Sunday 15 September 2019

Local sandman brings dreams to life at castle

Balgriffin sculptor Daniel Doyle works on a sand sculpture at Ireland’s first International Sand Sculpture Exhibition in Dublin Castle.
Balgriffin sculptor Daniel Doyle works on a sand sculpture at Ireland’s first International Sand Sculpture Exhibition in Dublin Castle.

By Andrew Phelan SAND. The stuff gets everywhere. Weve got used to picking it out of sandwiches or shaking it from our shoes in the last few weeks after the soaring temperatures sent us packing for the beaches.

But for local man Daniel Doyle, sand is a serious business. The Balgriffin sculptor is one of a group of artists behind the staging of Ireland’s first International Sand Sculpture exhibition, currently taking up much of the upper courtyard at Dublin Castle.

Daniel is one of three members of the group Duthain Dealbh, along with Meath man Fergus Mulvany and Niall Magee from Co Wicklow, who have just completed the massive sculpture - with a little help from some overseas friends.

Last year a similar exhibition by Duthain Dealbh (‘fleeting sculpture’, in Irish) drew large crowds and this summer, the event has gone international, with sculptors from Bordeaux, Catalonia and Glasgow joining the Irish group.

The exhibition has grown from one to three sculptures this year and the organisers intend to build on its scale annually until it becomes a 10-sculpture event, including solo pieces by as many international artists as possible.

On this year’s work, Daniel explained that the three pieces are all linked together to form one large composition, following the theme of dreams, with the carved figures moving through the various stages of sleep, dreams and awakening.

The final sculpture is the result of collective ideas by the different artists, and a large degree of improvisation as it took shape.

More than 80 tonnes of sand had to be transported to the castle from Rathcoole, Co Dublin, for the event.

Before any carving could take place, it had to be surrounded by a wooden frame and ‘whackers’, or concrete vibrators, were used to compact it into a usable state for the sculptors.

The sand was built up to pagoda or ‘ziggurat’ forms, becoming narrower until the tallest point was 10 feet high. After four days of preparation, the teams then sculpted from the top down.

The Irish group has already exhibited in sandsculpting exhibitions all over the world, winning several competitions in Denmark, China and even Siberia, where they worked in snow and ice.

Although the Dublin exhibition will be seen by the estimated 14,000 people daily who pass through Dublin Castle, sandsculpting events in countries like Belgium attract crowds of up to a quarter of a million people. The group maintains that Irish weather conditions are perfect for the work, as the rain is ‘not heavy, just constant’.

Daniel stresses the importance of the performance aspect of their work that makes the sculpture as much a spectator event as a finished work of art.

‘People appreciate the chance to see something being made live, in front of them. We have had people hanging around for hours watching the progress of a piece,’ he says.

The group is striving to keep the event free to the public - and continues to seek sponsors to make this possible. ‘We have the technology, the contacts, everything that is needed to run it. All we need is the sponsorship’.

The exhibition at Dublin Castle did receive a grant from Dublin City Council, with the castle management providing the rest of the funding, but it is not a money-making event. So what is the incentive for the sculptors?

‘This is something we have been doing around the world for the last 10 years,’ Daniel says.

‘It’s absolutely huge in other countries and we would really like to share it with an Irish audience. It’s also a way to pay back our friends from around the world whose countries we have visited when taking part in competitions.’

‘We are bringing art out of the galleries and trying to make it accessible for as many people as possible. We think it’s a form or sculpture that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and from all walks of life.’

According to Daniel, sand is a medium that people can relate to using, as everyone has a childhood memory of building sandcastles on the beach.

‘People look at the sculptures and say, ‘wow, it doesn’t look at all like what I built when I was a kid on the beach in Tramore’, or wherever, but it seems like something they could actually do themselves, and they associate themselves with it. The difference is, they all grew up and we didn’t!’

Although the work is now complete, the sculptors expect to be on site over the next five days to carry out repairs and adjustments.

The exhibition runs until August 31, when those with a more destructive streak can watch the whole thing come crashing down.