Friday 18 October 2019

Art: What lies beneath

Cathedral by Edward Delaney

Bronze, unique

Courtesy of the Estate of Edward Delaney and Adam's

Niall MacMonagle

Down through the years, when a song is sung and no one even remembers who wrote it, then that's immortality. Sculptor Edward Delaney's name may be unknown to the hundreds of thousands who see his work every day in Dublin but his magnificent, standing-tall Wolfe Tone, his Famine Family Memorial, his Thomas Davis with Angels fountain is the work of an immortal genius.

When his Wolfe Tone was unveiled in 1967, some thought it too tall but Delaney replied: "Tone figured life-size in a park setting would look like a leprechaun". And his Famine memorial was deliberately placed close to Tone because Delaney believed the defeated 1798 rebellion signalled Ireland's disastrous Famine in the 1840s. Exhibitions in Paris, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Budapest, New York gained Delaney an international reputation and Louis Armstrong commissioned a sculpture to commemorate the US servicemen's children left behind in Germany when the daddies returned home.

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Born in Claremorris, the Delaneys, Edward Delaney claimed, were descended from De Laniers, French stonemasons who arrived in Mayo in the mid-19th Century. Delaney's grandfather made stone fireplaces, his father was a woodcutter and he himself left school at 14 to work in a hardware shop. Tiring of this, he headed to Dublin where he attended NCAD without having enrolled. Studying bronze sculpture and casting in Munich and Rome followed and he subsequently worked in foundries in Germany and France. Back in Ireland, he set up his own studio and foundry in Dun Laoghaire and 20 years later settled in Carraroe where he developed a sculpture park on his 21-acre farm.

Drawings, lithographs and this sculpture, Cathedral, display Delaney's remarkable ability to create powerful, smaller artworks. Both representational and abstract, this unique piece, 120cm x 60cm, is both rock or tree trunk and a commanding asymmetrical presence. The opening could be a Gothic doorway, a mysterious cave. Its beautifully textured, patinated surface gives the work a fluency and solidity, movement and stillness. Cathedral means seat or chair but this artwork echoes, perhaps, Matthew 16:18: "you are Peter and on this rock I will build my church". In that well-known, black-and-white, Irish Writers poster [12 in all and all men] behind a seated Patrick Kavanagh, his friend Edward Delaney's Cathedral is clearly seen. Both poet and sculpture have a lyrical roughness; both are steady, strong, grounded presences.

Cathedral at Adam's, Irish Art Auction, June 12

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