Eilís O’Connell

The Derry born sculptor who fashions extraordinary images from many varied materials

Eilís O’Connell was born in Derry in 1953. She studied at Crawford School of Art, Cork and Massachusetts College of Art, Boston. Her numerous awards include those from the British School at Rome (Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellowship, 1983-84) and the Royal Society of Arts (1998). She had sculpture residencies at the Centre du Sculpture, Montlieu, France, and Delfina Studios, Manilva, Spain in 1996.


The Wind Column (1982)


O’ Connell has built her career largely through public commissions.One of these The Wind Column (1982) was commissioned by Derry City Council to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s landing near Derry. The artist concieved this environmental sculpture to read both as a vertical statement, revealing itself to the approaching visitor, and as aerially viewed directional markings on the ground in keeping with the aviator’s viewpoint. Prior to this O’Connell had worked a lot on ’very grounded things’, which rested on a few points of impact. Wind Column was a break from this.


Slate Columns (1979)


The column form has been the architectural element that has intrigued post-modern classicists intent on re-invention and subversion. Slate Columns (1979), made of steel, slate and cement, and shown at the Oasis sculpture exhibition in Dublin, appeared, as if overnight, like some organic growths extruding something vital from the earth.
After suffering from a whiplash accident she also wanted to work with lighter materials, and began to use steel in a lighter, freer way, manipulating it like drawing. ‘I lost my interest in volume because I had so much problem with weight, just handling weight, and I had a very bad back complaint.’


Hot with Inward Heat (1990), Ad Astra per Aspera (1990)


A visit to South America exposed the artist to a lush sensualism in the exotic plant life there. Her objects became fabricated in steel and painted canvas, with deep impregnations of colour, stitched, ribbed, stretched to complete an enclosure with openings. Ad Astra per Aspera, in painted steel, fish-mouths an invitation, while one ’partner’ in Hot with Inward Heat lets off a little steam.


Her most noted commissions include Secret Station, a sculpture in bronze, fibre optics and steam for Cardiff Bay Art Trust, sited at the Gateway, Cardiff, in 1992; Vowel of Earth Dreaming its Root, a large outdoor sculpture in Kilkenny limestone for London Docklands Corporation, Isle of Dogs; and Pero’s Footbridge at St. Augustine’s Reach, Bristol, in 1999.


O’Connell continues to fashion out of various materials – from stone and rubber to steel cord, sheet metals, glass and plaster for casting in bronze – the most extraordinary images.