A geological odyssey for Oscar as Wilde gets a new jade head


The porcelain head on the sculpture of Oscar Wilde in Merrion Square has proven to be too delicate for Irish weather and is to be remodelled in a more robust material

IF YOU have been spooked, or stopped in your tracks by a headless Oscar Wilde Memorial Statue on Merrion Square over the last couple of weeks, rest assured, it has nothing to do with the current economic crisis.

Sculptor Danny Osborne, whose iconic, colourful monument to Ireland’s greatest wit and world master of the paradox was first unveiled in 1997, is himself behind the facelift. “A few very small cracks appeared in Oscar’s head, which is made of thick porcelain, a couple of years ago,” he explains.

Though Osborne is renowned for his exquisite porcelain sculptures (some of which are documented in David Shaw Smith’s documentary Birds in Porcelain), he feels the material proved too delicate for the outdoor sculpture. “In another 10 or 20 years it would be severely damaged with frost getting into the cracks and forcing the bits apart.

“Oscar Wilde was such a colourful character, he deserves to be dressed suitably,” he says. “He really adored beautiful things, and beautiful stones – they are referenced in his writing.”

Osborne put most of his original £20,000 budget into “buying beautiful stones, like the green nephrite jade from the Yukon for Oscar’s jacket, and pink thulite, a very rare stone from central Norway for the trimming on the jacket, the collar and the cuffs”.

“To get a stone that would retain its colour in the weather is very difficult,” Osborne elaborates. “Marble is useless. It loses its colour very quickly in the sort of weather we have here. It’s important to use very hard stones that don’t react with water.”

Taking advice from geologists, Osborne chose white Jadeite Jade for Oscar’s new head, not just because it is “a very hard stone and will last for hundreds of years”, but also for its symbolism. “A number of cultures around the world associate jade with immortality. Finishing off his head as well as his jacket in jade I hope will imbue him with immortality. Not that he needs it. Wilde’s words are immortal anyway, but the monument is there to remind people to read his works – all of which are still in print.”

Unsurprisingly, “geologists are just as into the Oscar Wilde memorial statue as people who are into the artistic side of it – because they are fascinated with the rare stones”.

In the tradition of Richard Long or Andy Goldsworthy, Osborne’s work often deals with geo-physical aspects of the landscape. For example, this quest for white jade first brought Osborne to Siberia, and then to Guatemala, where serendipitously he also discovered Pacaya, an erupting volcano. He stayed for three months (before that Icelandic volcano paralysed international airspace) to develop a method for casting sculpture from lava erupting from the live volcano. The trip culminated in his June 2010 exhibition “Red Hot Lava Sculpture” in Iqaluit. So Oscar’s fine new jade head has travelled quite an odyssey, from Guatemala, via Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic where the Osborne family (from Allihies, County Cork) have been based for nearly a decade, to his friend and fellow Arctic explorer Gerry Wardell’s back garden in Terenure.

That’s where I find him putting the finishing touches to the jade sculpture, partly modelled on Merlin Holland. “It’s a comedy/tragedy head, so on his right hand side he’s happy, and on the left he’s sad. It’s that paradoxical thing – Oscar Wilde liked to show both sides of everything.

“The hands should be finished on Monday, and then I’ve got to clean up,” he says. Then the practical and intrepid Osborne will be hightailing it back to the chilly Arctic to continue his other projects – one of which, in a perfect Wildean paradox, is to sculpt a life-sized lava man.

A number of cultures around the world associate jade with immortality. Finishing off his head as well as his jacket in jade I hope will imbue him with immortality