Oxen of the Sun – Odyssey Project, ongoing
On several occasions Odysseus is disobeyed by his men and it usually ends in disaster. This is the last time his crew will go against his orders as none of them survive the episode.
Taking refuge on the island of Thrinacia, Odysseus issues to his men a strict injunction against harming the sacred cattle of the sun god Helios. They get hungry of course and ignore the warnings, killing and roasting the animals. All but Odysseus gorge themselves on the forbidden flesh and when they set sail again he is the only one that survives the storm sent by Zeus to punish them.
I see this as being about the confusion between the spiritual and the temporal, like the people who read sacred texts as if they were instruction manuals, often wreaking havoc in the world and bringing misery instead of enlightenment.
I have approached 2 aspects of this part of the story. Creating an image of the cattle, I felt they had to be something extraordinary with patterns alien to anything in nature. Some of my studies look at the principle exploited in ‘dazzle’ camouflage, of breaking up a shape with random illogical patterning. Another finished piece uses the chaos of the rubbish tip to take the animal out of the natural world – as if it had entered another dimension.
Scratching images and designs into wood, rock or bone is one of the oldest activities in our creative history. In the sequel to the desecration of the sacred cattle I have chosen bone engravings to depict the demise of the sailors. I used ox bones found on river Thames beaches at low tide; they have a ready made patina which I augment with an oil scumble.
The Kohler Arts/ Industry Award
The Kohler Arts Industry programme enables artists to work in cast iron, vitreous enamel and high fired ceramics in a factory environment at their plant in Wisconsin. 2 studios are embedded in the factory and the selected artists work alongside Kohler employees using the same production facilities. Kohler make a range of bathroom and kitchen wares in enameled cast iron and glazed porcelain.
Iron casting is done using resin bonded sand moulds which have to be re-made for each cast. Ceramics are cast in plaster moulds with slip (liquid clay) and fired to 1,260º centigrade. Artists are expected to do all their own physical work, with the exception of pouring molten metal, from start to finish.
I was awarded a residency for 12 weeks this summer where I gave myself the task of creating cast iron forms with complex surface decoration,. This was impossible to fit into a production system where enamel was applied in powdered form onto pre-heated metal. I first had to enamel my pieces, then decorate them when cool and bring them up to firing temperature in a studio kiln rather than the factory furnace. Using a form of lithography I had developed for printing onto curved surfaces I applied images and graphics onto my forms and fired them to a point where the metal oxides in the ink fused into the enamel.
Following my ongoing subject of Homer’s Odyssey I created a crash helmet for Odysseus; a conflation of battle armour and motorcycle headgear. I also used engraving and incising as means of decoration. Taking the precedent of Etruscan mirror backs (much admired by Picasso among others) I cast objects with engraved lines, then filled the lines with enamel before firing them. ‘Aeolus’ uses a frame from a Desperate Dan comic strip to depict a scene where Odysseus is shunned by the keeper of the winds, his men having mistakenly opened a bag of winds thinking it to be treasure.
Using lines deeply incised through plastic film onto a clay pattern, I relied on the simple line relief to simulate the graphic imprint on a biscuit or cracker. This piece suggests the solo voyage Odysseus made from Calypso’s island. He is not yet destined to reach Ithaca but his purpose is clear and his means stripped down to basics, like the ship’s biscuit that was the staple of seafaring folk for millennia.
As consequence of eating the sacred ‘Oxen of the Sun’, Odysseus’s men lose their lives in a storm at sea. These hand decorated ‘snack packets’ were fired to a level where the enamel just began to flow as it fused onto the metal, giving the figures the distorted appearance of being under water. Many American snack products are made in the form of animals and shapes relating to popular culture. ‘Doomed Sailors’ are my invention, but if ‘The Odyssey’ is ever made into a blockbuster movie, expect interesting merchandise.
Surface Tension – three artists who work on unusual surfaces, Molesworth Gallery, Dublin.
Commission to design St Patrick’s Day postage stamp for An Post, Ireland.
Meditation on Plates – group exhibition, Irish Pavilion at Expo, Milan
Commission to design permanent artwork for new exhibition centre in Kaohsiung, Taiwan