The Language of Form
By Elizabeth Martin, Contributor
October / November 2000
The art of Bernadette O’Huiginn.
“Semi-abstraction is the area that I feel happiest in, not pure geometry or pure abstraction or pure figurative representations, but rather the area in between,” explains sculptor Bernadette O’Huiginn. “I’ve always been attracted to the line of beauty, a sinuous, serpentine line. The significance of the curved line is very meaningful; there is something very deep in the human heart that responds to the curve as opposed to the straight line.”
In discussing works that have influenced her sculpture, she cites the omnipresent curves and rhythms of the La Téne period of Celtic Art. The La Téne period, so named for the town in Switzerland where remnants of this particular group of Celts were first discovered, spanned the second and third centuries B.C., and represented a time when Celtic art was flourishing. These migrating Celts brought to Ireland their curvilinear representational forms that were united with the long-standing pagan traditions of Irish art and emphasized abstract decorative motifs, spirals, and vegetal forms. The seemingly random surface patterns found on objects of this period can be deceiving: their abstract, free-flowing patterns actually corresponded to a rigid and disciplined sense of order.
It is this fusion of harmonious restraint and abundant rhythms that draws O’Huiginn, a native of Donegal now living in Washington, D.C., to the Celtic art of the past and which is manifested in the swelling organic curves, lines, and textured colors of her bronzes.
She chooses bronze as her medium because she finds that it combines beauty, sensuality, and expressiveness in ways that she finds endlessly satisfying. Her work resonates with influences from the Irish language, history, traditions, myth, and poetry. “I like combining the permanence of words and the permanence of bronze. That stands for something. I’ve been passionate about the issues of languages, form, and literature. The challenge is bringing them all together.”
Anthology of Ireland particularly embodies O’Huiginn’s fusion of words and images in a single piece. In this work fragments of poetry in Irish, English, Latin, Anglo-Norman, French, and Hiberno-Norse unfold on a curving scroll. The poetry spans the history of the written word in Ireland dating back to Ireland’s earliest recorded poet Aimhirgin. As O’Huiginn points out, “The poetry describes significant political and cultural events in Ireland’s history, ranging from conquests and sagas such as the Battle of Clontarf and Brian Boru’s death up to the contemporary poetry of Seamus Heaney.”
The importance of language in O’Huiginn’s work springs from her background in modern languages. She has taught, worked as a journalist, and traveled the world in several diplomatic postings with the Foreign Service. Her husband Sean’s posting as Ireland’s ambassador to the United States has now brought her to Washington, D.C., where she continues to juggle her roles as artist, diplomat’s wife, and mother of two: Donal, age 27, and Emer, 22.
O’Huiginn’s introduction to sculpture came when she enrolled in a class at Dublin’s National College of Art and Design in 1990. She continued her studies during a posting in Copenhagen. Prior to this she had only drawn as a hobby, never undertaking any formal study of the visual arts. “Sculpting was a late vocation for me,” she admits. “But it was something I was always very interested in. After the first class in modeling, I started casting in bronze, entered a few open exhibitions, and had participated in two solo shows in Dublin before moving here to Washington, D.C. That’s how it began…trying to express myself was an inner compulsion that provided me with tremendous satisfaction.”
O’Huiginn’s bronze sculptures have been publicly exhibited in group and solo shows in both Ireland and the United States. She has participated in all the major group exhibitions in Ireland, including those of the Royal Hibernian Academy, An tOireachtas and Aer Rianta. Her work can be found in public and private collections in Ireland, Denmark, France, Finland, England, and the United States. Most recently her work was displayed in the exhibition “A Celebration of Irish Artists” at the International Visions Gallery in Washington, D.C., in conjunction with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts “Island: Arts from Ireland” festival. ♦