summer I was privileged to visit the sculptor David Moore.
David and his companion Jolanta, an installation artist, have
transformed their bucolic setting in rural Quebec (Canada)
into an oasis of creativity. The house overflows with artwork,
books and music and is adjacent to a large, multi-purpose,
old barn which serves as an exhibition space for visiting
artists. A ground floor studio and the barn's cavernous loft
feature David's large sculptures and another work space. It
is always exciting for me to visit artist's studios, and in
this case even more so, since I've admired and been moved
by David's work for many years.
David's sculptures and the materials he works can induce at
one extreme a cathartic response, and at the other, a contemplative
response; sometimes collective memories are awoken. His sculptures
speak to a certain unease and discomfort. One cannot remain
unengaged when viewing David's installations.
wanted to know how David became an artist and to explore what
it is about his work and materials that have such a profound
effect on the viewer. David proved to be both articulate and
very forthcoming about his background and his philosophy of
art-making. The following is more of a long conversation than
a traditional interview. I resisted editing so as not to lose
the nuances and insights that David has developed over many
years of teaching , making art and thinking about what it
means to be a fully engaged artist
SCHRUFER: You've been creating art for a long time, would
you tell me a bit about your career?
MOORE: I first had the thought that I would like to be an
artist when I was quite young, I think about nine or ten,
when I saw a reproduction of The Laughing Cavalier by Frans
Hals. I was trying to paint like Hals and not succeeding but
it didn't seem to matter. I remember there was music playing
and I was suddenly possessed by the very serious thought that
I would always listen to music when I painted. It strikes
me as quite ludicrous now except that it says something about
how I really needed to create a parallel world very different
from the conventional Irish middle-class milieu that I found
My father, a doctor, was severe, with lots of ideas about
discipline. I was quite afraid of him and I think the whole
household was. too. I don't ever remember being hugged or
played with by him. My father was well-liked by his patients,
a good man who just didn't know how to be a father. I was
actually shocked how well-liked he was by the number of people
who attended his funeral. It seemed so contrary to my impressions
of him, yet he was my own father. I'm not a father now so
I can hardly make a criticism but I think I didn't want to
be a father. I was afraid of becoming like him.
Being born Protestant in an almost wholly Catholic country
that practiced religion assiduously meant that we, as kids,
were not supposed to mix with neighbouring kids. It was strange,
lonely and incomprehensible to me. They seemed to have more
fun and I guess my attraction to art was basically an attraction
to the romantic world that their lives seemed to represent.
I drew boxers, terrible caricature-like creatures with big
unshaven chins and crew cuts giving each other black eyes
and split lips. I would enjoy showing them proudly to genteel
visitors sipping tea from Dresden china cups. They loved it
and I thought it was a hoot.
Between the ages of fourteen and seixteen, I was supposed
to think seriously about what my future would be. I couldn't
think of anything that was considered serious: only a sailor,
or later, a surveyor, or else a forester. They all got you
away somewhere else. Unfortunately I was good at everything
at school. I was what you call a good boy despite everything
I've written here. I learned the rules, or as the adults put
it, knew my place. Only the occasional revolution. So the
result of having good marks in school resulted in me being
enrolled in economics and political science at university,
despite voicing the desire to study art at an art school.
I had been told that there was no security in that and that
I would starve. I was too young and compliant to defy my parents.
It didn't matter that I had been spending all my spare time
in the art room. I was the younger son who was supposed to
be docile and compliant while my two elder brothers, twins
to boot, were so obviously the favourites and inheritors,
that if they had been roosters crowing from on top of a pile
of manure I would have enjoyed them better. It was really
hard to find myself, who I was, when every natural aptitude
and preference I had was dismissed.
So after my father suddenly died of a heart attack, I was
rushed, thanks to my grades, to university at the young age
of sixteen, studying a subject I came to detest heartily.
Price theory, tariffs, monopolies, the good words of Adam
Smith and Samuelson all rolled off me like water off a duck's
back. I had no discipline. Nor was my heart in it. Then I
failed, but not enough to be out. I continued at a more humble
level, adding art history to the general subjects. On my own
initiative I attended an evening drawing group with a French
master of the old school. So, plumb-line in hand I learned
how to draw a bucket with willow charcoal. It was very serious.
