WHEN sculptor Kevin Callaghan received his Leaving Cert results in 1999, the thought that he would some day be the subject of an arts programme on television was probably far from his mind. He had failed art.
But the former Crawford College of Art and Design student is to feature in a series called Landmark on Sky Arts this month.
The satellite station has commissioned Kevin to create a sculpture that is set to be a public fixture in Glasgow, where he now resides.
Landmark is a Sky Arts TV series that sees artists and local communities across the UK join forces to create the next great British landmark.
The show’s mission is to attempt to address current debates about the meaning of public monuments, and who or what is commemorated.
In the show, 18 contestants compete to create what will be the winning ‘Landmark’ for 2021. The series began on September 6 and runs for seven weeks, and Kevin appears on October 11
The producers of the show had done their research. They learned of Kevin’s work through social media and last January they made direct contact with him, offering the opportunity to apply and represent Scotland in the competition.
Not one to rest on his laurels, he applied. After his application was successful, in March he was tasked with the mission to create the next British ‘Landmark’.
The result was a 4.6 metre structure comprising a pentagonal plinth that tilts to one side while narrowing to a point, where an array of five-sided structures sit atop of one another and reach for the sky in a cluster. The piece explores the notion of utopia and our proximity to it and is entitled Are We Here?
We chatted over the phone as Kevin neared the end of a three month artist residency at the Irish Cultural Centre in Paris.
“It was really exciting being asked to be on the show,” he said.
“I mean, every artist wants to have the opportunity to make something at a large scale.
“It was very positive because I had applied for different things over the years and had made it down to the last two or three sometimes, so I was very much prepared. I hit the ground running on it and found a designer to help conceptualize it.
“We were given 14 days to create the piece. It was exciting all the way through, I have to say. It really is all about the work.
“Having the opportunity to develop a piece of that scale is a natural progression for working in art for the last 20 years,” Kevin said.
He was given a budget of £25,000 and the making of the piece saw Kevin collaborate with a team of local crafts people in Glasgow.
“As soon as I found out I was selected, I got on it straight away.
“I was like, this is a great opportunity to make something really special.
“I was working with sculpture and design fabricators. There was a lot of planning. I had been working with my designer whose working name is Dotsan. His renderings are really good so we were sitting down and going through everything and getting it to a point where I was happy with everything. Then I had to make sure that I didn’t go over budget.
“Making it, then, for nine days I had five guys helping me put it together and then I had two guys help me spray it over two days. So it all happened very fast”.
The piece will be on display at a government building in southern Glasgow for 12 months. After that, its ownership returns to Kevin and he is then free to decide the sculpture’s fate.
The work of Kevin Callaghan should be familiar to many Corkonians. His distinctive origami style, aluminum-cut, bird-shaped designs have been staples in businesses like The Bodega and the Electric bar in the city.
A Donegal native who calls Cork his second home, he has completed artist residencies at the National Sculpture Factory (NSF) in the city, and is hoping to spend some time working there in 2022.
Maintaining tight working relationships with Cork artists, he is forever appreciative for the support he received through the NSF over the years.
He credits local artists Alex Pentex and James Hayes as supporting him with knowledge and materials in the run up to the commission with Sky Arts.
Not the type to throw in the towel, upon receiving his Leaving Cert results he persevered with his passion for art. He moved to Cork and successfully completed a portfolio preparation course in Colaista Stefon Naofa, a degree at the Crawford College of Art and Design and went on to graduate with an MA in the Royal College of Art in London.
Kevin’s achievements as an artist are interesting at a time where students and politicians openly debate the efficacy of the current pathway from school to third level education.
Kevin lives with dyslexia and believes there is no rush deciding what course or career one should jump into straight after school.
“I’m someone who struggles with severe dyslexia. I didn’t fit into the school system. If I have any advice for people finishing school now, it is to take their time deciding. There’s no rush into education.
“If you look at the Danish model, they don’t really start college till around age 21 or 22.
“If you’re sure about what you want, then yes, but it doesn’t always work out going straight to college after school,” Kevin said.
So what was the competition like on the Sky Arts show?
“Nobody really knew what the other contestants were making. We found out bits toward the end; I understand some were geology and ecology based.”
And how did Keving do in the overall competition?
A man of integrity, he’s not one to give things away too easily, so we’ll have to watch the show to find out.
The episode of Landmark featuring Kevin airs on October 11 at 8pm on Sky Arts.