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Broighter Boat

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John  Behan

Artist profile

Born in Dublin in 1938, and now living and working near Galway city where he continues to vary his style of expression, John Behan is firmly established as a sculptor of international stature.


After an apprenticeship in metal work and welding, the foundations for Behan's success were laid in the sixties, when he trained in London and Oslo and began to exhibit widely. But he also had a wider artistic vision, which saw him challenge the elitism of the art establishment and seek to popularise art. He was a founder member of the New Artists' group in 1962 and Dublin's innovative Project Art Centre in Dublin in 1967.

He has been awarded many honours and became a Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1990, having been an Associate of the Academy since 1973. He is also a member of Aosdána.

Celebrated for his early bull sculptures - described by playwright Brian Friel as 'enormously solid artefacts, 4-square on the earth, confident, assured, executed to a point of absolute completion' - Behan's style is still evolving and growing. In a general sense he can be credited with playing a major part in the development of sculpture in Ireland over the last forty years.

In June 2000 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland, Galway on the same day his large commissioned sculpture, Twin Spires, was unveiled at the college.

His major public commissions include Flight of Birds, Famine Ship, Tree of Liberty, Daedalus, Millennium Child, Arrival and Equality Emerging, unveiled in Galway city in November 2001.

A film documentary of John Behan's work entitled 'Famine Ship' was broadcast in Ireland and the U.K. in 1999 and is distributed in North America by The Cinema Guild Inc. and the rest of the world by Network Television.

The poet and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney has said of the artist: "There is something psychologically salubrious about John Behan. It is as if you are encountering what the Upanishads call the ancient self, something previous to an underlying individual character, some kind of psychic bedrock."

On Behan...

Seamus Heaney

"Say the name John Behan and you see the bulls of Cooley and the Children of Lir and the bittern of Cathal Bui, the birds of Aengus, the boats of Broighter and the Ostfold Boat and the Ghost Boat and even the Boar of Ben Bulben. John Behan has made a mark in our collective imagination, that his work for many of us represents different stages of our life to us, that by now its simply part of our mental furniture. It was probably a hard enough fate to begin as an artist in Ireland in the nineteen sixties with a name like Behan.

With John Behan, there is no game playing, no artsy role-playing, no temperamental swank or masquerade. You meet the man, not the mask, the inner soul rather than the social exterior. There is something psychologically salubrious about him; it is as if you are encountering what the Upanishads call 'the ancient self', something previous to and underlying individual character, some kind of psychic bedrock. And the theme and motifs of this exhibition are, of course, consonant with that impression which John makes as a person.

These sculptures please us by their materiality, by their substantial physical presence, their bronze in-placeness, their this-worldness….for they are not in the least otherworldly. They are produced by somebody who knows the behaviour of bronze as it was known in the workshops of Rodin and Michelangelo. And yet in spite of the down-to-earthiness and this-worldness of these images John has made, there is also present in them and behind them a sense that they are vessels of spirit, symbols of human knowledge, images, as Yeats said 'that yet/Fresh images beget'."

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