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West Cork nurtures artist Alex

January 29th, 2019 7:00 AM

By Southern Star Team

***REPRO FREE*** 17th May 2018 Cork based international artist Alex Pentek with his major public art commission titled 'Urban Oasis', at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork City. In 2016 'Urban Oasis' was selected as the winning idea for a series of sculptures at Surfers Paradise, City of Gold Coast, Queensland Australia. It comprises four stainless steel ferns, standing eleven metres tall and complemented by a series of ground panels. The artwork is an impression of the shield fern which once grew in abundance at this location. The structures will curl, stretch and appear in various stages of growth as they emerge from the concrete at each corner of the intersection of Surfers Paradise Boulevard and Elkhorn Avenue. Alex is also the creator of the Kindred Spirits sculpture in Midleton Co. Cork, a permanent artwork commemorating the 1847 Choctaw Nation’s donation to Ireland during the Great Irish Famine. Photo: Cathal Noonan

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By Aisling Meath

A SKIBBEREEN artist has been chosen as one of just five from around the world create an iconic sculpture for Australia’s world famous Gold Coast.

A cultural precinct is being designed near Surfers Paradise, a resort near Queensland’s Gold Coast and a call was made to artists to create a piece for the newly regenerated urban space.

In total 50 responded which was narrowed to five submissions – four Australian artists along with Alex. 

It’s an incredible achievement for the West Cork artist whose submission ‘Urban Oasis’ won over the jury in Brisbane.

A well known artist, his portfolio includes 20 large-scale permanent works in Ireland, Northern Ireland, UK and Canada. 

His current exhibition ‘Unfolding Space’ is showing at the Crawford Gallery in Cork as part of ‘Earth Wind & Fire Made in Cork Contemporary.’ 

In his HQ at the Sculpture Factory in Cork city,  Alex set to work on his creation consisting of four stainless steel ferns, each standing 11 metres tall and complimented by a series of ground panels. 

He explains: ‘The idea was inspired by the area’s recent history as one of the most diverse sub-tropical rainforests in Australia. My aim has been to capture the imagination of the public visiting this urban oasis by depicting the contrasting delicate impression of shield ferns that once grew in abundance here showing different stages of their growth.’ 

Fourteen months of work went into the creation of the giant ferns before they set sail for down under. 

‘I loaded them from the gantry at the Sculpture Factory into 40 foot long shipping containers which had to be measured to the last centimetre to fit for transportation, and I had to weld them together to secure them for the journey,’ he explained.

Alex tracked their six week voyage online on the ‘A2B Independent’ towards Antwerp, then to Savannah Georgia, through the Panama Canal, across the Pacific, past the Fiji islands and on to Brisbane Australia.  They are currently in storage there until the specific location for their forever homes is chosen at Surfers Paradise. 

Alex will soon fly out to Brisbane for the installation of the unfurling ferns.

This is not the first time that Alex has come to international attention. His sculpture ‘Kindred Spirits’ stands majestically in Bailic Park in Midelton paying tribute to the generosity of the Choctaw nation for sending money to help Irish people during the famine. 

It consists of nine 20-foot stainless steel eagle feathers arranged in a circle forming an empty bowl. 

Each vein of the feathers took six welds with over 20,000 welds to complete the entire work and the official launch was attended by Choctaw Chief Gary Batton and an entourage from the Choctaw nation who came with gratitude for the permanent reminder of this act of generosity from one nation to another. 

‘Science, mathematics and the resulting forms found in nature are a constant source of inspiration to me,’ explained Alex.

‘Growing up around Skibbereen since I was 10 gave me a unique appreciation of the natural world. I spent many happy hours hiking and fishing around the scenic West Cork coastline and lakes. 

‘While these excursions seldom resulted in my bringing home fish, I came back with an appreciation of our natural heritage which now informs much of my work,’ he said

During his boyhood ramblings Alex discovered a platform overgrown with briars at a crossroads between Skibbereen and Drinagh, and also unearthed old Guinness bottles that had been discarded nearby. 

He found out that people used to dance at that crossroads before the Public Dance Halls act of 1935 restricted all such events to licensed establishments.

This discovery inspired Alex’s piece ‘Hidden Landscape’ situated on the Longford bypass. Passing motorists can see the upper portion of a giant violin looking as though it has been partially unearthed invoking a memory of former times when there was music and dancing on the roads and motorways hadn’t been heard of. 

The nurturing of his talent, which he got from both home and school, also contributed towards the development of his stellar artistic career.

‘I have been drawing since I was old enough to hold a pencil and I was always encouraged by my mother Kathy Pentek who had been to Art College and can draw anything,’ he said. 

‘My teacher Fachtna Casey at St. Patrick’s boys school in Skibbereen, and art teacher Liam Knott at Ashton secondary school were fantastic; as was my late grandfather Brian Allderidge who had studied illustration at the Royal college of art in London.

‘He provided constant encouragement as well as constructive criticism. I remember him saying that I had a natural grasp of perspective when I was around seven or eight  years old.’

Brian was in a position to spot the talent in his young grandson as he had previously been vice principal of the Guildford school of Art in Surrey and later, when he moved to West Cork, taught art at the convent schools in Skibbereen and Dunmanway, continuing to work as an illustrator and water colourist throughout his life.

Alex’s current Crawford Exhibition’ Unfolding Space’ gives expression to his fascination with the Japanese art of origami. The ideas behind how these surfaces unfold are currently being used in research within diverse areas such as robotics, the development of micro medical devices and spiral galaxy formation and are all a source of inspiration to him.

He is looking forward to bringing some of these elements into his forthcoming exhibition at the Uillinn in Skibbereen on the 24th May-8th June.  

He is currently also working with artist Luke Murphy to present a performance called ‘Project Carnivore’ for the Skibbereen exhibition.

‘For this performance I am creating a series of hand held origami inspired surfaces that will be manipulated as part of the performance in collaboration with Luke. Often viewed as a throwaway material in western culture, one of the challenges of working with paper is that people tend to see it as ‘ only paper’ and that origami is nothing more than a craft. I see paper and origami as a way of challenging these misconceptions and as a valid contemporary fine art medium.’

Whether it is working with paper or steel Alex’s work both internationally and at home continues to unfold to high acclaim. His current exhibition at the Crawford and forthcoming one at Uilllin will provide an opportunity for locals to see that talent for themselves. 

‘Earth Wind&Fire: Made in Cork Contemporary’ is running at the Crawford Art gallery in Cork until 17th February 

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