Welcome to a view through a window to my Art and Word-Play. Born in Ireland and regard the World as my home and therefore I am constantly seeking to discover myself through my art, to mold my own identity as a human being and to find a meaning in the Universe as to why I am here ... I create to feel alive and live in the certainty of the uncertainty happening in my Art/Life.
Visit www.daf-justdust.blogspot.com for my Quotes and Views on Life and my sculptures set to music on DAF ARTIST YouTube
James McKenna Sculptor, Playwright and Poet 1933-2000
I am not attempting to write a biography in this story though there are some biographical facts, but just my memories of
James McKenna, the Artist.
James had it hard as an Artist by all means but if he had it all over again would he change any of it ... yes, I think he would, but it was his life that made him the Artist that he was and though not all of the time, for James, the temperamental man he became and the bitterness that came in old age from a man who knew he was running out of time for his work. As for me I saw a different side to him and for that I am happy that our paths crossed, late as it was in both of our lives. He had a very small circle of friends and I was lucky that he included me in that circle, he had no living family that I knew off. He regarded his closest friends, you could count them on one hand, as a kind of 'surrogate family.' [My words, not his]
It was the first time for me that I was sitting in James's living room. We had met on and off at exhibitions and we took a liking towards each other as we both had the same, more or less, view points on Art and being the Artist, though I have to say I learned more from him, he was the master of his 'craft'. It was a small cottage that he rented out in the country not too far from the nearest town that he could cycle in and out for his few groceries. He was in his early sixties when he would still get up on his bike for the half hour peddle into the town and if he was not on the bike he would walk. It was not his way to look for a lift from a passing motorist but it was not beyond him to travel by public bus either, nor was he the type that would sit in the pub on his own when he got to the town but would within the company of those he could trust and relax with. Even though James spoke his mind and had views on just about everything he liked the attention he got, some was good and some, well, not so good. He could not tolerate people been 'downtrodden' by those in politics or any power of authority. He was always looking for justice for the 'common man.' He has been known to stage in public his one-man demonstrations for the 'rights' of the people and for support for the Arts from the government. He believed strongly that the Arts should be accessible to everybody and not for the 'chosen' few or the elitist of society. ''Art for the people'' is what he preached. James studied at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin Ireland and graduating with a diploma in sculpture in 1955 and a six months scholarship for Florence Italy. On his return to Ireland he stayed in London for a time to earn some money doing, what most Irish men did at the time, labouring jobs, but in time he made his way back to Ireland and started showing his sculptures in the few exhibitions that were taking place in Dublin, maybe around the late 50's and early 60's. It was not easy for an Artist to make a living from his work in these times, and most went abroad to pursue their Art, but James stayed in Ireland because I feel he had a love-hate thing going with the country and genuinely wanted to improve the situation for the Arts and the 'Working Artist', ironically, as for James he did not receive his first commission for sculpture until 1977.
Books were stacked on the floor by the chairs or along the wall with out-of-date newspapers, and maybe by year too. There was a table in the corner but you could not see the top, it was covered with sketch pads, empty cups with the drags of mouldy tea creating their own laboratory for fungus to grow even in this cold room, pen drawings with some colour and sheets of music scattered all over even onto the four chairs around the table. I think at the time of my visit he was writing some music score down that was going around in his head along with all the other stuff that was in there. I believed he played the piano but I have never heard him play. His interest in theatre developed in tandem with his sculpture. In 1959 he wrote his first and most successful play, 'The Scatterin', about emigration in the 'teddy-boy' era of London and Dublin. This play was one of the hits of the 1960 Dublin Theatre Festival and was later staged in the West End of London where it ran for five weeks. He also wrote poetry too. James was the all-round Renaissance man and never stopped his search in seeking knowledge. He had a fondness for the Irish history and I believe he was writing a book as his own contribution .. it would have made an interesting read coming from James for I also believe he would have wrote it as it should be.
