In the era of science and technology, innovation is the primary mission of any technical organisation as it stands at the forefront of fierce competition. After SpaceX succeeded in creating a reusable rocket ‘Falcon 9’ that could safely transport people to space and return to Earth in 2022, humanity has been looking forward to celebrating more innovative approaches in aircraft manufacturing. As much as we look towards an advanced civilisation, we fail to celebrate the origins of these inventions that revolutionised the modern world. This has been a concern for the County Down-based Irish artist Sinéad McInerney, which led her to create works that equally celebrated the origins of the past.
McInerney has been passionate about art ever since her childhood, which cultivated into drawing replicas of album covers from her older brother’s favourite bands to impress him. Her passion for drawings took a shift to ceramics when her secondary school teacher and a ceramicist introduced her to the three-dimensional field of art. The opportunity to create varying forms with depth and beauty enchanted her, as she loved the hands-on approach to pottery. This influenced her decision to pursue the field of ceramics in future. However, her trajectory from ceramics shifted to metalwork when she was introduced to the latter medium during her pursuit of a Bachelor of Arts degree at the National College of Art and Design. While metalwork can seem complicated, it presented a new approach and process to the aspiring artist. It was the processes of metal handling, such as heating and soldering, that fascinated her as to how something as strong as metal can be moulded into desired shapes. This led her to pursue metalworking permanently in her career.
While metalwork can encourage several themes of works, McInerney’s visit to the hangars at Dublin Airport during her final year at college left her in awe. She came across an engine and several other parts belonging to aeroplanes undergoing repairs, which left her bedazzled. Her unique perspective as an artist led to her admiration for the magnitude of aeroplane craftsmanship and their stripped-down parts, exposing their vulnerability, which held distinct beauty. The view inspired her curiosity over the creation of these parts and how they have led to the function of aircraft. It motivated her to document their charm and history by sculpting these parts and different kinds of aircraft by employing her imagination and a suitable personality to each work.
The hangars at Dublin Airport left a lasting impression on the artist by provoking her curiosity and making her realise how something as magnificent as flight has been overlooked over time. What was considered a miraculous design in historical times has now lost its glory because it has become a part of one’s routine. From being used to watching aeroplanes in the skies to considering it as an option for travelling, the world today has become desensitised and has the lost thrill of it. McInerney, on the other hand, revives the thrill of airborne technology by documenting the concept of excitement for air travel and the technology that assists it.
I think it is taken for granted how you get on a plane to get from point A to B and you miss out on the fact that, hey! you’re in the sky flying in this metal object and it's pretty amazing. I wanted my work to be a celebration of that. -Sinéad McInerney
McInerney aims to celebrate the achievements of early pioneers of engineering, from portraying historical plane designs to the early drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci, who imagined what flight would look like in the future. Her works communicate the feeling of anticipation and curiosity in people of historical times who deployed their existing knowledge of engineering to imagine an advanced future. She combines this aspect with natural elements such as flowers or floral patterns to inculcate feelings of fantasy and excitement that were prevalent among thinkers, engineers, and artists of that time.
This is evident in her work ‘Botanical Ascent’ where the propeller blades of a plane are replaced by a blooming flower with intricately decorated petals acting as utopian substitutes for them. She has also applied a similar idea to her work ‘Fledgling Flight’ where the wings of a plane appear to be a marshland with sprouts of shoots stemming from it. It shows appreciation for the most essential parts of an aircraft that primarily contribute to the success of flight.
The sculptor creates aircraft designs from different time periods to record their evolutionary process. She also creates rockets and satellites that continue to appreciate technological progress in the field of space travel. This shows how humanity has advanced from flying the visible skies to venturing in deep space beyond the human field of vision.
While the sculptor creates a lot of works surrounding the theme of aircraft and spacecraft, she also likes to create boats with a similar concept of imagination. Boats have been, likewise, the origin of the water transportation system, which is a nod to all seacrafts in today’s civilisation. This is reflected in her work ‘Free Spirit” which features elaborate designs embellishing the waves around them with oars wading through them. The sails are decorated with a picturesque view of the sea during the day and night from the perspective of a sailor, which communicates the elements of nature and its beauty that the artist loves to imbibe in her work.
McInerney works with copper, brass, and small amounts of silver to sculpt aeroplanes, rockets, satellites, and boats. She establishes an intuitive communication with the metal, which leads her to determine the texture, design, colour and other elements of a piece. She also repurposes copper plaques that her late mother had worked on and incorporates them into her sculptures. Inscriptions from these plaques are subtly visible in many of her sculptures, which helps her establish a deep personal relationship with her work.
“This is a wonderful connection with my mother, and I enjoy bringing copper to life.” -Sinéad McInerney
Though the artist plans the final outcome of her sculptures, she finds it fascinating to explore the intuitive process of sculpting since she always comes up with something unexpected in the end. Given that metal is the basis of all inventions, Sinéad loves to highlight metallic components in her work. She avoids polishing metal and instead emphasises the beauty of muted silver tones in relation to the vibrancy of copper. Overall, the sculptor maintains the concept of appreciation throughout her work, from the raw beauty of metal to technological innovations.
Additionally, patination and heating processes influence the colour of her sculpture, which ranges from rustic metallic shades of pink, blue, brown and hints of yellow. Given her aim to appreciate metal in its raw form, she avoids external influences such as painting and instead uses age-old techniques such as granulation to imbibe intricate designs and details that further take the lead in terms of her imagination as she experiments with natural elements.
Furthermore, the artist acknowledges the ill reputation of aircraft because of their increasing carbon footprint and negative impact on the climate. Keeping in mind how these inventions have also added convenience to our lifestyles, she creates organic-style aeroplanes that establish an amicable relationship between manmade and natural. Moreover, Sinéad’s sculptures engage and captivate her viewers in a way where the metallic embellishments glorify the history of inventions. It celebrates the history of marvels of science that has contributed to the large-scale transformation of the entire world. From aeroplanes, rockets and satellites to boats, the artist pays homage to pioneers of engineering through the art of metal sculpting which continues to inspire artists as well as aspiring engineers all around the world.