No bull as sculptor John Behan takes centre stage at the Kenny Gallery

John Behan (left) with his friend, the author and playwright Tom Kilroy.
John Behan (left) with his friend, the author and playwright Tom Kilroy.

The Bull of Sheriff Street, a major new exhibition by sculptor John Behan RHA opens at The Kenny Gallery, Galway, this Friday, October 23, at 6pm.

The event will also see the launch of a new book, The Bull of Sheriff Street – The Life and Work of an Irish Sculptor, written by Adrian Frazier to celebrate the artist’s life.

John Behan was born in Dublin in 1938, but has lived in Galway for 40 years where he is an intrinsic part of the local artistic community.

Reared on Sheriff Street in Dublin where his family ran a corner shop, he showed a love of drawing and painting from an early age.  Aged 15, he started a seven-year apprenticeship as a metalworker, and soon began to use his skills to make sculptures. His first was a bull, and is for bulls he has become famous.

As a young artist in 1960s Dublin, John was involved in the Independent Artists group, a founder of the Project Arts Centre, and a board member of the Design Studio.

Bronze sculptures were traditionally the prerogative of museums or wealthy patrons but John wanted his work to be affordable to the citizens of his own country and wanted it to help them face their own experiences.

His work to promote the social value of art helped to see the Arts Council being reformed in 1973. John’s leading role in establishing the Dublin Art Foundry also made it possible for him and other Irish sculptors to produce work in quantity and in quality at more reasonable prices than before.

That’s illustrated by the fact that more than 5,000 of his works have been sold in this country.

A great reader who grew up surrounded by a generation of great writers, John was often inspired by motifs in poetry or drama.  After the publication of Thomas Kinsella’s translation of The Táin, he produced a series of figures and scenes from the Irish epic.  His graphics and bronze figures of crows follow from Ted Hughes’s Crow.

In the comic spirit of Joyce’s Ulysses and Cervantes’ Don Quixote, he has illustrated dozens of characters and scenes from these masterpieces.

Writers are among the greatest fans of his art, and John’s work are in the private collections of Tom Kilroy, Tom Murphy, Seamus Heaney, Edna O’Brien, Gerry Dawe, and others, including the late Brian Friel.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.