There was a small fire-grate in the room but it was so clogged up with ash from god knows how many fires that you had more hope in lighting a fire in heavy rain and wind than you would have in that fire-grate. There were two doors in the room, one coming from the kitchen, aaa-the kitchen, if a health inspector came into the house he would close it down and have James quarantined for observation, top and bottom .... and the other door was leading out into a hall way, with standing life-size figures in bronze and plaster, with rooms running off as bedrooms and a bathroom, which I could assume had more sculptures, finished or work-in-progress. Sitting in that 'living room' was like sitting on top of a mountain, what with the wind passing through it singing it's tune in a high pitch whistle coming from the kitchen and out into the hall, I would think I would be warmer on the mountain top. There was no T.V. and I am trying to remember if there was a radio, if there was I did not see it. I could safely say his entertainment was his work and his books and I would feel he was an early-to-bed person, a habit from childhood and a means of keeping himself warm. There was no woman in his life and I never heard of one. For a woman to 'love' James she would want to be a very special woman, for James to let her even close to him she would want to be very special.
His relationship with the female sex might have been kept at a distance due to the fact of his dedication to his Art and that James was brought to a Mother and Baby Home run by catholic nuns or brothers, when he was a few days old. His mother stayed with him for a couple of days, [she did not 'go and leave' him on the same day] before they both went their separate ways, she went to 'service' in one of the big houses and James to live with a farming family in County Wicklow, as a 'boarded-out child', which means to me that he was hired-out as labour by the orphanage to the farming family.
I would feel it was quite heart breaking, if not a desperate situation for James's mother to give up her son and that maybe he was born out of marriage, [ this is my own assumption on it ] .... and if I am right, the shame of it would be too much to bear for her in Catholic Ireland of the 1930's. To give James some hope in this life in having a better chance than what she might have felt she could ever have provided for him ... this was the only way open to her if her son was to be kept alive. This was the 1930's on a small island at the butt end of Europe. This was the mentality of an island people dominated by a church and brain-washed into fear of the afterlife and 'sin in this life'. Non-stop it was preached to them every Sunday from a church pulpit and even within the casual meeting in a home or on the street. In these times the church ruled by fear and had a stronger 'say' with the people than the government at the time, in so much as the government also feared the church with it's hold on the people. James's mother went from the orphanage to 'service into the big houses' ... I think James never had contact with her again. This was something he did not speak about very often but it was from others who knew of James and himself talking briefly about it that story took form in my own mind.
Sittingin his living-room, tea in hand, I remember it to be an afternoon of gray light and a bitter cold day, raining non-stop, and the light already fading, I think it was raining all that week. The cold rain never seems to stop, it's what I can remember most of back then, the rain and the cold but for James he had not noticed the rain and if he did he passed no comment on it, small talk was not his way and the weather was not going to stand in his way of him working. James was not a very tall man, I would think about five foot six in height. Physically strong for a man of his age, big chest and hands like shovels, carving stone is what made him like this or either he was 'built' to make sculpture. Another thing I will always remember about James .. he had no gray hair but a full head of light brown hair that was side parted from his left and had the habit of running his hand through it, I would think more as a 'comfort thing' than keeping it in check for appearances sake.
I was sitting in a light brown chair that had taken on a new colour of brown in it's life time that if anybody else had owned it it was long gone to the council dump but I doubted if James even noticed that too, maybe that's not fair to say ... let me put it this way then, if he did pay any attention to the chair and it's condition it did not bother him, it would be only for sitting in, to support his tired body after long hours of working the stone or wood for his 'horses'. He was not the man who needed the material things of life for he was simple in his way of life. As I say ... we were drinking hot, strong tea, tea was always on the 'go' with James and eating his home-made cake also made from tea. I knew he would live on tea and cake or bread and jam for days without cooking a proper meal for himself but to be truthful money was scarce for James and I would also feel he would not take hand-outs from people but would have preferred to sell his sculptures. I don't think that he was not bothered about cooking for himself but due to the fact he had little money and what money he had he put it back into his Art, but after spending the whole day in carving stone or wood he would be too tired to cook. I have been there myself.
From where I was sitting I had a view out of the window to his driveway and could see someone walking towards the front door of the cottage in the rain. I recognized the familiar markings of the Electricity Supply Board van parked at the locked gate to his driveway ...
I said to James ...
''Looks like you have another visitor coming'',
with that, James jumped out of his chair ran to the window opened it and shouted ...
''I am busy now, go away.''
and closed the window, sat back into his chair and drank tea. I could see from my own chair that the 'visitor' stood there for a while and then turned and walked back to his van, head down ... maybe cursing the 'grumpy-old-bastard' at the window.
