Eilis O'Connell on her sculptures for Eileen Gray’s e-1027
If you’ve picked up the latest edition of Image Interiors & Living, you’ll have seen our feature on the reclamation and restoration of Eileen Gray’s magnificent E-1027 home that’s underway along the Côte d’Azur.
Now, to coincide with the launch of the non-profit Conservatoire du littoral’s Cap Moderne campaign to raise funds, Irish artist Eilis O’ Connell has installed six of her exquisite abstract sculptures to the terrace of the Modernist villa, as well as five larger works on display in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. The exhibition, titled Art’Bre and unveiled by the Prince of Monaco on September 11, also includes a specially commissioned bust by of the designer and architect herself by Dublin-based artist Vera Klute.
Patrick Murphy, the director of the RHA, had no brief for the project when he approached Eilis in 2017. “When Patrick asked me to look at E-1027 last October there was really no plan… and no expectation that I would make new work. It was a very open invitation and I immediately saw the enormous potential of the location.” Understandably, Eilis was the first artist that came to Patrick’s mind, considering she and Gray share a similarly experimental approach to materials and are particularly drawn to the use of metals. “I think that my work fits well with Eileen Gray as we share a similar aesthetic and sensitivity to materials.” Eilis notes that they both spent time studying fabrication and welding, though Eilis can appreciate Gray’s work even more, considering the breadth of technology at her fingertips that was not available in Gray’s time.
Initially, Eilis wasn’t sure if she would situate her works in the garden or inside the house but walking around the villa, she knew she couldn’t interrupt Gray’s interior design with her own. “At first I was thinking that I would like to put small works inside but when I actually saw how her furniture worked, I knew immediately that she built this house for only her own work and to add something of mine would be inappropriate.”
Eilis is no stranger to creating for the outdoors, most of her well-known works are large sculptures installed outside including “Slope”, at Jubilee Park Canary Wharf London and “Apples & Atoms”, Trinity College campus Dublin. “Scale is what interests me and finding the right location and permanent home for my pieces is a priority. I believe that good sculpture can work in most places if the site is carefully chosen and it is landscaped with sensitivity.”
However, logistics also needed to be considered in the design, as E-1027 is tucked away along a bumpy walking trail and not equipped for large vehicles or cranes – Gray had used donkeys and wheelbarrows during the initial build in the 1920s. It was decided that the sculptures would need to be airlifted onsite, which restricted the scale and weight of Eilis’s works. “Nothing could weigh more than a ton… many of my existing sculptures were either too heavy or too big. So I started making new smaller pieces that I felt would work with the scale of the gardens.”
So while the collection is not designed specifically for Gray’s former home, it was created with that landscape in mind, and the result is a wonderful melding of the creations of two of Ireland’s female contemporary artists.