Featured Artist No.2 – James O’Connor, Sculptor, Brosna, Co. Kerry

Brosna sculptor James O’Connor with one of his limestone creations.
Mariéad Moriarty with the second in her series of articles on the artists in her area.

Brosna based sculptor, James O’Connor recalls creating an abstract sculptural piece in sixth class. 

“It was made of matchsticks that I had glued together.  As part of the exercise, we were expected to explain what the object was if it didn’t exactly look like ‘something in particular’.  I can recall telling Maureen Donoghue, our Arts and Crafts teacher, that it was a Martian trapeze to get around the fact that the piece was something abstract and defied conventional description.”

James was filling Mairéad Moriarty in on his early endeavours in the world of art for her second feature on the artists in her neighbourhood.

By: Mairéad Moriarty

This is one of those common themes that arises when artists talk about the beginning of their artistic lives. 

The first significant and remembered creative step is usually taken around the age of 10.  

Also, a confidence and curiosity in the development of one’s art is another theme. It certainly helped that James’s home life was very supportive to creative exploration. Growing up in Brosna Village, his childhood home was filled with books, music and art. 

Learning the Organic Way

His parents encouraged James and his five older sisters to pursue learning in a way that was organic.  

“If you remember those Ladybird books about artists like Rembrandt and Van Gogh, they were lying around our house and I spent a lot of time looking through those”.

An extension of this interest in creativity found root in James’s enthusiasm for electronics. 

Exploring, Repairing, Improving

Exploring how things worked, repairing things and improving things was an influence from his father. 

It was this inclination that inspired him to go to college to study in this area.  

Parallel to James’s studies and subsequent engineering career in London, he was drawn to the idea of transformation. 

Giving New Expression

Taking something and through physical engagement giving it a new expression.

 “I used to go to Car Boot Sales around London and pick up old sterling silver cutlery. I would then refashion these pieces into jewellery creating objects like hammers and daggers that I generally gave to friends as gifts. And all this time, I was itching to really work on something bigger.  Something on a grander scale”.

Drawn to the Tate

Endlessly drawn to the Tate Museum in London and even cycling down to Cornwall to visit the Sculptor, Barbara Hepworth’s Garden Museum, James’s fascination with large sculptural works continued apace.  

 “I was very confined in my house in East London.  I remember I used to have to bring my motorbike up the front steps on boards and through the house to do any fine tuning as there wasn’t a garden.  It would have been impossible to contemplate bringing in large scale marble or stone to work on”.

Back to Brosna

Around the age of 30, it was this limitation that was the final catalyst in bringing James back to Brosna.

The space in and around his childhood home finally giving him the latitude to undertake sculpting on both large and small scales.

The precision of an engineer is visible in many of James’s pieces.  The word ‘balance’ reappears frequently when he discusses his work.  

“My influences are the landscape – not just here in Brosna, which by the way is spectacular, but the travels I’ve taken. 

Cycled Around India

As well as trips to South America, I cycled around India for six months. You absorb so much when you move at a slower pace.  You’ve time to connect not just with the physical landscape but to engage with locals. All journeys refuel my imagination and I am delighted to get back into my studio and translate what I’ve experienced into my work.”

James’s work, examples of which are featured here, are unique hand-worked pieces. Drawing on his lifelong passion for music, nature, architecture and engineering.

Kerry Red Marble

Producing mainly in native Kerry Red Marble, limestone or sandstone, integral to James’s work aesthetic is visual balance.  He has completed award winning commissions.  Producing pieces for the Irish Equestrian Federation, Kerry County Council, Irish National Collection and Cork Crematorium to name a few. 

He has collaborated with architects and designers as well as completing very specific and personal pieces for individual clients.  His work varies in size from pieces under 12 inches in height to more monumental sculpture.

Private Commissions

James completes many private commissions in addition to his corporate pieces.  Creating house name signs as well as pieces that add a unique element to the landscaping aspect of private homes.  ‘The Three Sisters’ was completed with large sandstone slabs that a client excavated during her house build.

The stone was transformed with the addition of coloured glass and brass into this evocative art installation that interacts with the light and terrain around its West Limerick location. 

What We Have Around Us

 “The joy is in using what we have around us, drawing forth a work that speaks to an instinctive and sometimes primeval part of us.  This stone will be here long after us. 

“What I’m doing is leaving just one small human imprint on the world I inhabit.  Honouring it.  Drawing forth a meaning and balance from something wild and untamed,” said James.

James O’Connor, Sculptor, Brosna, Co Kerry can be contacted by telephone 087 277 3046. www.brosnagallery.com

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