Photo credits: Personal photo
A picture in front of the Eiffel tower. A picture next to the statue of Juliet in Verona. A picture with Molly Malone in Dublin. Everywhere we go there is a famous piece of art that has to be captured with our camera.
Street art defines a soul of a city; it’s the thing that makes the city memorable. But, only a few know how those pieces got to the place they are now. Only a few of us stop and admire the person behind those faces frozen in time.
Willie Malone is a sculptor that has been living and working in Dublin for all of his life. Throughout the decades, he has been sharing pieces of his imagination with the rest of the world. In his words, “art is about creating something that never existed before. There’s always something new to do. It’s limitless, really”.
Seen through the eyes of artists, sculptures eventually become part of them. What Malone feels after he is finished with one piece of art can’t be described with words; “you seem to connect into something much more fundamental to yourself”. Although every piece always leaves a trace in artist’s mind, Willie says it is more about what you are going to do next, and not what you had already done.
In his little workshop in Dublin’s Kilmainham, he has been creating wax pieces for over 30 years. Those pieces eventually become bronze sculptures and are exhibited not just around Dublin, but around the whole world.
The process of making bronze sculptures is not an easy job. Willie describes it in details saying that, sometimes, it can take him up to half a year to finish a single piece.
“Making the moulds is the part that probably takes the longest. First you have to have an idea. Once you’ve finalised that idea the process can start. You have to model your idea and then make the mould out of it”. The process doesn’t finish here. Once the mould is done, it has to be left to dry. This part of the job can take up to several weeks, depending on the size of a mould.
The next step is melting the wax out of the mould so that the bronze mixture can be poured in. For the wax to be completely melted, it has to be heated to 850° C. This process takes less than an hour. Nevertheless, at this point, it is important not to make any mistakes. If the mould brakes, the art is lost.
Once the mould is clear from wax it is ready to be filled with bronze. Bronze mixture first has to be heated to its melting point, 1150° C. When it is completely melted, the bronze is poured into the ceramic shell that once held wax in. Depending on the size of the sculpture, the bronze is left to cool on air until it is completely hardened. This can take up to several days.
Finally, the ceramic shell can be broken and the artist is able to see his work in its full glory. The bronze sculpture now only needs to be polished and it’s ready to be shown to public. Where the artistic work will be exhibited is a decision made by the person who ordered the work together with the artist.
Bronze is known as the oldest metal known to humankind. There is even evidence found of the same way of sculpture making from 17,000 years ago. People used to mould shapes in bee wax. They would then make clay shells around it and leave them to dry on air for couple of days. At the end, they would poor bronze into those shells and decorate their houses with their art work or even make pots or tools out of it. This process seems to have changed only slightly over the years, but the significance of this type of today’s art is much bigger.
Dublin is a city known for its artistic expression. Everywhere you turn there is a statue or a monument that represents Irish history, Irish culture and Irish pride. Most of them are done in the same way Willie does his work. For an everyday passenger, they are just statues. For Willie, they are his way of life.
Even though Willie spent his whole life in Dublin, he can’t say he has been influenced by Dublin’s street art. “This is something outside space and time. You can’t really be influenced by everything around you. Of course it probably has some kind of subconscious effect on my work, but I like to think of my work as something that comes from me and only me. It’s a part of me and, if I have been influenced by something during my life, it still made me who I am now. So the work I do is still my work.”
Willie believes that the work he does defines what he is and who he is. Getting up in the morning to go to work is much easier when you are enjoying the thing that you do. And if that means making history by reviving something that is long gone or stopping in time an idea of something, the thrill becomes even bigger. “It is absolutely wonderful. I can’t understand why everybody doesn’t do it. Even though I get lonely sometimes working on my own, I still have pieces of my imagination around me keeping me company.”
If you are more of a visual person, be sure to check the documentary on Willie’s work: