” I love creating positive sculptures that when people see them, they go WOW how did you do that.
My path to Sculpting came from two different directions. Firstly, being trained by my father to be a master plasterer and going on to set up my own company Griffin Plastering in 2004. Griffin Plastering is one of the Irelands leading Historic and Decorative Plastering Specialists and we have completed numerous prestigious projects including the National Gallery of Ireland, Goethe Institut (Dublin), Trinity College, and The Shelbourne Hotel. Secondly, from developing a keen interest in design in my Primary Degree in the University of Limerick I went onto complete numerous courses including Scagliola and Mould making in Italy to a Sculpting course in the National College of Art and Design (Dublin, Ireland).
I use different mediums to create my organic Sculptures including Plaster, Gilding, Metal, Resin, and Scagliola.”
When did you begin creating art and how did you get started?
Paul: I have been restoring Sculpted Plasterwork in historic buildings for many years. Sometimes there are areas where you know from maybe an old photo or markings on the wall/ceiling that a plaster sculpture was in a location but for some reason, it has been removed. By looking at the detailing of other decorative plaster in the building I would recreate the piece. A few years ago, I started getting inquiries about creating Roccco and Neoclassical style plasterwork for new homes. I love working on the Historic Plasterwork, but I did not want to imitate, I wanted to create something new while being respectful to the past. I made a few samples and sketches showing the clients what can be achieved. Sometimes the only way to explain is to show. From there I started Designing and Sculpting ceilings in new homes.
After getting feedback from people that saw my work, they thought the shapes and shadows of the sculptures were amazing but due to circumstance would not be able to have full walls or ceilings sculpted, so in 2016 I decided to bring out my Wall Sculptures.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Paul: Most of my sculptures would be organic so nature is a big inspiration. Also, be it Historic Buildings here in Ireland or traveling around Europe to old Palaces, Churches, etc I love looking at the Historic Plasterwork and figuring out how they were designed and created.
What is the process from start to final artwork, do you envision it from the beginning or is it a different process?
Paul: For my Wall Sculptures an idea would pop into my head, I would start sketching and go from there. Sometimes the sculptures will turn out as I planned but other times the sculpture has a different meaning to me after finishing, like the “Gold Wave”. The “Wave” started out as just a wave but now I see it more as Sculpture of Life. I have that sculpture hanging in my sitting room. It’s funny how different people see different things in the “Wave” sculpture, they see anything from a bird to a lady’s face.
For commissioned work like the barrel ceiling, I would liaison with the client/Interior designer/Architect to see what they are looking for, what style they prefer, what furniture is going into the room etc. and then I would start designing the main body of the sculpture. Sometimes I would design everything before I start or other times there might be some small elements that I design or change as I go along.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned from your father?
Paul: I learned a lot from my father both personally and professionally. Professionally he was the best Craftsperson/Tradesperson I ever worked with and he taught me a lot about the different plasters and techniques. I set up my own company in 2004 and I took it in a slightly different direction than his company but it was a great support to be able to call him up to get advice from his wide knowledge in all the different areas of Plasterwork. Probably the most important thing I learned from him was his passion for his craft. When I came back to Dublin after completing a course in Scagliola (Marble Stucco) in Italy recently, he was straight up to give me a hand to see how it was done. Scagliola is tough work and even though he is retired, he really enjoyed learning the process and was delighted to see how it was done.
Are there any other artists or designers whose work has influenced yours?
Paul: For a modern Artist I really like Anish Kapoor’s Work and for an old Artist it would be Canova. I had the privilege of visiting the Museum Gipsoteca Antonio Canova in Possagno, Italy. It was amazing, especially the process of how Canova created his sculptures.
I would also look to 18th and 19th century Plaster Sculptors/Stuccodors like The Lafranchini Brothers, Michael Stapleton and Robert West who did some amazing plasterwork in Ireland. In the 18th and early 19th Century Dublin was commonly regarded as the second city of the British Empire and during this period Ireland went through a golden age of the fine building with its plasterwork being some of the finest in the world. I have had the honor of restoring some of this plasterwork.
Do you have a favorite commission or one that was especially noteworthy for either its beauty or its off-the wall nature?
Paul: It would have to be the barrel ceiling in a Private Dwelling in Dublin. It was a new build, so the ceiling was a blank canvas and the shape of the ceiling added to the design. The clients were great to work with, they gave me a brief and showed me some of the vintage furniture going into the room and I designed the ceiling with these in mind. Once I showed the clients the designs and a few samples they seemed excited. I kept the clients informed as I was going along but they mostly gave me a free run. There were a few things like the baskets that were in my head for a few years, but I had not found the appropriate place to use them. The design was clear in my mind but I’m not sure the client 100% understood the design but they trusted me. When the clients saw the finished ceiling, they were shocked and absolutely love it, which means a lot to me too.
When designing and sculpting this ceiling I did keep true to some of the techniques that would have been used 300 years ago, for instance, there are over 2500 small balls made and fitted individually in the Cornice. We could have just made a strip of 100 balls and fitted 25 strips, but I wanted everything to look the same but be a small bit different. The frieze is also individual pieces.
Do you have a real-life situation that inspired your artwork?
Paul: We were restoring Historic Plasterwork in a house owned by the golfer Rory McIlroy a few years ago and I started thinking about how as a golfer you must need incredible focus. I think the focus is very important in anything you do in life. From there I started thinking about the rough and fairways in golf. Everything can look rough at first but once you start focusing small the smooth path can start opening up in front of you and that’s what inspired the “Focus” wall sculpture.
Is there a common misconception about your work or something you’d love for people to better understand about plaster?
Paul: Be it in a wall sculpture or a sculpture insitu on a ceiling or wall I think plaster is a beautiful sculpture medium with the different shapes and shadows. Decorative Plasterwork is slowly making a comeback. I get minimalist Architecture and I like most of it but from the beautiful Palaces around Europe to the United States Capitol Dome, sometimes it’s great to walk into a room and look up at the ceiling and go WOW. Marvel at the shapes and shadows ponder where did the inspiration come from and how was it Sculpted. There is so much that can be done with plaster, as I say to clients “we can do anything with plaster”. The plasterwork doesn’t have to be in Rocco or Neoclassical style, it can have a modern or any style to it.
By adding pigment and glue to plaster you can create Scagliola. Scagliola was originally created to imitate expensive stone and is still used to imitate marbles when a large flat area with no joints or columns are required. Due to the high skill and process required, Scagliola is often more expensive than natural Marble. I think Scagliola is an amazing medium as you can create sculptures in any colors and with different patterns with a Marble like finish.
Most of the commissioned work I do is Sculptured ceilings and walls, but I also do commission Wall Sculptures. If a client has something specific, they are looking for I have no problem Designing and Sculpting it for them.
What is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?
Anything new coming up in 2020 that you’re excited about?
Paul: We are currently working on a few very nice Historic Buildings in Dublin and I had started discussing new commissioned work with two clients before the lockdown which will hopefully go ahead later in the year. We had a few things planned for the Wall Sculptures but unfortunately, everything is on hold with Covid-19.