Thomas Kirk’s sculpture of Horatio Nelson’s head, now on display in the Dublin City Library and Archive on Pearse Street, was once on top of Nelson’s shoulders and on top of Nelson’s Pillar on O’Connell Street until it was blown up in 1966. Oversized to account for the acute angle and distance at which it would be seen, up close to the pocked and pitted stone the effect is monstrous and cadaverous – at eye level it’s hard not to see a death stare and rictus!
Starting with a badly rubbed charcoal drawing, I made a series of consecutive drawings on the sheet in my studio. The idea was to document the stages of my own destruction of the drawing through overworking with a heavy hand, knocking back with a cloth, lifting out with a brush and then re-drawing. The day’s work would end with the eventual erasure of the image. I’ve since experimented with ways of turning the consecutive drawings into sequential or ‘cinematic’ images as a way of dramatising the process. An online exhibition of sequence of six of the twenty-one resulting scans is on my Open Gallery website (in zoomable high def), here.
Each of the six drawings appear to be coming in and out of focus at the same time. The ‘Google art’ style seamless zoom function gives a privileged view of the drawings; one can see the grain and deckle of the paper and the scoring of its surface; one can sense just how fluid charcoal can be as a drawing medium and also just how friable it’s in nature. As ever, magnification gives new significance to the density of a drawn mark and a kind of monumentality to the wavering traces of the hand.
In light of the current destruction and looting of ancient archaeological sites and museums and religious buildings in Iraq and Syria – the latest in a long history of ‘cultural cleansing’ – the thought was in my mind that there was scope to consider ideologically motivated iconoclasm in an Irish context.
The object biography of the head is bizzare too – it was kidnapped by NCAD students for a provo-chic fashion shoot, all balaclavas and Mod dresses! That story is told here. Flann O’Brien couldn’t have made it up!