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Catherine Greene Sculptor

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Catherine Greene, Dublin, Ireland

Before an artist embarks on a project, the more information and context one can glean the easier it is to become part of the person or idea that one is trying to convey. So research is very important. Ultimately though, it’s the feeling that one gets about a person that gives the work a momentum and energy.

Zoneone Arts is delighted to bring Catherine Greene to you…

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Your work can be found around the world, where is one of the least expected paces you thought it would end up in?

 There is work of mine in many collections and places but the least expected place happens to be Australia. I have not been there yet and have not established art links anywhere there. However, two years ago a visitor from Australia saw a small bronze in the window of Adams Auction house and they subsequently commissioned me to make a piece for their collection, (AJURIALAWERS|CONSULTING) Since a second client from Australia has come my way having seen work in a collection here. All this had happened in the last 18 months. And then I hear from you!

The second place I had never anticipated having work was in Fatima, as I am not a religious sculptor per say. And would not be known as such.

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 Your work ‘Figure of Christ’ expand on this commission.

The figure of Christ was a competition for the new Basilica in Fatima that was being built in 2005. The brief was to create the figure of Christ in the context of the very spare beautifully designed church. The overall size is 7 meters, which is the cross, the figure of Christ is 5 meters high. Apart from the aesthetics, the logistics were really challenging. Because the figure was so tall I could not make it in one piece working inside. We welded it as a whole and then separated from the hip so I could work in two halts and put it together outside, check it and work on it again.  This was all done in clay and then transported to a foundry in Portugal. Where I spent several months working on the piece doing finer detail. Transporting it to Fatima from Oporto/Gaia meant getting a special transport license as the 7 meter cross with the Christ figure was driven down to Fatima in a specialized lorry at night. I worked with a wonderful engineer who understood my demand for the whole work to be suspended on one wire rope. I wanted the whole pierce to be as aesthetically light as possible.

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 Explain your own feelings in relationship to this most solemn religious moment?

The Basilica was beautiful and sophisticated in its simplicity and because Fatima has always been a place of devout pilgrimage it was very important to honour that.

I felt the figure of Christ should embrace peace and not suffering. I thought that the pilgrims should enter this space and be able to seek peace and redemption not through a suffering Christ but through a peaceful one. It is a 21st cent urn idea and I know that the more traditional Catholics particularly coming from Portugal have an issue with this.

How important was the mosaic background to your design of ‘Figure of Christ’? 

The mosaic background was designed by another artist and the gold leaf warms the figure and adds to the overall narrative. I am not sure who he was except that he was a Jesuit, from Austria, I think.

Explain your work, ‘Thomas Francis Meagher’ and his historical meaning in Ireland.  Also the amount of background research you need to do?

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General Thomas Francis Meagher came about when Ireland held the presidency of the EU.  Waterford City council wanted to honour the man who first brought the Tricolour flag from the French barricades to Ireland.

He is very important, because as a result of his actions we have our national flag today, the Irish Tricolour.

Interestingly, prior to being in France, he had been deported to Tasmania for his unpatriotic activities where he escaped from after seven years. He ended up as Governor of Montana in the USA.

Before an artist embarks on a project like this, the more information and context one can glean the easier it is to become part of the person or idea that one is trying to convey. So research is very important. Ultimately though, it’s the feeling that one gets about a person that gives the work a momentum and energy.

He fought on the Unionists side in America’s civil war and was wounded in battle, his front hoof is raised. That means he was injured but lived. In memorial military work that is the hidden language. So for example if General Meagher had fought and been killed, the horse’s two front legs would have been raised from the ground. (He was subsequently made governor of Montana by Lincoln)

‘Wolf and Men’ are mixed medium explain the different mediums you have used and why the choice?

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Wolf and Men are executed in a completely different medium because they were not commissions, they were work that I needed to make for myself.

Bronze although beautiful is very expensive and most sculptors will only cast their work when it has been commissioned.

Working in this medium of welded structure plaster and wax gave me great freedom to explore a theme without the stress of bills. It meant if I was working on something and I decided to change it radically at the last second, I could. Not that one cannot do this for commissions, but the whole process is entirely different as prerequisites are solely yours. Think of Giacommeti whose life’s work was mostly still in plaster when he died.

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 Explain how you have achieved motion in Portal?

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Portal is a work for the law faculty in University College Dublin. The whole idea was about leaving a past behind and moving forwards towards new beginnings. The movement is achieved by three elements. The static but staggered arch/uprights and the movement of the arms in a slow swing and the barest of contact on the ground of his back foot, where the ball is the only point that meet the ground surface. His front foot poised for takeoff.

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The action and interaction between those three elements give the sense of motion. Intellectually it was the sense of motion that was integral to this brief. Students entering a University, shedding the past as they move forward and towards a new life.

