John Cunningham, Collector, Patron and Founder of the IMMA 1000 program at Irish Museum of Modern Art
JC. I have followed your work for the past 10 years or so. You seem to work consistently but below the surface. You only seem to pop up at the RHA summer exhibition. No Gallery representation, no group shows, just a slowly evolving constant body of work.
PH: Over 20 years I have always produced work in tandem with my professional life as an architectural model maker. I feel that time spent, working with architects and designers, bringing abstract concepts into 3D reality infuses my sculpture with clarity of purpose.
JC:. In looking at your web site, one can clearly follow an evolution from the early architecturally inspired pieces, The Guggenheim and Pillar projects (2006), through to recent 3D reliefs and sculptures (2018). Can you explain what the major influences along that evolution were?
PH: I have always worked through a series of subjects that seem to become all encompassing. The early works were all about “emotional echoes” in the built environment. I believe buildings hold emotions, and they pulse with their own history and take on more significance then simply mere bricks and mortar. People project their own “history” onto buildings old and new. I suppose with the “Pillar” and “Guggenheim” project I was fascinated how so many stories, both political and personal are wrapped up in these icons. I was trying to capture this energy.
JC: I can see how the work involved as you started to focus on the external volumes and the impact of apertures on monolithic volumes.
PH: Yes I kind of “scooped out” the center on the volume (the actual building or focus of the emotion), and started to explore the contained space as represented by monolithic metal volumes. The size and positioning of the apertures representing specific events, emotions the interplay between solid and void is the essence of the work.
JC: Ohh yes, I see the architectural connection.
PH: It’s clear to see, in the free standing sculptural work. Less so, I think in the wall mounted reliefs.
JC: You have mentioned previously how you use data, GPS and “commission specific” information to develop your work.
PD: I use many forms of numerical data in the process of creating work. I convert numerical data into surface area and cubic volume dimensions. I use these figures to create volumes.
JC: How do you work, do you draw and sketch concepts before moving into fabrication?
PH: Generally I go straight into cutting the shapes that are derived from the data, creating a Marquette by arranging them to create tension and balance. When this is done I scale the Marquette to a size that reflects the visual weight of the composition.
JC: Sculpturaly you work in metals, patinated bronze, sandblasted brass and 9 CT gold plate.
PH: Each material is part of the exploration of the surface texture and “weight”, being both physical and emotional that can attach to apparently simple volumes.
JC: At this time whose work was inspiring you, what were the artistic “influencers”. Looking at the work I see a lot of Donald Judd. The simple, sharp volumes with almost razor edges.
PD: I think you are always like a magpie, picking elements of lots of different work. One thing leads you to the next, one piece of artwork or building leads to tracking back through time to trace an evolution. Obviously Tadao Ando is a massive influence on this work, however his work lead me back to the Russian Constructivist period in architecture and painting. In particular paintings of EI Lissitzky and Kazimir Malecich .
JC: Among this work, your Twin Towers project is at once simple and somewhat obvious. It seems the most accessible, in terms of understanding your concept of “emotional echo”.
PH: This work is all connected by “emotional echoes” that can be emitted from both the built environment and apparently simple volumes. The heavily patinated bronze towers carry 2,606 “cuts” in this instantly recognizable towers. The cuts each represent the death toll on that day.
JC: It’s a powerful piece; I find it slightly depressing just because it is such a visceral piece
PH: Yes I hope that it does make the viewer uncomfortable as it is an unavoidable commemoration of the 2,606 deaths.
JC: After that, your work seems to have got simpler, more pared down.
JC: I found your series of gold plated sculptures that came after the towers to be very pared down and simple. The gold plating replacing patination as a smooth pristine surface.
PH: I started looking closely at the work of Elsworth Kelly and how he explored the sheer “flatness” of colour.
PH: The reliefs work on two levels. The forms are simple, the size and proportions are the products of figures and data.
JC. They appear like a combination of Ben Nickolson and Ellsworth Kelly. Both artists were working toward abstraction. You seem to work with constraints. ?
PH. The use of data is invisible in the finished art. The contradiction between simple, almost classical volumes and mathematical calculation is hidden. It has to be. People don’t need to see the details of the process, just the result.
JC: I never knew that process, the influences on your work. I only see clarity of composition and subtlety of presence.
PH: Absolutely. That is the goal to develop work that is simple, and accessible while containing a layer of meaning and weight below the surface.