Phoenix rises: Peadar Lamb on shifting focus after studio fire claimed his life's work

The phoenix rises: new work after a conflagration for Cork Artist Rebuilding his art practice after the studio fire that claimed his life’s work has meant a shift of focus from stained glass to sculpture, artist Peadar Lamb tells Ellie O’Byrne.

It was a very public devastation. In summer 2015, stained glass artist Peadar Lamb was at an exhibition opening in Dublin when his studio, near Blarney, Co Cork, went up in flames.

A photo of a stricken-looking Lamb standing in the wreckage of his workshop featured on the pages of this paper; he’d been uninsured, he’d lost not only works in progress and costly raw materials, but also the drawings for all his most high-profile commissions, including a window for the Irish Repertory Theatre in New York.

Now, four years later, sitting in Cork’s Sternview Gallery, surrounded by his first solo exhibition since the fire and the slow rebuilding of his art practice, Lamb shakes his head at the memory of the aftermath of the blaze. A particular shock was the speed with which some people thought he should recover from the experience.

“I remember someone asking me if I was over it yet, three months after the fire,” he says. “I felt like, fuck you, you asshole. Have you any concept of what I’ve lost? You’re a rich fucker. Will I come and take away all your things and your lovely big house, and then come back in three months and ask you if you’re over it yet?

One of Peadar's artworks. Picture: Peadar Lamb
One of Peadar's artworks. Picture: Peadar Lamb

“But I understand why people responded like that: nobody wants anyone to be in pain and everyone wants people to feel better, immediately. And now, yes, everything is better. In hindsight, it’s just part of what has happened to me. Life isn’t in the past. You have to go with what you have.”

The arts community rallied around Lamb following the fire; a fundraiser was held, and he was offered studio space both in the National Sculpture Factory and the former Sample Studios on Sullivan’s Quay, now itself reduced to a pile of rubble. He used both, and especially space in the Sculpture Factory, to rejuvenate his art practice. Having built his name as a stained glass artist with decades of public and private commissions to his name, Lamb’s latest work is a marked departure from this reliance on one material.

Lamb’s new exhibition, The World Not Made Yet, contains two stained glass pieces, but also wood and metal abstract sculptures, photography and even tapestry.

The World Not Made Yet, he says, is about the potential to build anew. A shadow of the fire is present in this narrative; one photographic piece, Form After Fire, depicts a coil of wire Lamb found amid the debris of molten glass and metal in the burned-out shell of the studio.

“It’s about reconstruction, but it’s also about possibilities in parts of my life that have been denied,” he says, surveying his work thoughtfully.

“I grew up with my father building boats and I always worked with a lot of materials. All of a sudden, I started making stained glass and all this stuff got left in the background.

I felt it was unfair to myself in a way, like I was a transvestite or something, like I had another life that wasn’t being acknowledged. Now I’m out of the closet.

Lamb’s father, the stage and screen actor, also Peadar Lamb – his mother is former Fair City/Glenroe actress Geraldine Plunkett – died in 2017. “I’d love my dad to have seen this exhibition,” Lamb says. “He would have been a bit critical about different joints and things, but a lot of my love of wood comes from him.”

Lamb has now converted two floors of a property he owns in Cork City into a permanent studio. Here, while commissions in stained glass continue to be his bread and butter, he plans on continuing his journey into sculpture.

These are optimistic times; he’s just married his partner of 11 years, fellow artist Debbie Dawson, and has ambitions for the architectural potential of his sculptural work. A documentary on his work, filmed over 10 years, will be shown alongside an exhibition of his work in Corning Museum of Glass in New York in September, where he will also teach a masterclass.

“Any time you’ve done anything in your life that has any worth, there’s a sense of, well where to now?” he says. “It’s scary, because you know how far you had to go to get to that point, and it can seem like, ‘fuck, do I have to go again? Do I have the energy to pick myself up again?’ It’s quite phenomenal how we are as people, and how we can do that.”

* The World Not Made Yet by Peadar Lamb is on display in The Sternview Gallery in Nash 19 restaurant, Cork, until July 13.

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