At our ArtWorks opening in Letterkenny, we saw Redmond and Orla Herrity for the first time in a year. Redmond is a superb stonecarver, and he invited us to come by his studio the next morning.
He’s carving some replacements for damaged stones in the spire of Letterkenny Cathedral (more accurately, Saint Eunan’s), and everyone in the region is familiar with the huge stone cross that towers on the other side of the street, incised with Celtic knots & tangles that have roots in pre-Christian Irish culture. His grandfather worked on the cathedral when it was being built over a century ago, and he and his ancestors’ work is bound up with the fabric of life in this part of County Donegal.
His personal work delights in the paradoxes of mass and fluidity that are brought about when pliable materials are “turned to stone.” One piece seems to have been indented, impossibly, by the pressure of a finger. Another piece translates a scrap of twisted sheet metal, found on the beach, into unyielding marble. (Image below.) This material, of course, can’t twist even a micron without cracking or shearing off, and the ambiguities of representing the soft with this hardest of sculptural materials has fascinated sculptors since Bernini and beyond.
Herrity is immersed in the timeless concerns of an ancient craft, with an eye and a mind shaped both by contemporary art and by enduring craft traditions. Stone carving takes an enormous amount of time. To put this considerable expenditure of time and strength into making something that borders on the absurd, like a gleaming granite and marble tissue box, results in an object that has an odd power to it, simultaneously labored and offhand casual.
From the way Herrity talks about carving stone, you might think that weeks of patient labor were effortless and easy. By Orla’s account, he’s a driven worker by temperament, cheerfully up before dawn to get started tapping, chiseling, drilling, filing, polishing. Twenty, fifty, a few hundred hours labor on a project is no big deal, one senses, if doing the work is both your art and your pleasure. He’s as sociable and sharp-witted as anyone I know here in Ireland, but he wants to get back to work before too long. Have a look at his website.