The Physicality of Seeing review by Andrew Lambirth 2013
Eilís O'Connell (born 1953) is a very different kind of sculptor, who uses a wide range of materials and finds inspiration equally among the man-made and the organic. In the past she has fashioned shell-like forms out of woven stainless-steel cable or a nest from goose feathers; her latest work, on show at Canary Wharf, ranges from bronze to resin in a rich and satisfying vein of invention. Outside, in the small but popular Canary Wharf Park, where office workers congregate to smoke, lunch and chat, and young mothers bring their children to play in the spring sunshine, there are five substantial O'Connell pieces dotted around the grassy hummocks. 'Anodos' (2010) is like a stylised flame or tear drop, its deeply waisted vertical form in metallic bluey-green polyester resin has a sparkling, candescent quality, the colour shifting as you walk around it, your shadow distorting the surface reflections in a hall-of-mirrors way. It looks like a rather solid ignis fatuus, the will-o'-the-wisp or marsh gas exhalations that burn eerily of their own accord on boggy ground.
'Circuit' (2011), by contrast, is a rolling swirl of pipe in textured grey, an elegant bit of three-dimensional drawing. Two other pieces are strongly reminiscent of Henry Moore — nothing wrong with that, he's a sculptor to revere — though exerting their own independence of character at the same time. 'Sacrificial Anode' (2007), in cast bronze, has anatomical qualities, recalling the curve of hip and haunch and belly, yet it doubles back on itself like some kind of hook or clasp. It's a lovely form with a smooth tactile surface crying out to be caressed. (One big advantage of sculpture in the open air: you can touch it.) 'Slope' (2011) is a chunky slab of resin, a miniature mountain with lovely lines that reveal themselves as you walk around it and the form moves, swelling out from a crisp edge. I nearly missed the fifth piece, a tall bronze slice of tree called 'Atlantic Oak' (2013), presented bark outwards, standing like a sentinel or lightning-struck totem in the grass.
In the foyer of nearby 1 Canada Square is a group of smaller sculptures, including a tear drop and a pebble in clear resin and some small bronzes with striking patinas. The most beautiful of these is 'Cronody', an invented form a little like the skull of a bird, infinitely preferable to 'Meniscus', which looks rather too like a bedpan to earn my wholehearted approval. There are various found objects embedded in clear resin, a sheep skull, a vulture feather, a whalebone, and a number of larger, grouped, standing sculptures. The most memorable of these have conical bodies and a single proboscis or feeler emerging more or less vertically from them, like a plant shoot or a long thin tongue.
The title of one of these forms in a smaller version, 'Gourd Elongated', indicates one organic source of imagery. O'Connell's work is strange, various and intriguing: Irish-born, she lived in London from 1988 to 2001 before returning to Ireland and settling in County Cork. An artist of originality and vision, she deserves to be more widely recognised.
The unclassified Eilis O' Connell by Andrew Lambirth 1999
O' Connell's work possesses a visual weight ( of significance rather than tonnage in the smaller pieces ) which operates effectively without being threatening. Her sculpture has that physical presence, which insists that it be, experienced three dimensionally, in the round , not simply viewed pictorially. O' Connell often adds colour to a sculpture, which has the effect of reducing the apparent weight of the material. This can only be intentional. Some of her work looks hefty , some of it light and airy. What seems to be steel may actually be canvas. O' Connell at one moment pursues a stability she is quite prepared to subvert.
She views experiments with new materials as a means of disinterring memories long buried within her. The process of making sculpture is in some positive and potent sense a process of self- discovery, as well as a way of coming to terms with an
understanding of the world. As she has said " What really interest me is that materials somehow work to bring memories up to the surface . These are real memories - they are very specific and they are very private. I don't know how that happens that spark is what fascinates me."
The process is similar to the direct tapping of the subconscious the Surrealists attempted. Its results couldn't be more different.