Cork sculptor's passion was set in stone from a very early age

His sculptures can be seen all over Cork, now Michael Quane’s work is in a new exhibition in Ballymaloe, writes DEBORAH HICKEY
Cork sculptor's passion was set in stone from a very early age
Michael Quane at work in the studio.

THE grounds of Ballymaloe House, Shanagarry, East Cork, have been magically transformed into an outdoor gallery space once again this summer as the annual Sculpture Exhibition is well under way. Curated by Richard Scott, the exhibition is now in its sixth year and has become a well loved attraction for art lovers and visitors to Ballymaloe alike. The Allen family continue their long- standing commitment to supporting the arts by hosting the event each year. This year’s event presents 42 distinctive pieces created by 33 national and international artists. Featured among the esteemed list of artists displaying their work is the familiar name of Cork sculptor Michael Quane, who has three sculptures on display at Ballymaloe this year.

Quane was elected a member of Aosdána, which honours artists whose work has made an outstanding contribution to the creative arts in ireland, in 1998. This accolade well deserved as Quane’s distinctive work has been enjoyed by the Irish public for decades. The acclaimed contemporary sculptor has had numerous major public commissions in his home county, as well as nationally, throughout his career.

Corkonians will be acquainted with the momentous ‘Horses and Riders’ which stood at the Annabella roundabout, in Mallow, for almost two decades and is soon to be re-sited nearby following the upgrading of the roundabout. The captivating sculpture, ‘Figure Talking to a Quadruped’, in UCC, has been provoking thought on campus since 1994 and Quane has an abundant body of work, on permanent display, around the city and county. Pieces can be viewed at the Farm Gate Cafe in the English Market and the Hayloft upstairs in the Long Valley bar. There are many sculptures spanning the artist’s career on display in the Farm Gate in Midleton and a large scale work, ‘Falling Horse and Rider’, in Coolbawn, Midleton.

Michael Quane's sculpture, Riders and Horses in Mallow.
Michael Quane's sculpture, Riders and Horses in Mallow.

Originally from Ballinlough, Michael now lives and works in Leap. He has fond memories of growing up in Cork.

“Such fantastic summers we had, all about the Lee and the Bride and the flooded gravel pits of John A Wood’s, fishing and rafting on every waterway from Foley’s Hole on the Bride near Farnanes down to its confluence with the Lee at Inniscarra and from the Dam down to the bridge at the Angler’s Rest at Leemount. That was our bailiwick together with the woods and wild places.”

As a schoolboy a passion for science was ignited in the young student.

“A teacher once told the class that for the remainder of our lives, we could find enough to keep us busy in studying a square foot of soil. The fire that statement ignited has accompanied me ever since.”

It was also in his school days that Michael’s interest in self expression through visual means began.

“At the age of twelve I first started to draw and shortly afterwards carve wood. I taught myself in a very systematic way, through drawing and carving, the structure of a nose, then the eye, mouth, ear, hand, head and so on.”

Michael studied science at UCC, for one year, before fulfilling his true desire to go to art school. He studied at Crawford College of Art and Design where he remained to postgraduate level. The fusion of science and art is a central element in Quade’s work.

“All of my work, for the decades that I’ve been making it, is leading me to create new myths or narratives that imbue physical scientific reductionist laws and certainties, with a spiritual element, in the hope that a slice of science might begin to inform the potency of spiritual thinking.”

Quade’s recent work Carbon Sync, currently on display as part of the sculptors solo exhibition at the Solomon Gallery on Dublin’s Balfe Street, exemplifies these themes.

“This piece takes a pose not dissimilar to the levitating Jesus and expresses, through the notion that gravity is the great organiser of the cosmos, that the figure is usurping the God force, gravity.”

Michael Quane's ' Figure Taking to a Quadruped in UCC'
Michael Quane's ' Figure Taking to a Quadruped in UCC'

Carved in elm, this compelling work depicts a diver dressed in the customary wetsuit and flippers. Meticulously carved however, onto his Christlike, out-stretcehed arms are water wings. Quane also makes reference to our environmental conscience as the title plays on the notion of a carbon sink.

“The delivery of these ideas through whimsey, is an un-didactic expression alluding to our collective preference to believing convenient myths and our denial as humans to face challenges that will literally change the face of the globe and human civilization with it.”

The recurring equestrian presence in Quane’s work cannot be overlooked. The representation of riders and horses is an ongoing theme. While visiting his grandmother in Offaly as a child he witnessed the demise of a donkey in a bog hole. This event had a profound effect on the young boy and shocked into life sensibilities which have remained evident throughout the sculptor’s career.

“It all at once had a marked effect on my thinking around care, neglect and isolation, mortality and connectedness, intimacy and powerlessness. So much of my work deals with care and the connection with each other and other species.”

Micheal’s work rebukes the traditionally classical theme of man’s power over animal. His human figures are anti-heroic as they navigate life with their fellow inhabitants of this planet.

“I’m always exercised in suppressing any suggestion that there may be inequality between the human and the animal.”

The artist, who works frequently in Kilkenny limestone, has adapted his work studio so that portions of all four walls open up in order to get maximum ventilation: unhealthy amounts of dust are an occupational hazard. Work commences outdoors to get a piece started whilst lighter less dusty work is continued in the studio. Quane employs the ‘Direct Carving’ method which means that no drawings or clay models are worked from.

“Everything is worked o

Michael Quane's sculpture Carbon Sync.
Michael Quane's sculpture Carbon Sync.

ut in the process of carving during the removal of unwanted material.”

The sculptor works with toothed chisels and hand held pneumatic hammers before completing the piece to a hand tooled flat claw finish. The figures that emerge from the stone and marble are very much alive for Quane.

“The sculptures surface at its stage of completion always needs to be in a dynamic state for my liking and not closed down by having been honed with fine gritted sand papers. The life of the participants of the sculpture and their movement into the empty space around them is, in my opinion, made possible by this approach.”

Speaking of the exhibition at Ballymaloe, Michael notes that the event continues to grow from strength to strength.

“The exhibition is deepening and broadening the impression it makes on the national art calendar and draws significantly more attention to its sculptural offerings every year. It is, I believe, with the current level of commitment and input by Richard Scott, an exhibition that is destined for a bright and robust future.”

The exhibition is open to the public, free of charge, from 9am to 9pm daily and runs until August 31. Guided talks are available on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. The exhibition includes Irish, Swiss and Slovenian artists, while familiar names like John Coll, Elizabeth Cope and Patrick O’Reilly, also feature.

Micheal’s solo exhibition runs at The Solomon Gallery in Dublin until July 6 and Carbon Sync can been viewed at the Skibbereen Arts Festival which runs from July 26 to August 4.

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