Rowan Gillespie
Biography of Irish Sculptor Noted for Site-Specific Realist Statues.

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For more about arts in Ireland
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Rowan Gillespie (b.1953)

One of the most eloquent contemporary masters of Irish sculpture, Rowan Gillespie is internationally renowned for his bronze sculptures of emotional themes such as The Cycle of Life, Colorado (1991), The Famine Series, Dublin (1996-97) and Ripples of Ulysses (2000). He has emerged as one of the greatest figurative sculptors in the history of Irish art and his work appears in public and private collections around the world.

Gillespie was born in Dublin in 1953 to Irish parents, but moved to Cyprus when he was a child where his father who was a doctor worked. His abiding memories from this time were of a stunning Mediterranean light and a state of unrest in the country. At the age of 7 he was sent to boarding school in England and his family remained in Cyprus until he was 10.

Best Known Works

Aspiration (1995)

Detail From The Famine Series
Dublin (1996-97)

Birdy, Cresent Hall, Mount Street
Dublin (1997)

Cashel Dancers, Cashel


In 1969 he went to the York School of Art where he was first introduced to the lost wax casting process by the bronze sculptor Sally Arnup. In 1970 he attended Kingston College of Art where he studied wood-carving under John Robson and, through him, met the sculptor Henry Moore. Following his studies at York and Kingston, he completed courses at the Statens Kunstole in Oslo. He lectured for three years at the Edvard Munch Museum, and the works of this powerful Norwegian Expressionist remain an influence on him to this day.

At the age of 21 Gillespie had his first solo exhibition in Dublin, and in 1977 he returned to the city to set up his own workshop. He is unique among bronze casting sculptors in that he does all the moulding, casting and finishing entirely by himself in his Dublin foundry. In addition, all installations are either carried out or supervised by him in person, a routine which he says is central to the vision and understanding of his art.

For a guide to the chronology
and evolution of 3-D art,
see: Sculpture History.

Nearly all Gillespie's sculpture tells a story. Probably his most famous work, The Famine at Custom House Quay in Dublin, draws attention to today's world poverty as much as it does the Irish Famine of 1848. Each of the human figures in the group has a unique story to tell, and one cannot walk past them without being affected by their predicament. Initially he worked on smaller pieces of sculpture, but as his reputation grew, so did his commissions for site specific art. Public works of his native Ireland can be found all over Europe, USA and Canada.

Other imporant pieces include: his series of Hate and Hope , where the 'skin' of the figures is so sharp you could cut your finger. The 'Blackrock Dolmen', near the Blackrock Church (1987), The Cashel Dancers, beside the Rock of Cashel (1991); Looking Out At Sea, Malahide (1991); Aspiration, The Treasury Building, Dublin (1995) and Gimbere en Dhomen, Rotterdam (1999).

For a list of the world's best ever
stone/wood carvers and bronze
artists, see: Greatest Sculptors.

For a list of modern artists
see: 20th Century Sculptors.


Rowan Gillespie continues to work on site-specific commissions, from his studio in Dublin.

Film: "Sculpting Life"

A documentary film on Rowan Gillespie, Sculpting Life, was released by Moondance Productions in 2007. This was followed by the publication of an illustrated biography, 'Looking for Orion' by his long-time friend Roger Kohn; published by O'Brien Press. The booklet L'Eta Della Donna was published by the artist to celebrate the unveiling of his most recent sculpture in Treviso, Italy in 2009.

The Best Plastic Art
For the most important works, see: Greatest Sculptures Ever.

Solo Exhibitions

Rowan Gillespie's sculpture has been exhibited in solo shows at a wide range of venues, including: Moss Kunst Foreningen, Norway (1974), Galleri Cassandra, Norway (1975), Galleri Cassandra Norway, Lad Lane Gallery, Dublin (1976); Galleri 71 Tromso Norway, Bodo Kunst Foreningen Norway, Austin Hayes Gallery York, Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin (1977); Galleri Cassandra Norway (1978); Alwin Gallery, London (1979); Lad Lane Gallery, Dublin (1980), Galerie Husstege, Holland (1981); Solomon Gallery Dublin, Galleri Cassandra Norway (1982); Puck Inaugural Exhibition New York, Poole Wills Gallery New York (1983); Solomon Gallery, Dublin (1984); Solomon Gallery Dublin, Galerie Husstege, Holland, Jonathan Poole Gallery, London (1986-88); Solomon Gallery Dublin, Galerie Husstege, Holland (1994-95).

Sculpture Appreciation: Ireland
To learn how to evaluate contemporary Irish figurative sculptors like Rowan Gillespie, see: How to Appreciate Modern Sculpture. For earlier works, please see: How to Appreciate Sculpture.

More About Sculpture

For works from Ancient Greece, see Greek Sculpture. For other important Irish sculptors, read about the neo-classical John Hogan, the Anglo-Irish John Henry Foley, the Romantic Nationalist Oliver Sheppard, the academic sculptor Albert Power, the small-scale sculptress Rosamund Praeger, the traditional stone sculptor Seamus Murphy, the Surrealist FE McWilliam, the Polish-Irish sculptress Alexandra Wejchert, the expressionist Edward Delaney, the contemporary steel sculptor Conor Fallon, the bird artist Oisin Kelly, and the public artist Eamonn O'Doherty.

• For more facts about sculptors and contemporary sculpture in Ireland, see: Irish Art Guide.
• For details of stonework, see: Stone Sculpture.
• For information about ceramics sculpture, see: Ceramic Art.
• For our main index, see: Homepage.

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