speaks to James McLoughlin about his striking life-size piece of sculpture on display at Cork Airport
When James McLoughlin got a phone call from a friend asking him if he would like some timber, little did he visualise the creative journey it would lead him on.
“It was about five or six years ago, a friend rang me to see if I was looking for a piece of timber. He arrived to the yard with a big trunk and lobbed it over the wall. It had fallen down at the Cross River Ferry in Cobh. So then I had to think of something to do with it,” says the sculptor.
The result is The Lord of Music, a striking life-size piece of sculpture hewn from a single block of spalted beech, which is currently on show at Cork Airport.
“‘Spalted’ is when there is a fungus going through the wood,” explains McLoughlin. “It’s not rotten or anything, there is a slight colour which gives it lots of nice patterns.”
McLoughlin describes the piece as “an embodiment of all things melodic”. The central figure is surrounded by ornamental limewood carvings of instruments including a guitar, violin, recorder, clarinet, and an African drum, emerging from foliage.
The unique piece is inspired by McLoughlin’s love of music and also pays homage to classical renaissance sculpture.
“The face and pose is that of a renaissance figure but he has modern clothes, that kind of ’70s rock gear, the leather jacket and the flares. He is a mix of the old and the new. Being the Lord of Music, he needs to be, he needs to know all his genres,” laughs McLoughlin. “I’m into classical and rock. I’m a mad guitar player, I love Joey Satriani and all those guitar freaks.”
When it came to acquiring his skills, the Cobh native followed the old-school route, studying for four years at the prestigious City and Guilds of London Art School, where he got a scholarship. “It was the old atelier way of training, a lot of clay modelling, drawing, studying anatomy. I spent four years there and I absolutely loved it. Then I worked for Carvers and Gilders for a year on work experience, they do work for Buckingham Palace and all the royal palaces. I learned a lot with them.”
While McLoughlin has put his skills to good use, he says a lot of the traditional methods are disappearing, to the detriment of artistic practice.
“The old traditional skills have gone out the window. Art colleges are mainly about concepts rather than making something of high quality,” he says.
The Lord Of Music Sculpture— James Mcloughlin Sculpture (@SculptureJames) May 30, 2018
Location Cork School of Music pic.twitter.com/up4S8HWvVB
“I like a lot of conceptual art but if it is done at a bad skill level, then I wouldn’t be too fond of it. An idea is one thing but it needs to be executed well. You are not meant to say these things but I think a lot of people think that. If you look at Caravaggio, Michelangelo, all these guys, they would blow you away. The Lord of Music represents that too, there is a high skill level in making it.”
McLoughlin returned to Cobh and started his own business in 2005. The Lord of Music took five years in the making, as McLoughlin fitted it in around commissions and his other work, including carving headstones, which is the bread and butter of his business.
As a Cobh native, he was particularly proud to get the commission for the Sonia O’Sullivan sculpture which was unveiled in the town in 2015. The project was daunting but hugely rewarding, says McLoughlin. “It was my first life-size bronze so it was a massive challenge but I was delighted with it. It is photographed by hundreds of people every day of the week. I see it so often I forget that I even did it, it’s just part of the town.”
While The Lord of Music has been a big part of McLoughlin’s life for the past number of years, he says he is now ready to say goodbye to his labour of love. He mentions dancer Michael Flatley had expressed an interest before he left his mansion in Castlehyde, near Fermoy, and moved to London.
“There has been a brilliant response to it but now I’m just trying to sell it. It was estimated at around €70,000 but I’ll consider any decent offers. He has to be sold, there is no point me hanging on to him. It would be the right job for Bono. He might give me a few million if I put his face on it,” laughs McLoughlin.