I remember saying to James ..
''I think he only wanted to read the meter James.''
''So .. he can come back another day, you I don't see often enough and I don't use much of the stuff for them to be worried about.''
It was of no use in me explaining to James that they read the mater weather it's used or not.
We spent the rest of the afternoon talking about sculpture, mine and his. What he was working on and what I was working on. For the 'legend' sitting opposite me and he was a 'legend' in his own time for he was the living Artist's 'Artist', James sat there encouraging me to follow my Destiny as the Artist. James was not a selfish man when it came to parting information about some technique in carving or the making of tools in the forge, but I never visited him for information, just to be in his presence was enough for me. As a sculptor James McKenna shied away from the use of power tools, preferring manual techniques in carving stone or wood, which meant that the making of his sculptures, he liked to make monumental horses and one such sculpture comes to mind. It was 16feet high and 20feet long and took up to five years to make and his human figures were also life-size. The work was hugely labour intensive and uneconomic in this day and age. There is no question about it but James was a natural carver, that is, using hand tools only and tools he would make himself in his forge, using car springs or other steel he would come across or given to him. His sculptures when finely finished had a rough-hewn finish to them, he did not polish his stone but preferred to leave it in it's natural colour and a rugged quality which showed the working of his 'punch' or 'claw' chisels. They had a gracefulness and a presence hard to ignore, in spite of their monumental size. Horses remained one of his favourite subjects through out his artistic life. His enormous composite horses, ingeniously constructed from several blocks of stone or wood, were dowelled together in the same material. His work was 'labour intensive' to the non-artist but for James and speaking as a sculptor myself, it was a dedication to his Art and the 'strong will' to create.
I will always remember that day with James and will bring it to my own grave because for some reason it struck me as I was sitting drinking strong tea looking around me that all of his drawings and sculptures were of a family theme. Family groups as in a mother, a father and children some life-size in bronze others in plaster and others as working models for working up to a larger scale in stone at some later date. He did not take to abstract art and all of his work was in the classical nature.
I remember when I started to work on a 12ton block of limestone for my own horse to see if I could carve the horse but using one block of stone. I carved 'my horse' over a period of three years and now in a private collection but sited in public view.
A comment was said to me by another Artist that I needed to get Mckenna's 'permission' to do the horse that he had the 'franchise' on all 'horses'. At the time I did not take it as a joke as I was quite sensitive to the fact that I could be working in the 'shadow' of James and his 'horses' but I tried to make 'my horse' my own, in my ownstyle, and also at that time I was trying to make my own 'stamp' into the Arts in Ireland, but it was true that James made the 'horse' his own and for another sculptor to make the 'horse' he had to make it his own and not in the 'McKenna style.' He made them in wood and stone, assembled and carved and he made them big, two and three times life-size and some with mounted riders. I remember another horse and rider that he made, that I could walk under it's belly and my head was still at least one foot from the under belly of the horse. This was the man who went to a wood symposium in a forest in the north west of the country and stayed for maybe a year after the symposium event had finished to work on his sculpture of horses and a chariot, making it bigger and making it his own. You could imagine what the local people thought of the 'mad artist' working in the forest on his 'horses'. The huge sculpture has now rotted back into the ground because it was not looked after after he had finished the work. It's the people's loss of not having this work today but McKenna's gain for creating the work.
We lost contact for a while, due mainly to my own work, but he was never out of my mind for very long and would 'pop-in' now and again when I myself was working the stone ... and then I heard he died. Found dead in his bedroom lying behind the door. He had some 'Learn Greek' books on his bed-side table and books on Irish history. He lived his life on his own and on his own terms. Devoted his life to be the Artist and he died on his own because of that way he chose to follow 'his' Destiny as the Artist. I have wondered at times that if James was not the Artist and had a different life style or profession and with his applied dedication to all things he undertook I don't think he would have not died in poverty and alone, and if he had a family ... well who knows how it could have turned out for James.
James was not 'claiming fame' for himself in his work but I think he would be more in searching for the comfort of his fellow human beings in his Art and making his Art in the 'Mystic and Joy' of being that Human Being.
James died of cancer in October in the year 2000 at the age of 67 and I would like to think he might have had some say in that too, in that in the time he lived in, he did more than just make his contribution to the Arts in Ireland, for his time was right ... how much more of himself could he give, for he gave it all .... unconditionally.
