Herakles and the Stympalian Birds

Artist Name(s) John Kindness
Artwork title Herakles and the Stympalian Birds
Context/Background The vision for this public art project funded under the Per Cent for Art Scheme was to commission a permanent artwork which responded to the nature and complexity of the Source Arts Centre building in North Tipperary, its functions, respected architecture, and to use materials which would complement the overall architectural feel of the building. The Source Arts Centre represents a milestone in the development of integrated library, arts and cultural facilities in North Tipperary and won three major architectural awards in 2006. The architecture of The Source is a stunning, highly contemporary addition to the built fabric of Thurles town and North Tipperary.  

Herakles and the Stympalian Birds is an internal, wall mounted artwork presented in two parts. The main work is located in The Source Arts Centre library, and explores methods of writing up to the 20th Century. The second postscript piece of the work is located in the centre foyer, relating to 21st century communication methods such as texting and e-mail. It uses extracts from a locally relevant text by Thurles born writer Dennis O'Driscoll; the phone texts are extracts from the King James Bible translated into 'textspeak'.

The following are comments on the work by the artist, John Kindness, October 2009:

"Painting has often been compared with alchemy, and it can, both literally and metaphorically, turn base metal into gold. Great paintings are among the objects we value most highly in our society and yet they are technically just accretions of earths, resins and oxides. The idea of orchestrating base materials into beautiful objects is what drives most of my work. Herakles and the Stymphalian Birds is not painted in any accepted traditional manner. Canvas is replaced by the unlikely substrate of zinc. Oil paint is only present as a light scumble, in fact most of the basic painting is done with car paint. If the work was to be placed in a Carnegie library built with Victorian red brick I might have considered other materials, but McCullough Mulvin have designed the Source Arts Centre with glass and concrete topped with a rather lovely patinated zinc cladding. 

It is not often that a building material becomes a catalyst in the creation of a new art work, but in 2006 I had used a piece of recycled zinc, found in the marshes near where I live, to make a version of a 500 b.c. Greek vase painting of Herakles riding his patron of a flock of troublesome birds. So when I was asked to propose a piece for the Source Arts Centre, it was the architect's use of zinc that brought me back to Herakles. In the early work the birds were newspapers, like bad origami, fluttering in the way papers are blown around a city dump. It was a short step from newspapers to books and from books to the origins of writing. 

One of the most influential artists for me since my student days was a writer, not a painter or sculptor. When I read James Joyce's Ulysses it was the "big bang" in my aesthetic consciousness. Here was someone for whom every scrap ever written held literary potential; from shopping lists to Shakespeare, death notices to Dante, it all held latent power. It was the Oxen of the Sun chapter that provided the other part of my concept. As a baby is brought into the world, Joyce brings the English language from its origins to maturity and on to a modernist disintegration. I 'borrowed' this structure and made the birds tangible versions of scripts from Babylonian cuneiform to Futurist chaos. 

Herakles is formed from the base materials of a modern fly-tipping site. He is an interesting figure in Greek mythology and was immensely popular, subsequently being taken up by the Romans as Hercules. His archetype still exists today in the form of the super hero, but Herakles didn't have the moral agenda of a Superman or Batman, in most of his exploits he is just following orders. Ireland has passed through the dark ages of banned books and proscribed authors, but there will always be threats to the freedom of the press and the licence of the poet. Joyce knew that literature would always survive; a book is a delicate structure, but the idea it contains can be the most robust thing on the planet."

Commission Type Other
Commissioner Name The Source Arts Centre and County Tipperary Joint Libraries Committee
Commissioning process Limited curated competition
Project commission dates April 30, 2008 - August 31, 2008
Public Presentation dates November 16, 2009 - January 1, 1970
Artform Visual Arts
Funded By North Tipperary County Council,Other
Percent for art Yes
Budget Range 35000 - 70000 euro
Project commission start date 30/04/2008
Project commission end date 31/08/2008
Location The Source Arts Centre and Library, Thurles, Co. Tipperary 
County Tipperary
Town Thurles
Street Address Cathedral Street 
Google Map Insert View this projects location
Content contributor(s) Melanie Scott - Arts Officer
Relationship to project Representative of Commissioners 
Associated professionals / Specialists involved

Selection panel for the curated selection of artists. 



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