You have photographed students walking past this work and how it adds to the feeling of movement in the photographs, discuss.

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One of the reasons I have included the students in the photographs of this work is to give the overall site a context. I feel a lot of public sculpture is too removed from the humans who pass by. Which was the primary reason I places this youth directly on the ground, not separated by a plinth. The photographs with human begins give a sense of scale and a sense of how the sculpture lives in the environment. In this particular work the students walk through the portal and momentarily are an integral part of the dynamic, their motion echoing that of the figure. 

As well as public art you do small pieces, discuss the joy of small.

The process of making small work is very different process because it becomes a way of fast thinking and exploration of new ideas. So I would be sitting at my desk with several small lumps of clay working on each simultaneously with only a vague idea of what I am trying to convey.

From that generally one or two stronger images keep cropping up and I move to the next phase which is to realise the sculpture scaled up finished small work which I would hope to cast in bronze.  There is also the element of time, within weeks one can see a whole thought process when there are all these small works gathered together in the studio space. I work thematically, so this process allows overall vision.

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 In your smaller works you often have limited editions.  Comment on the use of limited editions in your work.

I am very reluctant to cast an edition above 5 as I believe in the exclusivity when someone want to pay money for a work. I am conscious of each piece being unique and it becomes boring to try and recreate the same and besides it is never really possible as each wax becomes individualized by its fine tuning/modelling.

The smaller works that I make could conceivably be re-scaled upwards to make a large sculpture. I do believe that any smaller work that a sculptor does, should work in a larger scale. Although I have found that sometimes I would have to adjust an arm or even an angle of the body. For instance, when I scaling up the maquette of Ecce Homo, I found that there were elements of the smaller work that simply didn’t read well in the larger work.

Photography of your work particularly ‘Blue Moon’ is exciting discuss the photos in the mist and other images.
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Photographing the Blue Wolves in the mist happened to be on be of those moments that I realise was perfect as it enhanced the mood and energy of the work. Photography is so important to me, and I realise to my cost that it is very hard for someone else to convey what I think is the essence of any of the work that I make. However, there are skills and cameras that I do not have, so for example a professional photographer took the shots for the Sutherland School of Law (Portal) and the figure of Christ for Fatima. I find it easier to shoot in a natural environment and the moments are more arbitrary. I think that for someone who has never seen my work the photographs should give a sense of the energy, recording the moment.

‘Ecce Homo’ how particular are you about the placement of each individual piece?

In Ecce Homo the placement of each individual figure was vitally important, and I thought about carefully, having tried other placements. The primary idea was to challenge our preconceptions about the importance of the animal in our human egocentric world. I wanted the wolf/man to be at the pinnacle and centre of the group of five. I do believe that we just happen to have cultivated a very sophisticated veneer above our essential animalistic souls. In each of the Blue Moon series man and animal exist in equal weight and measure. Ecce Homo was a culmination of this idea. In the 1800’s there were images of ape growing into wonderful human, the Darwinian ascent of man, I just wanted to upturn that idea a little.

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Can you expand on the fragility of the wings of your Angels?

That is an interesting question as the fragility of the wings in my angels is always something that I have wanted people to notice. The angles that I have made were never about the heavenly beings coming down to dispense forgiveness, rather they represent a transition between the human and the difficult journey to another place. They also represent the fragility of the spirit. These angels are in a liminal place but essentially more human than heavenly, with all of our endeavor and imperfection.

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Discuss your work shown at The Royal Hibernian Academy, Dublin and how they have voiced your political feelings.

I was an invited artist to the Royal Hibernian Academy and I wanted to make a comment on the plight of women having no voice in the Muslim world when it moves in to fanaticism. In 1968 there was a beautiful bur ironically sad photograph taken of a women going to market in Kabul with a bird cage filled with finches on her head. She was completely shrouded and hidden from the world. I saw this photograph in National Geographic and it stayed with me for many years.

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I really felt compelled to make a statement about what I perceived as freedom.  I had honestly hoped to provoke a discussion in a more public way but I think that there was a reluctance to go there as it might have seemed biased. Which was never my intention, my making of this work was simply a reaction to what I saw as prison.

The other political work that I have made is about war and how it affects women. Like “no caged bird sings” it is about lack of choice. Because there have been many remembrances about the great war in Europe and in my opinion rather idealised, and because we celebrated the Easter 1916 rising here in Ireland, I really wanted to make a comment about the physiological effects of that. For the most part men make war, they go away and sometimes when they return they do so only in body and their mind remains at war. The marriage dress represents all the hope that once existed, but now she is stuck in that place of conflict. Trapped, used the gas mask to emphasise the metaphor.

Contact details

Catherine Greene

Catherine greene.com

catherinegreene@gmail.com

Catherine Green, Dublin, Ireland

Interview by Deborah Blakeley, February, 2017

 

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