Alan Counihan Visual Artist

The work of Alan Counihan

Alan’s Statement

My path to becoming a visual artist began over thirty years ago in the repair of stone walls which hemmed the fields of small farms.  All of those fields had names, as had every hill and hollow in the landscape, each reef and rock in the visible sea. Land is not only an actual record of geological events but a codex of human activity and beliefs. Secreted within the particularity of place-name is the shared historical experience of a people’s engagement with landscape, both the tribal and the individual. I still engage with the work begun there.

Tearmonn na Gaoithe,Kilcummin Head, Co Mayo 1993

For over twenty years my practice as a sculptor focused on the specificity of place, whether in response to large-scale public and private commissions or through smaller studio-based works, In all cases it has centred on the exploration, and hopeful enrichment, of the human experience of place. During most of those years I lived abroad as an emigrant and, even while making frequent returns for commissions or symposia, my relationship to this island was one tinged with nostalgia, shaped as much by selective memory as by imagination.

While having returned to Ireland on a permanent basis in 2000 I was still engaged in the realisation of a very large commission in the United States to “commemorate” a Native American tribal group. This proved a formative experience for my artistic practice as these descendants of an indigenous people, deemed long extinct by ethnologists, were fractiously in the process of re-inventing themselves socially and seeking recognition for their cultural identity. While their linguistic link with land was long shattered they were nonetheless scouring old anthropological field notes for a lost vocabulary of their language and for records of their sacred places. This insight into a creative process of post-colonial cultural reinvention – simultaneously coupled to a re-engagement with the realities of modern Ireland and our own cultural challenges – has since served as the primary catalyst for my creative process. My field of engagement still lies in the human need to imbue landscape with meaning on both an individual and communal level but also in the exploration of inherited notions of cultural identity.

The means used to these explorative ends are several and include sculptural forms, texts, photography, sound and theatre.