Carraholly Exhibition 2012

In September 2012 Ronan Halpin had a solo exhibition of his work in Carraholly, Westport, Co Mayo. The venue for the exhibition was the beautiful, secluded gardens of Pierre Blezat who runs a guest house from there. Pierre invited Ronan to show his work in his house and gardens which overlook Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick.┬áThis was Ronan’s first solo exhibition since 1994. In the intervening years he took part in many group exhibitions and has shown his work every summer in his own gallery in Keel on Achill Island.

The work for this exhibition consists mainly of large scale outdoor pieces alongside some smaller works inside. The theme for much of the work is based on the figure, whether it is human or animal. The sculptures are mainly constructed in a combination of steel, corten steel and concrete.
Credit due to John Nikolai for the photographs in the catalogue.
The Forge (below) by Hugo Hamilton was included in the catalogue.

The Forge

He stands in his leather apron, blackened by flying metal filings. His hands are huge inside his protective gloves. His dark goggles give him the eyes of a giant fly. He does not speak because his mouth and nose are covered with a breathing mask and his ears are sealed with headphones. Behind him, the door is open onto the Atlantic, but he hears nothing. He is surrounded by the extreme silence of his work and his solitude, the internal silence underneath the violent screaming of steel.
All around him are the amputated metal off-cuts, pieces of Corten steel which he favours because they rust so well, like a thin layer of dried metallic blood, the same colour as traditional galvanized roofs across the landscape. His working companions are the welding cylinders and the cutting equipment and the angle grinders. And there is a film of rust over everything, over the old CD player and over the picture of the sacred heart, hanging among the tools along the wall. Even his arms and face and lungs cannot escape that fine layer of rust the shade of fake tan.
The shape of his work is created out of the shape of his memory.
The sculptor Ronan Halpin grew up in Drogheda, on the east coast of Ireland, between Dublin and Belfast. His mother and father met on holidays in west of Ireland, in Keel, on Achill Island. They became so attached to the island that every year, they brought their large family of children back to Achill to spend the summers there. So it’s not difficult to understand why Ronan Halpin decided to stay behind and set up is life as an artist in this summer landscape where his parents’ first meeting became mixed with the first memories of his own childhood at Keel.
He creates the arched back of a horse. The square rusted mouth of a horse. The neck of a horse with a frozen metal mane. The head of a horse in poured concrete. Bird shapes petrified in steel flocks. And again the eyes of a horse emerging from pieces of steel that seem to take on animal motion, steel that bends and moves and breathes and runs like horses.
Where do these shapes come from?
As a small boy, Ronan Halpin became fascinated by a print of wild horses hanging on the wall of their summer cottage. It showed a scene of horses in full flight, with manes thrown back and eyes enlarged, an unashamedly romantic image, he says, you might see on a Christmas box of Cadbury’s chocolates. But nonetheless, this image held an unlimited fascination for a young boy’s imagination, even more so because those wild horses were soon to come to life.

He remembers the real horses of Achill. He remembers the blacksmith of Keel. The stone cabin of his forge, close to the main road, still remains untouched, now surrounded by a green patch of grass. A faded, blue painted door opens in on the darkened single room left behind by the blacksmith, where the anvil still stands.
And the horses are still real. Large and real and terrifying as ever in memory. Free from all laws, they once roamed along the shoreline of Keel, in a place called the sandy banks. Of course they all had owners, but they reverted to the state of a wild herd along the flat dunes of Achill. It was their free zone, where they lived ungoverned and ran wild, where the summer caravans are parked now and where they play golf and where the surfing lessons take place.
He remembers them coming up the road, the horses of Achill. They took it into their heads from time to time to leave the sandy banks and range around the island, coming in a herd, galloping and scattering all in front of them along the road. The children were all told to run inside. Keep indoors, was the shout that went all around. The sound of their hooves were heard getting louder. And the horses, maybe a dozen, maybe more, maybe fifty or even a hundred in the mind of a boy, with wild human eyes, came running. Horses terrified of their own presence, terrified of the force of their own hooves, terrified by the power of their own herd, charging the main road through the quiet seaside, holiday village of Keel.
The forge has now moved. It is no longer the blacksmith who bangs and grinds the pieces of metal there but the sculptor Ronan Halpin. About a half a kilometre further up from Keel, out along the road to Dooagh, you find his forge, where he creates the more abstract result of his own memory. He is the smith now. And the horses are coming back, untamed figures shaped out of Corten metal and poured concrete and white marble, charging through with no reins to keep them, rearing up and shaking their manes and grinding their steel teeth.

Hugo Hamilton