I learned who Cézanne was, and Chardin and Corot. Then
I fell in love with a Catholic girl. It lasted two years,
the time it took to finish university, the intensity of my
emotions being matched only by the resistance of her parents
to the idea of their daughter having anything to do with a
I came to understand the relationship between politics, religion
and sex. I cannot say the bedroom because it never got that
far. Suffice it to say the parish priest had the last words
of advice. Carmel was full of tears and regrets and I felt
that I was up against a mountain of prejudice all around.
Disheartened I took the boat for Canada.
SCHRUFER: Your work has an organic visceral quality which,
for me, seems to illustrate the idea of collective unconscious.
Is that deliberate or a result of the materials and forms
you work with?
MOORE: I have a lot of sympathy for the theory of the collective
unconscious and have been led from that to Carl Jung's writings
on alchemy which was actually more interesting to me than
the collective unconscious theory. I have had a lot of writers
respond to the mythological aspect they see in my work, but
often it was overly coded, and made me feel like the work
was reiterating something from the past. That made me quite
uncomfortable, for much as I enjoy myth and how it supports
the idea of the collective unconscious, I feel that the dynamic
unfolding of the present ongoing myths we live out are being
completely ignored. The fact that myths evolve and have variants
and inversions and shifts through time and in how we read
meanings into them is completely and diametrically opposite
to this coded notion of old story frozen-in-time notion of
myth. Too intellectual, just like the collective unconscious
I mean this from the point of view of a practicing artist
who is not a simple illustrator of something external, but
is living out a breathing version of the myths that are so
close as to be invisible.
We get so caught up in the idea of facts and objective truth
that we forget that the artist in the broadest sense (writers,
musicians, etc) are revealing little bits of the untold nameless
myth that someone, a lot later, a lot further down the line,
will pin down like a butterfly to a piece of cardboard and
give us its exact name and genealogy.
We tend to forget that any theory about the unconscious is
a conscious construction about something that is hidden. Art,
dreams, slips of the tongue do give us some pointers, but,
by definition the unconscious is hidden and unknown so it's
a field day for wonderful hypotheses. But they do help in
as much as the blind can lead the blind. The Pied Piper was
a great myth about how everyone follows the fellow who plays
the beautiful tune, and I suppose I could say that the collective
unconscious is a sort of beautiful tune. For studio practice
I don't give it the time of day. It's useless.
can replace the struggle with material, and the mysterious
golden feeling of when you have arrived somewhere and you
can say the work is done and sigh a sigh of contentment and
let it go. Just to believe it and not keep worrying it to
bits is a great spiritual victory that the work can actually
articulate something very deep, which cannot be expressed
in any other way except the via miracle of transformation.
It's all alchemy. Carl Jung's discussion of alchemy, the mysterious
marriage of matter and mind, the euphoric multiplication of
delightful variations, the bitter struggle with the dragon
to get beyond your first nice and easy idea, to be lost in
the wasteland of despair, to sleep on it, which means not
much sleep and to be tormented by self doubts, and to emerge
with some little seed, a suspicion that it all should be abandoned,
and then the awakening to discover that the moment of abandonment
revealed the work. The distance between the gallery wall and
the garbage bin is no more than a sneeze. I hazard to guess
that countless wonderful works have been tossed away because
one was not ready to acknowledge what had happened. In the
same way I suspect some dreadful second-rate works have found
their way into our culture because the artist was not ready
to make that fatal break with conformity, what one might call
pleasing the parent. There has to be a little bit of the rebellious
Returning to your question which I’ve approached from
a different angle, the visceral quality comes from the material
itself, the process of exploration and its ability to bring
me down to earth. I try to turn the limitations and qualities
of the material to good account, which often means allowing
time and change to be inscribed in the work. I look at archeological
fragments and find their incompleteness leads in two directions,
one, in a broad sense, is the idea of culture being an ongoing
project, never complete, always demanding of the spectator
an imaginative engagement in the completion of the work, and
on the other hand the breaks and interrupted surfaces reveal
an inner structure that may be at odds with the illusionistic
nature of the surface. That seems honest to me, that a surface
shows what supports it. Take a wood sculpture. I embrace the
fact there are cracks and knots and more than one join. This
new work, In Circa, where I show a huge tree trunk that I
have hollowed out, goes further and makes the wood bark, the
surface of the tree, which I didn't make, into the front of
the work. It masks, like in a masquerade, the inner work where
I have hollowed the tree, allowing the marks to witness a
kind of excavation process. This is a reversal of the idea
from archaeological fragments, where the surface was worked
and the inner part was revealed by time, wear and tear and
breaks. I would think that it indicates also my understanding
of the purpose of art, or at least my art, to work from things
and situations which are connected in the most general sense
to my understanding of our collective life and try to reveal
something under the surfaces. I know a lot of art now is about
surfaces primarily, but mine, at least the work with wood,
is more about the disintegration of the beautiful surface
into some trans-personal melting pot of natural energies which
connects with geology and physics. Regardless of the notion
of marks of time being indications of some moment in the past,
I see them more as a present acknowledgement that all is change
and flux just like what Heraclites is reported to have stated.
