The tender touch to Melanie’s menagerie

The Times We Lived In: published: March 29th, 1990. Photograph by Joe St Leger

 

In my house, the dusting of decorative figurines is an infrequent and offhand activity. So the care with which the woman in today’s photograph is polishing the head of her statue is an appealing – perhaps even inspiring – sight.

Then again, it is her statue in every sense of the word. This image of the sculptor Melanie le Brocquy accompanied a 1990 interview by our art critic Brian Fallon, conducted in the garden studio of the sculptor’s Dublin home.

It was a lively encounter. After giving Fallon a guided tour of her artists’ implements – which included files, rasps, square-bodied steel wire and a cobbler’s knife – Le Brocquy explained that she was recovering from a bout of hepatitis which had turned her “a horrible shade of orange yellow”.

Perhaps it’s just as well that the photograph is in black and white – although, given what we can see of the sculptor’s otherwise immaculate appearance, we must conclude that her recovery from the illness is pretty much complete.

Her self-deprecating way of speaking about herself, though, seems to be totally in character. A widow with four children, le Brocquy stopped making sculpture when her kids were small and began again, using plasticine, when they grew up. Over a long career, her works, which are measured in inches rather than feet, have returned again and again to themes of relationship and family: a baby learning to walk, a girl holding her mother’s hand or, as in this case, a father and son standing together. “The relationship between figures is one of respect and tenderness,” Fallon writes.

If our photo is anything to go by, that respect and tenderness is in the very bones of the relationship between sculptor and sculpture. In the background, various other figures and groups stand on shelves, patiently awaiting her attention – or, perhaps, hoping that they, too, will soon be getting that final polish.

These and other Irish Times images can be purchased from: irishtimes.com/photosales. A book, The Times We Lived In, with more than 100 photographs and commentary by Arminta Wallace, published by Irish Times Books, is available from irishtimes.com and from bookshops, priced at €19.99.

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