''Life makes the Artist'' and life made James McKenna to be that dedicated Artist he was. I am happy to have crossed paths with him and drink strong tea. He was a 'Hero' to me to my own cause.
Till we meet again James ..... ''Have the kettle on.''
For more information on James McKenna visit
The Gerard Manley Hopkins web site.
The carving of the sculpture 'WISE' came to me as a private commission. My client was quite sure as to what he wanted as a sculpture for his garden and my brief was to make a sculpture to represent something on the lines of the Easter Island heads in stone.
After viewing his gardens a site was chosen for the finished sculpture and I set about making a model to scale. The choice of stone was left to me and I chose a Sandstone from Yunnan Province in
This sandstone was suitable for outdoors due to it's hardness and the stone had a very distinctive grain in it that looked like wood and when wet it had a golden hue which my client liked because of his passion for trees and therefore I ordered the stone in December 2005 in two blocks. My reason for this was due to transport on the roads and lifting into site by crane. The two blocks arrived into Ireland in March 2006 by sea and I began to work. The blocks were carved separate and then doweled on site and finished. I allowed myself three months to make and deliver to site, a little too tight a deadline working on my own but work-work-work and it can be done. It was delivered and sited on the appointed time to my client's satisfaction.
My reason in naming the sculpture ''WISE'' was because of my client. I found him to be a wise and humble man and to this day he does not know the true reason as to why the sculpture is called 'WISE' but when I presented my working model to him and told him the title I said, because it looks 'WISE'. When an Artist finds a client who allows him to 'listen to the stone' and be the Artist he is
I was destined to be misunderstood from the day I was born and that is the truth ....
''Am I out of the woods.?'' ''Are you speaking metaphorically now.?'' ''Metaphorically .... is that some new language they have found, maybe spoken by the people of the rain-forest .... they can see things in their world like that, I know if I was to live in the rain-forest I would, speaking metaphorically that is, are you with me on this.?'' ''Were you in the woods.?'' ''I was somewhere. I'm not going out there again, if that's what you mean.'' ''Why not.?'' '' I feel fine now, really I do. I'm full to the gills with anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and anti-god-knows-what, who wouldn't feel fine ... I feel fine, I do. Dreams are quite-quite clear, and boy-o-boy hallucinations are coming in loud and clear, more clear now the situation, I tell you I'm fine. Memories are not clear though, kind of not connected from the mind to the brain, but apart from that, I feel fine-fine-fine.'' ''OK, we go slow with it.'' ''Thank you .... that's fine too with me. We go slow.''
This is not the first time I have found myself in this predicament and it's certainly not the first time for me to be here but it's the first time she has spoken to me. I have noticed her around before, who wouldn't with that flowing red hair and swinging hips, mesmerizing to watch ... nice body too and she smells, not that strong, like over powering you that you are chocking to the point of vomiting ... smells so much like .... Strawberries. I love the smell of strawberries. Now days you can get strawberries in winter. There is no more season for strawberries anymore. Strawberries all year round. I wounder why they are called strawberries, maybe because they were berries packed in straw to keep fresh back in time, they are not the color of straw, nobody knows why anymore ... lost in time the reason for their name ... just like me. Strawberries forever. She is standing very close to me. She is not afraid of me. She is looking at me with motherly eyes. Shit .... what do I know about motherly eyes, I never knew my mother, maybe I crawled out from under a rock ..... that's it ..... I crawled out from under a rock in a strawberry field. I like the taste of strawberries too. She's to close now, I could almost lick her but that would be asking for trouble now ... better not. Keep my tongue in me head and concentrate on what she's saying to me. Keep the thoughts clean and my eyes off her thighs. Well, that sounds like I know what I am doing.