The visceral quality you speak of derives from the material
I use. I also do drawing and collages, as well as videos,
and I think it holds true for that too, but to a less obvious
degree. For example in drawing and painting the idea of drips
and smears, erasures and re-drawings have been so assimilated
as part of a general vocabulary of the last thirty or forty
years that they have become a little bit academic.
It takes a very good artist, like Betty Goodwin, who is already
gone, to be able to reassert the original thought about time
and change without it becoming simply a mode of work.
I mention archaeology as a source of inspiration and reflection.
Right at the beginning of my art practice I had got to the
end of the French academy of figure drawing. I had done a
lot of it and the figure, along with objects, was central.
But it was all disconnected on some deep level with what I
was experiencing in my life. I went through a period of abstraction,
and that too became too much like
designing a good piece of furniture. Abstraction has that
in it. It used to have heroic meaning in its
alliance with revolution, but that's all been lost. There's
no revolution in abstraction any more. It has been academized
over the generations. What I was looking for was some other
approach to the figure which did not deny anything from abstraction
nor the French academy of the figure, but could bring the
figure on to a new terrain. First was the mirror. The spectator
sees himself or herself. The figure had to approach the scale
of the person looking at it to have this mirror effect. It's
a bit like theatre. You could think of my countryman Samuel
Beckett and the theatre of the absurd, incidentally part of
my Celtic lineage. Alchemy is not far away through Bosch.
But where does the fragmenting of the figure come from, apart
from archaeology, which shows us sites again and again with
stone legs, stone feet, stone torsos, but few hands, heads
and other extremities, the few surviving examples being hoarded
away in museums like so many gold nuggets.
Flashing back to my father's surgery which was in our house.
The walls of his surgery were covered from floor to ceiling
with cross-sections of various parts of the human body. I
am sure his patients were endlessly impressed because I, as
a little boy, certainly was with the sections of knees, hands,
spleens, hearts, brains, throats, feet, spinal chords, livers,
kidneys, bladders, fingers, specific parts of which had been
blocked in with flat colours of the purest of Bauhaus hues,
reds, greens, blues and yellows. This was to help distinguish
one part from another in order to better understand the body.
I remember being very impressed with all those joyful colours
inside these ominous human parts and asking my father if we
really look like that inside. He assured me that we do, and
for a long time I was convinced that we were full of colours.
I think of it now from my present point of view as just one
more contradiction between the surface and the inside. To
this day, I’m still not sure if this was an unconscious
influence on my figure work or if it was entirely coincidental.
It may be once more being led along by the Pied Piper who
plays a beautiful tune.
LYDIA SCHRUFER: You divide your time between Canada and Greece.
Does your location influence the kind of work you do?
MOORE: Since my first visits in the late 70s right up to now,
I have been struck by the intense sensation of being enclosed
in tiny, crowded, icon-infested, incense-laden, obscure, glowing
warm comforting caverns of orthodox churches that dot the
landscape everywhere, even the most unlikely place such as
hilltops. Inside is invariably one icon which stands out because
it is festooned with silvery metal images depicting legs,
arms, feet, hands, breasts, heads, ears, babies, houses, penises,
eyes, noses, pigs, cows, donkeys, boats, everything that a
supplicant might want to pray for, to have, or to cure. The
images are like wishes.
started to understand that this was an aspect of my work with
parts of bodies that, while not being a conscious driving
force in my decisions, could very easily be a wish for wholeness.
The part represents the whole. Many times I have made a sculpture
of a leg, for example, which, by its proportions, resembles
the whole body when seen from a certain angle. The wounded
self was a portrayal of the healthy whole.
