of etched pattern and sculptured hard edges, contrasted with earthen hues and subtle outlines of low surface relief impressions. All this dialogue is subject to change in form dependent on the perspective of the viewer and the ambient light that surrounds each art piece at any given time.
This exhibition gives a small sample of, and celebrates some of the wonderful work of talented artist metalsmiths whose contribution to their craft in Ireland has been significant in both scale and in impact. When you look at and study the creative work of Gunvor Anhøj, Michael Calnan, Moss Gaynor, John Hogan and Jane Murtagh you understand that you are looking upon a body of work that is of international quality; you feel that each piece would not be out of place in the contemporary galleries and art houses of Europe and beyond. Indeed these artist metalsmiths have in their own right previously won international awards for their work, and have had their work purchased and displayed in collections in and beyond Ireland on a number of occasions. The five share a passion for their art and they have all contributed to the legacy of the metalsmithing craft in Ireland by providing, at different times and in different ways, opportunities for others to learn through teaching, mentoring and the sharing of skills in their craft, so that the art form continues to be practiced, and to be of cultural importance in Ireland today and into the future.
On an ongoing basis and formed through time, are a multitude of factors which have previously shaped and continue to influence these five artist metalsmiths as they go about the active dynamic of creating new works. Across Ireland the various local habitats and cultures of counties Clare, Cork, Mayo and Wicklow and surrounding regions all come to bear influence upon each as they work hard to complete each new art-work, developed to meet the needs of their own high design standards, whether the piece is to be exhibited as part of a solo show, or to be completed as a commissioned bespoke piece according to the set specification of an eagerly awaiting customer.
Metal is by no means the easiest of materials to master but it has attracted many an artisan throughout time, whose hands and imaginations have been drawn to the craft of trying to see how they could transform the material into an object of function, into some form of creative art, or into a combination of both. As far back as 8,700 BC, metal pendants from the Middle East in Asia were made, and in circa 2,000 BC, metalworking was gradually introduced to Ireland during the Bronze Age when functional objects such as cooking pots, axes, shields and other hunting tools became more widespread. Since these earliest days metalsmiths in Ireland have been looking at ways to develop and hone their skills, to seek to master their material, to mould and impress their own identity upon the object. Ireland is fortunate enough today to have a number of high quality contemporary artist metalsmiths in various parts of the country, all working quietly and endeavouring to master their trade. Seen here for the first time combined into one unique exhibition, these five masters of the art have applied the various skills of their trade – traditional skills such as that of smelting, forging, producing malleable metal which they have then cut, formed, joined, bent, gilded, sculpted, and then they have used their vast array of historical, studied knowledge and expertise to design shapes and forms finished with various other materials, to produce objects of quality and form, simple and intricate, large and small, two and three dimensional.
As you walk around this exhibition CRUX – A Dialogue in Metal, take your time to look closely and fully appreciate the elegance and beauty of metal on show, each individual piece on display in its own right an individually handcrafted work of art, yet all together combined to create a rich visual display of what is possible when art and craft design succeeds in the hands of those talented enough to transform base metal material into something new and imaginative. The combined efforts of Gunvor Anhøj, Michael Calnan, Moss Gaynor, John Hogan and Jane Murtagh are to be applauded for they have shown that through the achievement of a successful collaborative venture, when artists combine and work to achieve a common goal, the outcomes of collaboration yield gains which can be easy to see. Here together in a language of art and craft design these five artist metalsmiths tell us a story through their exhibited work and it is a story, with their continued effort and artistic passion, that will no doubt continue to unfold tomorrow and into future years, playing an important part in Ireland’s changing rich cultural heritage into 2020 and beyond.