A famine ship, a hen pheasant and a happy meal are just some of the iconic sculptures on display at the James Wray & Co gallery in south Belfast to mark the 25th anniversary of the CAST Bronze Foundry in Dublin.
The exhibition, CAST 25, showcases a variety of different works by 60 sculptors who have worked with CAST over the past two and a half decades. These include John Behan, Colm Brennan and Leo Higgins, who set up the foundry along with well-known Northern Irish sculptors, Chris Wilson and Anthony Scott and others.
While the price tag of the works ring in at anything from £1,000 to £20,000, Director of the gallery, Alan Wray, says the exhibition is of ‘great interest’ to students, collectors and art enthusiasts alike.
‘One of the more colourful artists is Guggi, who used to be in the seminal punk band the Virgin Prunes in the late 1970s but is probably best known for being friends with Bono and is the man responsible for labelling him with his nick name, which comes from a hearing aid shop in Dublin called, Bono Box,' Wray comments. 'His bowl is beautifully crafted and should do very well.'
Among the other fascinating pieces on display is Eamon O’Doherty’s ‘Maquette for Anna Livia’. He originally made the public sculpture in 1998 for Dublin’s O’Connell Street, which divided public opinion. ‘The full size Anna Livia sculpture was eventually put into storage during the O’Connell Street Redevelopment and was only recently re-installed in a new location,’ explains Wray.
The wide variety of pieces on show are eye-catching and thought-provoking in their own right, but their links to CAST makes the exhibition all the more interesting.
Specialising in fine art casting, CAST has produced some of the most famous public sculptures in Ireland and abroad, such as John Behan’s ‘Famine Ship’ (pictured above), which sits at the front of the UN Building in New York, and John Coll’s ‘Patrick Kavanagh’, which can be found on the banks of Dublin’s Grand Canal.
Artist and art historian, Dr Denise Ferran, explains that the foundry’s history is ‘very important’ when considering the development of art in Ireland. ‘25 years ago Leo Higgins, Colm Brennan and John Behan discovered that there was such demand that they stopped all of their other work and focused on art sculptures,’ she says.
Ferran explains that before the foundry was officially opened, Irish sculptors had to travel to England to get their work cast, which was a real hurdle for many. ‘Travelling to England was very costly and it was only after the CAST Foundry was set up that sculptors in Ireland began to flourish.'
Founder and sculptor Leo Higgins says that working at the foundry over the last 25 years has ‘been a journey that has seen the business grow, allowing us to develop the skills to take on the largest and most challenging projects’.
After overseeing thousands of castings, Higgins sees the CAST 25 exhibition in Belfast as a chance ‘to showcase a small selection of the marvelous artwork that we produce on a daily basis'.
CAST 25 runs at the James Wray & Co gallery until July 19.