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Christy Keeney ceramic sculptures

by John Foley, Imagine Gallery

Published: July 2014

Christy Keeney
The Quiet Irishman

The Irish sculptor, Christy Keeney, is no stranger to collectors of ceramics, each summer he visits the UK to exhibit and sell his work to a growing list of enthusiasts. For many buyers this is the only chance that they have to see and purchase his sculptures.

Christy has been a part of the English ceramic scene for some time, indeed he used to live and work in London, but now his art forms are seen less frequently, as the demand for them has increased and the supply has become less. This is not to say that he is creating less work, it is more a case of his success catching up with him. And it doesn't mean that we will be seeing less of him either, because this year, as usual, he will be visiting us to exhibit at his favourite events.

As a gallery owner I am very fortunate, as Christy has agreed to hold his first exhibition of the year here at Imagine Gallery, so with such a prestigious event on the horizon, I felt that it was time I visited him at his home in Ireland to learn a little more about the man and his inspiration.

Christy lives in Donegal in the north of Ireland, I have met him many times and I have always found him to be one of the most open and honest ceramicists on the scene, always willing to discuss his work and listen to comments from customers. But although we have enjoyed many conversations, I never felt any closer to understanding the artist or his inspirations, so for me this was intended to be a "look, listen and learn" visit. I very quickly learned that Christy is a great listener, but talks very little of himself, although I did manage learn a little.

To reach Christy's home and studio, we drove from the airport into the countryside then up into the hills along a small winding road until we came to his "retreat". He lives in a beautiful cottage atop a hill and with a panoramic view in each direction. Christy explained that the sun rises and sets on his panorama, so providing that it is not raining, the sun is always visible from his studio. Something that he has taken full advantage of, on the day of my visit his studio was so bright that  it was hard to take photographs that gave a real impression of his workplace and he had to help me by creating blinds to deflect the light. Light or dark, there was one thing that was very obvious, this was a real working studio.

Everywhere I turned there were pieces of work, each in different stages of execution, some just started, some finished but unfired and others complete and ready to send to galleries.
His work is not restricted just to sculpture as Christy is also an accomplished and collected artist and I feel that the time is fast approaching when the demand for his artwork will equal the demand for his sculptures.

Christy has sculpted many heads and faces, the most famous head he has created was of HRH Prince Charles. Many are commission pieces, but the majority are available to the collectors of his art, each very different but every one a special piece, they scale from brooch sizes up to the giant pieces that were commissioned by P&O Cruise Ferries. All of them are distinctive and instantly recognisable as his work, he has discovered a rare thing, a style unique to himself.

Asking about his influences and inspiration, Christy was almost hesitant with his replies.
"I suppose my greatest inspiration was when I was told by a teacher that I might as well give up, as I would never become a sculptor. That comment, more than anything, drove me forward with determination to prove him wrong."

A lot of Christy's work has a two dimensional quality, the sculptures are created from flat pieces that are cut up and then reassembled into dynamic three dimensional sculptures. For these pieces he acknowledges the influence and inspiration of Giacometti and the famous sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi (who even commissioned five heads by Christy), but perhaps his greatest influence is drawn from the work of Picasso.

Christy told me that after seeing a selection of cardboard cut and folded works by Picasso in the Tate Gallery, he understood for the first time that two dimensional could be viewed as three dimensional. From then he has made this style uniquely his own. But it is not just the style of his sculpture that is distinctive,  it is also the people that he portrays, for want of a better explanation I would say that they look very like Irish women. Beautiful, a little lost in the past and with a hint of romance about them.

I spent most of my visit in Christy's studio, trying to absorb and understand a little of his world, but after a few hours I felt no closer to understanding the source of his unusual inspiration until he announced, "Come on, it's a wonderful day, let's take a drive."

It was this little drive that at last helped me appreciate why he lives where he does and creates such gentle, yet moving sculptures. He drove me further up into the hills, then stopped at a wild location which looked down over a lake with the only manmade object in sight, a very large sculpture of a seated woman, which was, of course, sculpted by Christy. The isolated wildness of the location only added to the dynamics of the lone figure, its remoteness had made it a part of its surroundings.

From there we drove further and higher, the houses and cottages becoming fewer and less frequent until we arrived at what he described as an almost "Martian landscape". It wasn't really like Mars, but I understood exactly what he was trying to explain, it was a lost and remote place, deserted apart from a few isolated cottages miles away in the distance.
It was a lonely place, but one that was very uplifting, it gave a sense of being 'glad to be alive'.

"I love it up here," he told me.

It was wild and with muted colours that very much reminded me of his creations, even the remoteness felt similar to the "far off" look of his sculptures, it was a landscape that could inspire any artist. Christy's sculptures are not of this landscape, they seem a part of it.

From this isolation we drove back to civilisation and the airport for my journey home.
En route we spoke of the history of Ireland and how it had changed over the years, I came to understand that the population of the whole of Ireland was smaller than that of London, little wonder that there was room to escape and work in isolation, just discovering yourself.
I realised that this is what Christy does, he doesn't question what he creates, it is just born of who he is and where he lives, he just sculpts and paints pieces that move him, it is not something to be analysed, it is just him.

Christy doesn't intend to make great statements, but his art does, which is the reason that he is becoming such a famous Irishman.

John Foley -

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