''Do you remember anything.?'' ''I remember the smell of strawberries.'' '' OK .... that's a start .... why strawberries.?'' ''I was born in a field of strawberries ... you smell very much like strawberries, do you know that.?'' ''You are speaking metaphorically.'' ''You like that word ..... metaphorically ..... where you born 'metaphorically speaking'.?'' ''OK .... I see where you are coming from ..... you like to play games.'' ''So you know where I was ... was I in the woods playing silly big boy's games.?'' ''I am here to help you, help you to remember that day ... we don't want to do this the hard way, do we.?'' ''I remember the smell of strawberries, but I think it's only because you smell like strawberries that I remember the smell ... are you going to play mother with me now.?'' ''So what happened in the woods.?'' ''Metaphorically speaking, to use your words .... well there was a list, I should say, there is a list. My name was not on the very long list of names nailed to the tree, my name was on another but short list on another tree. I saw it.'' ''Were you disappointed that your name was not on 'that' list.?'' ''Yes ... and no. I saw your name too, on another list, not as long as the first list and not as short as the list my name is on. It was on another tree.'' ''Is that why you were in the woods ... to see if your name was on the list.?'' ''I think so .... I was somewhere ..... I remember crawling through the leaves on my knees in the mud, feeling like I was a wolf .... had the senses of the wolf, sight and smell .... on all fours. I was wild. It was the thing to do at the time. It was natural for me, on all fours.'' ''Where you looking for something ... the list maybe, or did you drop something that you had to crawl around on all fours to look for.?'' ''What list, drop what ... what list are you talking about ... I don't know of any list, what list .... maybe the list of the dead .. is it the list of the lost souls ... are they coming after me. Do I know them. Do they know me. Do you know.?'' ''OK, we will forget about the list ... just try and take it easy. No one is going to hurt you, no one is coming after you. I just want to help you to remember, just relax, will you do that for me .... relax, try to relax, it's OK.?'' ''Relax .. relax ... relax .... I keep telling myself this and it's going to sound like, relapse ... relapse ... relapse .... well that's the truth, no getting away from the truth about that ... relapse .. relax .. relapse .. relax ... Shit, try saying that fast. Is my tongue in or out of my head.?''
She is not afraid of me, I can tell. She is leaning close to me now. Strawberry smell. Sweet strawberry smell. She has no idea how I wanted to reach out and touch her, I wanted too, so badly. I will try to stay calm and be normal as best as I can and relax, as she said to me, I think she said it ... relax. She has no idea how I wanted to be normal and stay calm ... all my life in fact. Her face has the same smile as mine ... I feel we are both professionals here ... I smiled harder ... and she's smiling back at me. This makes sense, yes, this makes sense to me. We are both 'smiling' professionals. She is going to help me remember and in that way I am helping her. I could feel my face contorting now .. the face of a psychotic, that's what she is thinking now, I am psychotic. I can see it in her expression. She must learn to hide that, from a professional point of view that is, if she wants people to 'trust' her. I know it looks so stupid now my face, I know it's stretched like a rubber mask, maybe it is a mask but I can still manage to smile at her. She is watching me, half sitting, half standing, looking into my eyes. She is very close now, getting closer, getting very close ... will I lick her face like a lollipop, tempted ... forgetting herself, shit, I'm the one forgetting myself here. Must try to remember .. I have to remember, I am the professional here, she has a lot to learn yet, still the young student .... toooo close. I know what she is doing, thinking about me, thinking will she ever get through to me. Maybe, she is thinking that I was having a paranoid delusion or delusions of a kind that become reality. You know the type. Strawberry smell forever, all over me.
