Thursday, 10 November 2011

Studio Visit - Elizabeth O'Kane

The 'Studio Visits' are a monthly blog instalment. We're opening our doors to introduce you to the artists and designers in The Design Tower! Each interview will give you an insight into the individual designer or business.

This month we're chatting to Sculptor and painter Elizabeth O'Kane.

How did you become a sculptor and painter?
It has been quite a jigsaw getting here. As a child I always dreamed of being an artist however after school I followed a more career-oriented path studying French and Spanish, followed by a post grad in Business Studies. I worked in Paris and Dublin for several years before deciding to return to college and try my hand at art, opting to study Interior Design.  During a college placement in a foundry I totally fell in love with bronze; I loved the noise, the smell and the chaos of the place.  I worked part time as an interior designer for a few years until taking the leap to become a full time artist in 2000 after winning the CAST Sculpture Prize in the Annual Oireachtas Exhibition.  As a sculptor and painter I am mostly self-taught and I now teach portrait sculpture.

What materials do you sculpt in?
I sculpt people and animals and I usually work in terracotta, building my sculptures up around metal armatures within the clay to hold it all in place.  I then make a silicone and plaster mold of the sculpture and cast a wax version from the mold. The wax sculpture is sent to the foundry for bronze casting, you can read more about this complicated process on my website.

Tell us about your work carving stone
I started stone carving three years ago. I had studied sculpture in Italy for several summers at the Florence Academy of Art.  While I was working with clay in Florence I became curious about stone on seeing so many beautiful marble sculptures. I first tried my hand at stone carving in 2008 at the Art Students League school in New York.  I have now spent the last few summers carving in Tuscany in the famous stone carving town of Pietrasanta near the Carrara white marble quarries (James Bond’s Quantum of Solace movie opens with a car chase through these quarries).  I find stone carving fascinating and challenging; it is very physical and unforgiving work but extremely rewarding at the same time.  The subtraction of the material is the opposite of working by addition in clay.  My stone work tends to be looser and more abstract than my bronze sculptures.  This year I made a pig in Persian Red Travertine marble, and I am currently working on a portrait head in Egyptian yellow marble, which is my most ambitions stone project to date.

Describe your paintings

My background in Interior Design has given me a love of architecture and perspective drawing.  I most enjoy painting buildings and cityscapes; I am drawn to straight lines and the play of light and shadow. I work mainly in watercolour and my paintings have been described as photorealist. I am currently working on a series of paintings of New York based on a three month stay in Manhattan’s Lower East Side some years ago.  I am enjoying these urban and industrial subjects just now.

What inspires you to design?
In my paintings I am drawn to interesting shapes in architecture the play of light on surfaces, however I enjoy sculpting people and animals. I am interested in anatomy and movement. If I see an interesting pose I will keep the idea in my head for future sculptures, I am constantly looking at interesting bone structure I see in the faces I see every day.

How does travel inspire you?
In my work you can never stop learning.  I think it is really important to see new places and meet new people and learn new skills. I am lucky to have lived in a number of different cities and my love of language makes me adaptable to change. The art world is relatively small and I find a lot of overlaps, often meeting the same people whether in New York, Tuscany, London or Dublin.

Do you have any interesting projects in the pipeline?

I am excited about the New York paintings I am working on; I took hundreds of photos so the series could be never-ending.  Sculpture-wise I am currently working on a number of private commissions of portrait heads, and also some heads of Great Dane dogs which, as an animal lover, I am hugely enjoying.

Can you describe the piece you made for the Wunderkammer Exhibition?
I was inspired by several Buddha sculptures in the Albert Bender Collection at Collins Barracks so I sculpted a Buddha and cast it in plaster with 22 carat gold leaf.  He is seated with his legs crossed in the traditional full lotus position, soles of feet facing upwards, hands laid peacefully in meditation.  Like much of my work this sculpture has an overall feeling of calmness.

Where can your sculptures be seen?

My best know sculpture is of the tenor John Count McCormack singing his heart out in The Iveagh Gardens, just behind the National Concert Hall.  My sculpture of champion Irish greyhound Mick the Miller, in Killeigh village green in County Offaly, was unveiled by former Taoiseach Brian Cowan in January 2011.  I also have bronze busts of historic Irish figures in Belfast City Hall (Mary Ann McCracken) and New York New York Hotel Casino in Las Vegas (Thomas Francis Meagher).

Where is your work available to purchase?

Most of my work is commission based, so I encourage customers to visit my studio to see my work and discuss their requirements.  I also exhibit regularly at the RHA and RUA annual exhibitions in Dublin and Belfast, with the Society of Portrait Sculptors in London, and I show with a number of galleries in Ireland.
Thanks Liz! For more information, visit Elizabeth's website.

As part of the Design Tower Winter Workshops, Elizabeth will be teaching portrait sculpture in her studio with a live model.
The next classes begin 18th February 2012.
Run over two weekends, the course consists of 8 x 3 hour sessions. 
Students will have a finished clay head at the end of the course.
Suitable for all levels. Maximum four students per class.
Sign up now!

Check out the other designer interviews in the series too!


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