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Artist: John Byrne

Title of Exhibition: 2D 3D, USA-IRL, 2016–2020

Date: Friday 21st February to 4th March

About the Exhibition: Byrnes nomadic lifestyle has informed much of the work in this exhibition. Originally from Dublin where he taught at the Dun Laoghaire School of Arts in the 70's, he has since travelled and worked for long periods in New York, San Francisco, Ghana West Africa and most recently Hampton Connecticut, USA. Many of these situations led Byrne to investigate the political complexities of the time inspiring much of the content of the exhibition. The early works form a large collection of collaged 'Manuscripts' which involves layering news-paper cut outs in combination with laser prints of programming code collected at the time. Layers were impregnated with polyurethane varnish and oil paint was used to draw the artists own version of Code to the mix.

Prior to this, in 2016 during the Donald Trump for President Campaign Byrne returned to Walt Whitman's 1855 Poem 'Leaves of Grass' as an antidote to 'a lot of very vitriolic language slung about at that time'. The Grass motif emerged as a potent image of serenity in the midst of violent action. 'Leaves of Grass' is also a publisher's term for a submitted manuscript which they consider to be of little value. As Byrne notes, 'I was struck by the power of something usually regarded as inconsequential. Grass was powerful in Africa, in Hampton Ct, and it certainly is in Manorhamilton Co Leitrim' (Byrne, J. 2020). The Relief wall works were developed with the Idea of Grass in many forms and contexts: 'It became a poetic 'dance' of simple shapes. Movements of Pencil and Brush' (Byrne, J. 2020). This notion became the theme for a series called 'Writing on the wall' an installation in Willimantic Connecticut, US in 2017. The 'Writing' was composed of 45 'Words' made from Fiberglass

Byrnes sympathetic reflection on Whitman later informed the central sculptural piece of the exhibition which uses live wild grass sections cut from fields around Manorhamilton. These are combined with resin and glass fibre with its ability to 'grow' into a simple grass like form using a 45 cm radius Circle. The Circle motif can be broken and reformed in many ways 'reflecting on the need to break with prejudices and persistent cultural practices which often violently divide us from the other' (Byrne, J. 2020). In traditional Zen, the concept of the broken Circle also embodies the need to end the cycle of birth and death and achieve the ultimate freedom. The same theme emerges in other Drawings and Sculptural works on display.


Artist Biography: Byrne studied sculpture and design at NCAD obtaining his degree in 1968. After a period of upskilling as a master finisher in foundry work in London he returned to set up a Sculpture and Plastics department in Dunlaoghaire Arts School and taught sculpture part-time in the National College of Art and Design 1972 - 78. After taking a general course in philosophy, psychology and classics at Trinity he moved to the States in 1980 where he built a studio workshop in New York, manufactured fibre-glass lifeboats for the US Navy and worked on the famous Brooklyn Model Works. By the time he moved to San Francisco in 1991 he had already become a master cabinetmaker mixing his trade in carpentry and his studio practice in painting. In 2002 Byrne obtained dual Irish and US citizenship and joined the US Peace Corps and on June 8 2008 left Philadelphia with a 35 strong educational crew conducting humanitarian work in Accra Ghana, West Africa. He returned to Ireland in 2017. Notable exhibitions and awards include: Irish Exhibition of Living Art, 1973-77; Dublin Arts Festival Sculpture 1974-77; Founder and chair of OASIS Open Air Show of Irish Sculpture in conjunction with Arts Council 1974. One person shows in venues such as Mugi studio Manhattan 1986; SOHO Artists, Mercer St. 1987; Belcher Studios Gallery, San Francisco 1996; Asian Art Museum, San Francisco Zen Centre 2002; New Leaf Outdoor Sculpture Gallery, Berkeley 1998. Awards include IRELAND 66 Design Award (silver), 1966; Alice Berger Hammerschlag Trust Sculpture Award 1974; OIREACHTEAS Gold Medal, 1975.

The project was jointly funded by Leitrim County Council.