Jim Buckley’s Red Dragon sculpture will likely be acquainted to anybody visiting the Lee Fields on the southside of Cork. The metal construction dates to 1985, when Buckley, a graduate of the Crawford College of Art and Design, organised a Sculpture Symposium on the Anco Training Centre in Bishopstown. The occasion was supported by Cork 800, the committee established by Cork Corporation to commemorate the granting of town’s constitution in 1185.
Buckley invited 5 different artists – John Burke, Eilis O’Connell, Patrick O’Sullivan, Vivienne Roche and Hironori Katagiri – to take part. They had the usage of the amenities at Anco, together with the help of the centre’s skilled welders and trainees. All six produced work that was to be positioned at totally different areas across the metropolis.
“The symposium was a means of getting work made on the cheap, and having it sited,” says Buckley. “Otherwise, there was little chance of being commissioned to make anything in those days. There was no money around; you were always scrounging for materials and places to work in. My sculpture was mostly made of steel tubing I found in a scrapyard up on Dublin Hill. I was thinking about dinosaurs, but in a very abstract way, and the tubing helped me decide on the design.”
The finances for your complete symposium was round £20,000, with half being offered by Cement Roadstone, and the remainder by Cork Corporation and the Arts Council. “There was just about enough to pay the artists a small fee, and to cover the cost of their materials. In the case of the Japanese artist Hironori Katagiri, I think we paid his flight from Scotland, where he was working at the time.”
Two of the artists, John Burke and Patrick O’Sullivan, had been Buckley’s tutors on the Crawford. “John taught me all about metal and welding. After I graduated, we did a two-man exhibition at the Lavit’s Quay Gallery. Then I went to America for a while. I attended an international sculpture conference in Los Angeles, and spent a bit of time with an old schoolfriend of mine who was American. We got work painting murals on the hoardings around building sites.
“Then I drove cross country to New York, delivering a car for a rental company. The journey might usually take a few days, but I had the car for four days, so I got to see a few places along the way. In New York, I got work putting up posters for the very first production of the Cats musical.”
Buckley determined to return to Ireland when each his brothers had been getting married. “I was best man at one of the weddings,” he says. “So it seemed like a good time to come home. That was in ‘82, going into ‘83.”
There was a wholesome visible arts scene in Cork at the moment. Buckley had participated within the first SADE exhibition within the Crawford Art Gallery in 1982, and there have been different alternatives he might have pursued in Ireland. “But I’d got to know a couple of Scottish artists in America, who invited me to spend the winter at the Scottish Sculpture Workshop in Lumsden, outside Aberdeen. I went to a conference at Yorkshire Sculpture Park along the way, and then continued up to Lumsden. Back then, you could sign on [the dole] for three months at a time. You had your money coming in, and you could get on with things. I was working on a series called Torc. They were big twisted metal pieces. Everything was designed to go in the back of whatever vehicle I had at the time, so it could all be taken apart and re-assembled.”
Buckley spent the summer time of 1984 in Yugoslavia, within the city of Ravne, the place he was considered one of 4 worldwide artists invited to create new work as a part of a sculpture symposium.
When Cork 800 was introduced, he submitted a proposal for the same occasion in his native metropolis. “I had to sell the idea to the committee, obviously. But they were very supportive.”
Sites round Cork metropolis had been discovered for all six of the sculptures. Katagiri’s six-and-a-half ton work in granite stood on the junction of Patrick St and Winthrop St for a few years, however has since been relocated to the Lough. O’Connell’s ‘igloo’ sculpture is on the grounds of UCC, close to the Glucksman Gallery; whereas Vivienne Roche’s painted metal sculpture Airwave is on Penrose Quay; and John Burke’s summary work in metal is positioned on Blackrock Pier.
Buckley’s Red Dragon had solely a mile to journey to its current location on the Lee Fields, however the piece is 15 toes tall and 30 toes lengthy, and at one level the plan was to move it by helicopter. “Publicity-wise that would have been fantastic,” he says, “but it never actually happened. We moved it on a truck instead. I’m not sure my welding would have survived the experience anyway.”
Buckley nonetheless lives in Scotland, the place he teaches sculpture on the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, and could be very lively within the native arts scene. “I’ve been on the boards of Glasgow Sculpture Studios and the Scottish Sculpture Workshop, and currently I’m chair of Peacock Visual Arts in Aberdeen.”
He exhibits frequently in Cork, at venues such because the Triskel Arts Centre, and is happy that his sculpture on the Lee Fields remains to be in place. “The National Sculpture Factory had a maintenance scheme, and it came under that, so it’s always been looked after pretty well.”
That said, about twenty years ago, supporters of a local sports club painted the dragon in black and white stripes. “I didn’t mind that much, to be honest, but still, I’m glad it’s back to its original colour. I can’t remember now what supplier I got the paint from in Cork, but I’d describe it as a Massey Harris agricultural red. I just think that suits it better.”