Healing is a movement through time and space brought into
action by the mind and the correct conditions. Outside --
that it is a mystery and one can look to karma and find comfort
in that. Suffering takes many forms and the principle of kindness
is what binds us, and the art work has always had some kind
of diplomatic role to connect what has become disconnected.
It is just here, present, but not a concern that I think about
when I'm making a work. The work just has to feel right after
a number of initial decisions which direct the area of research.
reflection I got from those icons was from the predominance
of gold in the background. Many icons were smoke-darkened
by the myriad little oil-lamps hanging in front of them, to
the point that all that was visible was the glowing gold background
like a floating abstract shape. The saint had gone, just a
dark patch. Maybe it’s true that the most important
and the most long-lasting part of us is our aura. It confirmed
for me Matisse's lesson of the equal importance of the space
around the figure. Here it was holy, metaphysical, full of
medieval spiritual ardour, gold, whereas Matisse would simply
speak to the idea of 'wholeness,' and the inner satisfaction
coming from the image which transcends the appearance of the
figure. My sculpture, in the same way, I consciously resolved
should have a simplicity which serves to activate the space
around, which includes us and all the rest.
answer your question about Greece’s influence on me
is not simple or direct. The first time I stepped from the
airplane onto Greek soil, I felt an amazing lightness and
sense of freedom and of me being completely me. It had nothing
to do with Greek culture or light or landscape, which, in
themselves would be enough for anyone. In truth it was a profound
spiritual feeling which has never changed since. I still feel
it after more than thirty years of going there.
I have missed a year, but not often, only when there was no
money or some kind of major upheaval in my life. The place
I go to now is a small village on the Peloponnesian coast
tucked under the mountains and with a plunging view to the
sea. I awaken to the sounds of the village, the animals, goats,
donkeys and hens gently complaining, the twitter of birds,
and raucous voices preparing donkeys for the day no less than
my love, Jolanta, turning in her sleep. In the same village
are houses owned by French, German, Belgian, Swiss, people
not unlike me, who have fallen in love with this place and
come for respite, beauty and wonder. Three doors away there
is the house of Hilary Spurling who wrote the recent prize-winning
biography of Matisse, and John her playwright husband.
So Greek peasants living just as they lived for thousands
of years, whose sons and daughters are madly trying to catch
up with cars, cell-phones, are living in close proximity with
middle-class professionals from all over Europe who stay in
exactly the same kind of old stone houses, properties sold
off by the more ambitious villagers who now have made more
modern houses down by the sea, half an hour away by foot.
gave me a beautiful spiritual substitute for my country of
origin, Ireland, from which, by an unfortunate turn of family
circumstances, I became estranged, like Joyce, like Beckett,
like Bacon and many others. It was Joyce who so aptly said
“Ireland is the sow that eats its farrow.” Ireland
was indeed for me a place of slow melancholy rain staining
ancient walls, that and a history of aborted uprisings against
England, and an incomprehension of visual art.
on my first trip, I arrived in Greece with Henry Miller's
Colossus of Maroussi in one hand, and something of
either of the Durrell brothers in the other. That was the
right introduction for that time. Greece struck me as out
of time, slightly crazy, abrupt and shocking, but real. It
was wonderful to be in a place that felt so real. I was craving
for the real after so many illusions. I looked on insults
as better than sweet reassurances that amounted to deferred
I never had a problem with Greeks bearing me gifts. The little
handful of lemons discovered on my doorstep, or any other
of the many spontaneous gifts I have been enriched by, were
given with a feeling of caring for your neighbour, even if
he was different in so many ways, and a stranger come from
very far away.
SCHRUFER: Recently you've incorporated technology such as
Photoshop while maintaining the natural sensibility in your
work. Is technology a means to an end, just another art making
tool? In general, how has computer technology has impacted
on your art?
MOORE: I have a very pragmatic view that they are tools. I
started as a painter but try to keep that quiet. I don't have
that ethic about devoting myself to it every day for so many
hours. I'm more of a thinker who thinks his way into a medium.
First the brain, then the hands, then the machine. I just
don't want either the brain or the hands to become a machine.
For me, having a set program is too machine-like. It's the
brain becoming a dictator. I would like a robot in the studio,
it would free me up to go forward in the logical consequences
of a line of thinking. I see the computer as a sort of robot
that's been boxed in and imprisoned on a screen. But very
smart, very useful. And it doesn't tell me what to do. You
see I want the mobility to move around in my mind. I want
When I walk into the studio it's a mess. But it's my mess
and it says I am free. If it gets too much I spend three days
cleaning things up. You see I'm also a collector. Found objects
find their way into the studio. Sometimes they are the element
in a work that bring it alive.
