Maurice Harron's Reflections on Form
The sculptor takes Anna Maguire on a tour of his latest exhibition, where 'life in all its forms is at the core'
As I stumble onto ‘Ballet Dancer’, the first of 41 pieces on display upstairs in Strabane's Alley Arts Centre, I am immediately struck by the supple figure’s power and abandonment. Cast in intractable bronze, irregular cubic plates twist and turn into the ballerina’s powerful limbs, as she strains towards an invisible spotlight.
It is this ability to recreate physical movement in his sculptures that has made Maurice Harron a household name in Strabane, Derry, Donegal - wherever his public artworks are visible.
Positioned on a once heavily fortified border army site on the outskirts of Strabane, Harron's ‘Let The Dance Begin' (aka ‘the Tinnies’) - a series of five, larger-than-life-size musicians each playing a different instrument - celebrates shared musical traditions, and is one of his more well-known pieces.
Before we get around to the new works on show in his latest exhibition, Reflection on Form, Harron tells an illuminating story of two local politicians’ reactions on the day that 'Let The Dance Begin' was unveiled.
When the formalities were finished, Harron was approached by Strabane’s Sinn Fein representative, who pointed to his personal favourite: a bronze fiddle player mid-tune. Then came the DUP representative. His preference? An upright drummer. 'In other words,' Harron recalls, 'it said something to both of them.'
Reflection in Form consists of new works - none as big as the Tinnies - and provides more evidence (if it were ever needed) as to how and why Harron has become Northern Ireland's premiere public artist. It is his ability to connect with people that first brought his work to prominence.
'I have been working on public works for 20 years,' he said, as we walked around the exhibits. 'I am very aware that for a sculpture to be on show in the public zone, people who are not really into art have to feel comfortable with it. It should not be something they don’t understand. The sculptures I do for a gallery are very different, they are a more personal vision.'
The private influences and passions of the artist - a self-confessed nature enthusiast - are evident in the diverse sculptures. A few steps into the gallery a tawny owl stares down from his perch. From the canny geometry of the creature’s eyes to the autumnal hues of its stainless steel feathers, the meeting of vision and metal is masterful.
‘Ghost’, a 3D cube of intersecting steel lines, is more obscure. 'One of my best friends died about three or four years ago,' Harron explains. 'Suddenly he was not there. So I made his figure inside a cube, then burned it away and left whatever was around it to show the traces of his life. If you look very closely you can still see his figure.'
Life in all its forms is at the core of the exhibition. The partially obscured face of ‘Indifferent Man’, the sweet simplicity of ‘Fish and Man’, and the weighty oppression of ‘Man and Constraints’ are all testament to this.
However, it is sculptures like ‘Slipping over the Edge’ and six individual pieces entitled 'High Tower’ – back-to-back figures encircled inches from a precipice - that cite the collection as a portrait of its time.
'Because of the crises during the last two years people are feeling very vulnerable and isolated,' Harron comments. 'It’s about the crushing of belief. We have lost confidence in the economy, public life, in some priests, an area of life that has been so suddenly shocked, and kids can’t get jobs. It is that idea of humans at risk in a changing world.
'A lot of art is not an answer, it is more of a question. But it is also spiritual. It about everyday things, but it is also about the deeper meaning of what life is about. Art has and always will be about that.' A truly inspiring exhibition from a very humane hand, this is one to visit time and again - until it closes, on May 6.