On a formal level, O’Connell’s sculptures are about contained space and penetrated space. Combining a sense of a physical presence as well as an intellectual quality, her work is very often a response to the scale of the human body. O’Connell has described how she sees these sculptures as ‘an extension of the body, an extra shell or layer to protect the human spirit.’ Echoes of the Gaelic Irish great cloak or mantle recur in several sculptures by O’Connell. The bronze work Wraptsuggests a cloak both in its form and title, while Under and Over IV suggests both a great cloak and also a monk’s cowl, encompassing both a contemporary aesthetic and the Gaelic monastic tradition.
Her public sculpture commissions include large-scale works such as Pero’s Footbridge at St. Augustine’s Reach, Bristol (1999) and the Reedpod Sculpture on Lapps Quay in Cork (2007).
Born in Derry, Eilís O’Connell studied sculpture at the Crawford College of Art from 1970 to 1974. In 1975 she moved to Boston for a year, undertaking post-graduate studies at the Massachusetts College of Art. Influenced by David Smith and Richard Serra, her early works were mainly in welded steel, but she has more recently employed a wider variety of materials, including patinated bronze, and woven stainless steel wire. A founder member of the National Sculpture Factory, in 1988 she was commissioned by the Arts Council to make The Great Wall of Kinsale, a large scale public sculpture in Corten steel, that subsequently aroused controversy. Like her contemporaries at the Crawford College, Vivienne Roche, James Scanlon and Maud Cotter, O’Connell responds to the challenge of public commissions with determination and confidence.