John Gibbons

Catalogue Text, 1991-1995

1995

Irish Steel

Model Arts Centre, Sligo

Crawford Municipal Art Gallery, Cork

Limerick City Gallery of Art, Limerick, Ireland

Published to coincide with the exhibition Irish Steel at the Model Arts Centre, Sligo

Gandon Irish Art Books

ISBN 0946641595

John Gibbons

Mark Ewart

Having spent two years at the Crawford School of Art, John Gibbons moved to London in 1972 to study in the sculpture department at St. Martin’s School of Art. The school had a reputation during the sixties for its various avant-garde practices. For instance, John Latham, in typically subversive fashion, consumed a copy of Greenburg’s Art and Culture. In terms of content, such practices were far removed from Gibbons’ more tangible work in steel. many of the influences that  applied to the others in this show, such as Smith and Caro, apply also to Gibbons. However, his modus operandi placed him more in line with the neo-Dada practice of assemblage, using found objects in raw, usually untreated states, in the manner of Richard Stankiewicz.

Throughout his career, Gibbons has become increasingly concerned with the type of found objects he will use. Early pieces such as Jive (1981) and ‘Fargo’ (1981) were constructed from rigid steel girders that made it difficult to manipulate or reinterpret form. He rectified this in subsequent work by selecting objects that have an inherent visual appeal or presence.
Multifarious industrial debris, such as axles, ducts, gratings, boilers, etc, are assembled into structurally confrontational forms that demand attention. His sense of aesthetics, no matter how misplaced in conventional terms, is ensured through a healthy discourse with the materials. he has a keen eye for extracting the worthy from the useless, allowing materials to breathe presence and character. While never seriously attempting to conceal the identity or source of the found object. Gibbons does introduce paint (usually brick-red, yellow, blue or green), applied with either irreverent daubs and splashes that run down the objects, or more regulated bands of colour, not unlike the finish found on a ship’s hull. Frequently he will leave the natural or existing colours untreated, highlighting the rust and worn paint with glinting areas of polished metal.

Despite such fluency with the materials, Gibbons is not seduced by their inherent form, often reconstituting their initial shape and appearance beyond recognition. Furthermore, he uses scrap metal as a motif in itself that transcends its humble origins, infusing an altogether higher objective based upon specific recollections of time and place. These include his rural upbringing in close proximity to the Burren, as well as the surrounding ruined castles which he explored as a child.

The potential for narrative or figurative association association alternates between pieces, his early small, shrine-like sculptures were derived from an obvious literal source, resembling both church tabernacles and Eastern temples. The use of metal in this body of work was highly evocative of these subjects, whereby in the latter case it seemed to resemble weathered stone from Biblical age. Similarly, while Temptation (1986-89) is suggestive of male and female genitalia, with a vulvar opening fixed to a phallic column, In the Name (1992-93) is reminiscent of an alter, with the circular bowl-like shapes possibly symbolising Eucharistic hosts. This ambiguity is frequently the essence of the work, where the sexual and religious themes are gently proffered, allowing room to consider the intricacies of each sculpture, not only in terms of construction but also of its associated histories.