''Do you think you were having paranoid delusions ... do you understand me.?'' ''HOLY SHIT ..... you are good, very professional. Was not expecting that .. that came out of nowhere. How did you know what I was thinking about ... can you read my mind? ... in that case I don't have to remember anything now. You only have to read my mind ... do some more.'' ''You were having a paranoid delusion, that's what is happening, do you know what I am trying tell you.?'' ''No .... are we playing a game now.'' ''I'm not too sure about that, what can you tell me about that.?'' ''Tranquility with-in the Human Being is interrupted by violence with-in the mind .... is that a paranoid delusion.?'' ''You could say that, in a simple way, but this is not simple, is it.?'' ''Are we speaking metaphorically now.?'' ''Who is 'we' that is talking now.?' ''Answer this for me .... memories are like delusions don't you think ... the more you try to remember the more it doesn't seem real anymore ... it's like a 'make-up-story' ... the fine line between your sanity and delusions. We are the delusion of our own mind ... how can you tell me I am having paranoid delusions .. you don't have the right, we all can have delusions ... some of us are good at keeping our delusions under control, and others make religions out of them and still others can delude millions of people with false hopes and promises and go to war .... then it becomes the 'Collective Ego' .... if you have a life you will know all about delusions ... get real .... you see, that can be a delusion too .... getting real. Love is a delusion .. I love you do you love me .. tell me that's not a big bloody delusion, please ... love my butt .... love, a motive for people to feel love .. to feel wanted ... don't start me on this one .. there are all kinds of sick love, but the 'real love' is loving yourself. Have you tried that one on yet.?.. don't start me. This is the truth, for a long time, can't remember how long now, I was under the delusion there was a man in the moon and that a cow jumped over it and that Humpty Dumpty could not be put back together again when he fell off the moon or was it the wall ... but it's no delusion, it's all so very much true, and nothing ...... and I know that's very much everything, everything, can't be put back together again, that's no delusion ...it's the known fact, wake up .... will I stop here, .. can I go for a pee.?'' ''There was blood on your clothes when you were found.'' ''Are you telling me or asking ... I told you, I don't remember .. why are you keeping this up, all these questions. I want to pee.'' ''Sudden psychotic transformations can be brought on by extreme trauma or stress .. I can help you to remember what happened out there in the woods ... try to remember ... how did the blood get on to your clothes.?'' ''We are both professionals here .... I am a doctor too .... I know this silly game too well. I was a top player, help make the rules. The rules that you are using now.'' ''Yes I know, I attended your lectures, read your books, you helped me to be where I am today .. you see you remember .... you are a doctor, you were the best, highly respected, always a full class and all of your books sold out, you were the top's in your field and research work ....You remember, that's good, this is very good, it will all come back in it's own time, just relax, we can and will do this together, you and me ... O.K.'' ''O.K., no point in playing this game anymore. You are going to find out sometime, so we cut the crap and get down to it. I am guilty and I am not guilty ..... who can judge me without a stain on their own soul. If we have the thought of doing it , we are guilty too, it may not be the physical action but the mental action can be just as good, if not done, we all will in time have done it, you have done it. We are all guilty from 'day one' ...... The Law of Karma ... need I go on ... but you know this could be the biggest delusion we live in .. who is to know ... do you.?" This whole suffering punishment, right here all around you called 'LIFE' ... L-I-F-E ... the full suffering package ... could be .. no .. is the bleeding-mother-of-all delusions. Are we not all guilty of this one fact, living in a delusion of are own making .... wake up woman, or am I the only one here that knows the truth to all this bullshit. Everybody is living the lie, the big lie from the sky ... I.C.H.T. ''What.?'' ''I.C.H.T. .. I cut her throat .. I-cut-her-throat .. Icutherthroat.'' '' Who's throat did you cut doctor.?'' ''M.M's ..... I cut M.M's.'' ''Doctor please, who's throat did you cut.'' ''M.M's ..... my mother's.'' ''Why would you do that.?'' ''Her sweet name was on the list nailed to that tree. The death list tree. We all can recognise it, the list, the tree, the woods. It's the animal instinct within us, we just have to open to it. All names on that list must die by the hands of a loved one ... it is written. I saw that written somewhere, or did I write that myself. Who's worrying now .. who cares ... not me ... not no more and not M.M's. Anyway, she did not smell like strawberries to me ... she smelled like decaying flesh all of the time because her name was on that list. When you are on that list you are already dying if not dead ... R.I.P. When I remember I will let you know where it was that I saw the list ... it will come to me, just need to relax with it ... but you smell like strawberries, did I tell you that.? Just remembered .. I saw the list on the tree in the woods .. see I remembered. Do you want me to tell you what list and tree your name is on .. I can.'' ''Yes, but you told me already ... I thought you were metaphorically speaking though.'' ''S.D.I. .... S.D.I. .... So did I ..... I am Humpty Dumpty and have fallen off the high wall trying to kiss the man in the moon. Will you be able to put me back together again, doctor.?'' ''We will take good care of you here doctor, but there will be no more trips to the woods to look for Lists ....O.K.'' ''Requiēscant In Pāce .. metaphorically speaking .. I mean. Are you still with me on all of this B.S. ... Betty Smith, that is your name is it not.? Betty Smith is on the list, on the tree, in the woods ... O' la-la ... If you go down to the woods today, you are sure to be in for a surprise ..... B.S. ..... Can I piss now ... PLEASE.?"