A MARRIED couple who work together on public art commissions are marking the communal spirit shown by the people of County Cork during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Liam Lavery and Eithne Ring have been commissioned by Cork County Council to create a piece of art, following a public call for proposals. Their bronze sculpture, to be unveiled in April, 2021, will be located by the public library in Bruce Square, Charleville.
“The whole idea arose from the volunteerism during Covid,” says Eithne.
“We’re making a cubed box that will sit on one of its points. It’s like a dice which, when you look down on it, has an image of hands clasped in unity on three sides. They are gloved hands which form a Brigid cross type of thing but it’s not meant to have a religious aspect. It’s just that the hands are in unison.
“Around them are cogs suggesting how people got into working together. The shape of the cogs echoes the shape of the coronavirus.”
Liam and Eithne met at the Crawford College of Art and Design where they studied in the 1980s. They were good friends for years and got married in 1995. They live in a house in Shandon, under the famous bells, and have a studio in Dromina. The couple love living in Cork’s historic quarter and recently completed a series of aluminium plaques based on the history of the Shandon area.
One of their largest commissions commemorates the victims and survivors of the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915, located at the Lusitania memorial at the Old Head of Kinsale. Their Aoife and Strongbow seat sculpture in Waterford city has also been well received.
Eithne, who lived near the Lough until the age of 12, before moving to Knockadoon in East Cork with her family, always wanted to be an artist.
“I was very much into animation and painting colourful, quirky landscapes. My mother liked painting and we were always given crayons to keep us quiet. We did a lot of crafts. My father had a foundry and I had access to anything there such as tools.”
Eithne’s father used to make small industrial parts for buses. He also made street signs.
After qualifying from art college, Eithne spent nearly a year in Jersey in the Channel Islands, where she worked in Jersey Pottery, illustrating utensils, as well as working as an au pair.
When she came back to Cork, Eithne and Liam started miming together on the streets and at one stage they had a puppet theatre. They continued with their visual art and in 1999, each had an exhibition at the Lavitt Gallery at the same time, but it wasn’t a collaboration.
Eithne went on to spend 11 years working for Metro Vision (now Hopkins Communications). There, she did animation work on the company’s advertising board on Cork’s Bridge Street. She was painting on the side and produced illustrations for the diaries brought out by The Collins Press.
Before studying at the Crawford, Liam studied mechanical engineering at the former Regional Technical College (now CIT). He worked as a draughtsman for a while and also worked in farming for a year.
Born in Tipperary, Liam was 12 when he moved with his family to Charleville.
“I always wanted to do art but my parents encouraged me to do something I could fall back on as the 1980s were a bleak time for work,” he says.
At the Crawford, Liam focused on sculpture and printmaking. After college, he worked in engineering.
“But even when I was working at my job, I wanted to be making stuff. My job finished up and I heard about the ‘per cent for art’ scheme whereby with a public project, a budget would be put aside for (an accompanying) piece of art. The first project I got was for a city council housing development in Green Street, off Barrack Street. I did a series of panels for the houses. The images on the cast aluminium panels told little stories connected to the area.”
Liam says that he and Eithne never sat down together with a plan to work with one another on public commissions.
“It just happened. The first project we really worked on together in 1998/1999 was in Charleville Credit Union. That was a big project, a whole series of panels as part of a water feature in the building. It’s quite significant.”
While Liam gave up engineering, he says that “engineering still comes into making public art sculptures. You’re dealing with architects and builders so engineering comes into that.”
Eithne says that she and Liam are always interested in working with different materials. They also like working on projects that draw on history.
“We made a series of plaques on North Main Street in Cork,” recalls Eithne.
“There was an archaeological dig there. We used the drawings from the dig to illustrate the plaques. They marked the different laneways there, the Medieval footprint of North Main Street.
"The plaques are on the pavement indicating where the laneways were — and still are in most cases. We made 26 panels in all, telling the history of the area.”
Eithne says that every time the couple does a job, “we’re always aware that it could be our last job. We don’t worry about it though.”
This creative couple works well together.
As Liam says: “We are able to argue our points but we don’t fall out over them.”
Eithne says they “bounce ideas off each other”.
Their artistic collaboration clearly works well.