Eamonn Ceannt interviewed by Laura Harvey-Graham.
This month’s blog post is a little different – we are delighted to feature our first artist’s profile. For our inaugural profile we have had the pleasure of interviewing sculptor Eamonn Ceannt
Eamonn had a long career working in both the public and private sectors, and most recently at UCD, where he was Bursar and Vice President for Capital/Commercial Development. He previously worked for Coillte, KPMG and the World Bank.
He initiated and oversaw the development of the Museum of Literature Ireland (MoLI) and currently works as a sculptor and runs his own consultancy company advising on cultural development projects. Eamonn has travelled across North and South Africa, Iran, Afghanistan, China and the Indian sub-continent and lived for a number of years in both Ghana and Kenya in the 90’s.
As a student in the 70’s, he studied life drawing at IADT. He resumed his art studies in 2004 at both the IADT and NCAD, choosing sculpture as his preferred medium. He works exclusively in bronze. He particularly enjoys the physicality of sculpture and the craft of bronze casting and would like to acknowledge the help and guidance in his sculptural studies that he got from Vivian Hansbury, Jason Crowley and Pat Fortune at the NCAD, Jim Connolly of the Kilbaha Sculpture School and the fantastic team at Bronze Art.
Could you tell us a little bit about your process? What inspires you and how do you begin to work this inspiration into sculpture?
I am primarily a figurative sculptor and what motivates me is the challenge of encapsulating movement into my pieces. The dancer is my primary source of inspiration. I admire and wonder at the athleticism, the elegance and the dynamism of performers. I strive to capture these qualities in my work. I look to theatre, ballet, contemporary dance and the circus seeking a pose, a gesture or a stance that signals that a moment of movement has occurred. I watch shows and study photographs trying to find the right posture, and then simplify it to emphasise the form. Clothes can accentuate the movement while allowing the structure of the piece to be minimised and my goal is to simplify the form as much as possible, avoiding unnecessary detailing.
Many of my pieces have a story behind them. It helps me to conceptualise and make them.
Butterfly shows Cio-Cio-san turning her head away to hide her shame and sorrow upon hearing that Pinkerton has married another woman. Nikya performs the temple dance in the opening act of La Bayadere. Solor, her distraught lover, realising too late that he has betrayed her, grieves over her dead body. He now stands before the lake in Belfield, endlessly watching over his lost love …..and the Arabian dancer glides effortlessly across the stage in the Nutcracker.
Do you look to the past for inspiration? Are there any artists in particular (historical or contemporary) that have informed your work over the years?
The first art book I bought in my teens was a biography of Henry Moore. I am still a big admirer of his work as well as the work of Barbara Hepworth. But, my favourite sculptor is Jacob Epstein. To my mind, Rock Drill is one of the most prescient pieces of art ever created and his portrait heads brilliantly capture the personality of the subject.
In my earlier work, I would have looked to native art for inspiration. I had seen many wood carvings and stone sculpture when I worked and travelled in Africa and India. These sculptures and the wonderful colour of the soils, the clothes and the buildings had a lasting influence. I modelled some of my initial pieces on the bronze heads of Benin, the turbaned heads of North Africa and the white figurines from the Cycladic islands ….. Modigliani’s heads were also an influence.
Is there a piece that you are particularly proud of?
Sentinel, which features in the attached video, is a piece that I am particularly proud of. It stands seven feet tall and was the first piece I made in plaster, before being cast. I made many mistakes but learned a lot in the process. It features a male dancer in a highly stylised pose. The number of surface planes are reduced to a minimum and angled to best reflect light. Avolon, who commissioned the piece, agreed to have it finished in polished bronze which was wonderful. With that finish, it makes for a very striking sculpture.
Could you tell us a little bit about what drew you to bronze as a material?
I stumbled into sculpture. I had been drawing and painting for many years, but in my late thirties, I broke my neck in a swimming accident with resultant nerve damage. This meant I could no longer draw or paint fine lines. To strengthen my hands and fingers, I was advised to knead clay, which led me to making small models. One day, when attending class at NCAD, I wandered into Vivian Hansbury’s sculpture studio and signed up for a one week course. What a wonderful teacher and what a wonderful discovery. I hadn’t previously realised my ability to conceptualise in three dimensions. It has brought me so much joy.
Click here for a short video where leading Irish sculpture artist Eamonn Ceannt speaks about his work in Gormleys Fine Art.