Ceramics Ireland Article: Pushing Boundaries

I was born in 1973 in Cork on the south coast of Ireland. When you combine the lack of technology in the 1970s and 80s with our wet climate you have a perfect environment for a child’s fertile imagination to grow …indoors. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to have had my childhood in that era and thankful to have been born into a creative household. My older brother and sister had set the stage for me with their artistic talents and I would think nothing of spending long hours of those rainy days with my head buried in a sketchbook.

While I finished school, I never excelled academically due to undiagnosed dyslexia. However, I did go on to Dun Laoghaire College of Art and Design (DLCAD) after completing two foundation courses. By 1996 I had completed my degree in Design Communications at DLCAD, returned to Cork for another year (just for good measure) studying Multimedia in St. John's College before starting a career as a graphic designer and illustrator.

Then in 2009 the wheels started to come off the Country and, as you know, many lost their jobs. I was amongst them. My love for graphics had already begun to wane before the crash and I found myself drawn to more tangible media.  I began carving little figures into sticks of chalk with a scalpel, finding it very therapeutic. I also had the learning bug: Over the next few years I did night-courses in woodwork, wood carving and ceramics.  Having completed a “Train the Trainer” Course, I became a Tutor teaching “Ceramic Carved Tiles for beginners” class locally.

A Very Happy Me

A Very Happy Me


By day I was working in a tedious job that made me nauseous just thinking about it but following the rekindling of a friendship with a childhood pal, who was a Potter, I realized that a happy, fulfilled life doing what I loved was both possible and attainable with the right attitude. Eventually, (and with the blessing of my wife) I saved enough to buy a kiln and cover major expenses for a year, before I gleefully handed in my notice. I had this window to figure out how to make my dream job and lifestyle work. Consequently, I bought a book called “How to Make a Living Without a Job”, which was to be the first of many self-help books.

Knowing it would be hard work and long hours, I put my head down and began... The first year was the hardest as I tried to develop my own style.  Beginning with carved tiles with a graphic twist, I progressed into sculptural figurative pieces. At the end of that year I was selling in a few galleries and had joined the Society of Cork Potters, something I had earlier dismissed as I wasn’t technically a potter, only to discover that all types of ceramic artists are welcomed. On joining, it gave me solace to know that others were pursuing similar lifestyles and succeeding and I set about visiting many of the members in their studios, probably driving them crazy but all were knowledgeable and generous with their time and I learned much through those conversations.

Currently, on my journey as a ceramist I have returned to the rock pools that once held such fascination for me as a child and reignite my curiosity in what lies beneath the surface. My observations of the inhabitants and fauna of these ever-changing tidal pools and of the deep and far-reaching oceans has brought me to the realization that the possibility, through observation, to progress my work is overwhelming and, like all tasks that initially seem impossible, one has just to begin.

Although mainly self- taught, over the last few years I have been delving into different techniques, fusing them seamlessly; hand building, slip casting, throwing and many surface-texturing techniques to name a few, encompass my work at present. Because of its diversity and complexity, I take great pleasure in searching the shoreline as well as the Internet for examples in nature for inspiration. For example, the contrast of using glazed and unglazed velvet washed ceramic, side-by-side on my vessels; reflects the symbiotic relationship of a shell and the flesh within. I also began exploring the possibilities of using slip for producing detailed textures, often utilizing common household items (perhaps otherwise discarded) for impressions and application. Once you start looking beyond an object's original purpose you find a never-ending supply of amazing tools.

The quote “God is in the details” by Ludwig Mies Vander Rohe, expresses that detail matters and I try to honour this in my work. Never has it been more relevant to shine a light on the importance of detail than in the times we now live in, where true craftsmen are becoming a dying breed. Consumer gratification is the new drug and the era of heirlooms is fast disappearing. I believe we are a lesser society for their absence. Never will you find the thumbprint of a maker in a mass-produced product and it is this lack of human touch, originality, which is turning our homes into sterile, homogenous environments.

I believe that a ceramist should spend their life honing their abilities and skills, pushing boundaries in texture and form and in so doing, documenting their progression through their work in the pursuit of mastering their craft in the time that they are given. As I get older I’m becoming drawn to the ideas of reincarnation and reinvention, as the impossibility of exploring all of the different facets of ceramics in one lifetime becomes more apparent to me as I spend my days joyfully lost in the process.