I fight boredom. If a material is starting to bore me and
I see a certain predictability and repetition it's time to
change. If an image becomes obsessive I turn it on its head,
do the opposite. The moment my mind poses the question of
wondering how something would look if . . . then I have to
do it, It becomes imperative. I don't ask myself if it will
be good or not. My curiosity is greater than my insecurity.
So I do it. My sketchbooks are full of unrealized works. That's
where I am most free. But I cannot physically do them all.
Some just wait and wait and then, one rainy day when I am
looking for a point of departure, I look through my old notes
and sketchbooks and it clicks. I am doing a work right now
in wood and metal which comes from a sketch I did about fifteen
years ago and never found the appropriate moment. Others were
forgotten, dismissed or rejected. So this one withstood fifteen
years of periodic scrutiny. It never seemed old or dated.
It was begging me to give it the light of day.
To the computer, I think it's wonderful how clean and seamless
a collage can be from taking bits from different sources to
recombine them, that and dealing with text as visual material.
Computer technology has permitted an evolution and development
of a visual idea about ten times faster than I would normally
expect with an equivalent work in the studio. What that does
to a process is exponential. If it is ten times faster, my
mind is freed up nine tenths of what normally takes my attention,
and that part of my mind can move and evolve many times more
than ten times. In fact, the problem is the opposite of the
studio. It goes too fast. If an artist goes too fast it's
not good. All those delicious discoveries become redundant
and never see the light of day. So, apart from photo, for
which I think it is a natural extension, I see the computer
as the place for preparatory work, but the studio is irreplaceable
for the creation of the actual physical entity which will
fully satisfy our need for a full spectrum of sensorial data.
The computer appeals to the mind and can carry us far away
into other dimensions, spaces, atmospheres, dreams, way beyond
mundane considerations like gravity and weight, but has the
consistency of smoke or a mirage. It sets us up. It doesn't
put us down. It is the opposite of grounding, which a physical
art work does. It is not good or bad, it's fantastic and is
helping to give a visual education to more people than otherwise
might have been.
When I work on a wooden sculpture I have already sketched
that work on paper many times over. But the sketch has nothing
of the visceral quality. That comes later. When I work on
the actual piece I get very absorbed in the doing and try
to give it the sense of anticipating the wear and tear of
age. I don't deliberately try to be expressive. I just try
to work with the inner structure of the material, setting
up a dialogue between the surface and what is exposed under
the surface. With wood it means knots and cracks and the marks
of the saw. I see the marks as akin to cross-hatching in a
drawing. I can lead the eye in different directions around
a piece just by the way a network of marks wrap the volumes.
Then a smoothness may suggest an inner form swelling and pressing
its way in an effort to resist the containment of the network
of saw marks.
different media do influence each other. In my six years of
drawing installations between 1999 and 2005, I was drawing
directly on the gallery walls, interrupting the drawing with
light and objects. There were also objects on the floor which
continued the drawing. I did about a hundred different installations,
each very elaborate, in the corner of my studio. Almost nobody
saw them. I took photos from pre-planned positions and the
photo became the work. In fact the drawings evolved from the
view from the camera, which, right from the start, had been
set up in anticipation of the photo.
I had painted the floor of the corner of my studio white,
so it was a bit like evolving a work inside a white box, using
drawing, objects, light, mirrors, shadows and reflected light.
I wanted something extremely subtle that could not be reproduced
a second time in any other site. The subsequent photos I called
portable installations, and that's what they were. I wanted
to do a book of them but never had the funds to do it. I'm
still hoping. Some of them are very very beautiful because
I introduced coloured light which gave them the feeling of
the magic lanterns of the beginning of cinema about 1900.
I spent ten years hoping that computer-generated imagery would
fade away like a passing fashion, basically because it was
putting everything I had learned into question: the uniqueness
of the art object as the exchange-value of art. I was somehow
prepared however by my conceptual approach a long time earlier
in the late 1970s when I did the Project Pompeii, 1977-79.
It was based on the question of what the individual in Pompeii
experienced in the few minutes before realizing that death
was imminent. It was not an object-based approach and, if
I had known computer technology as I know it now I would have
had amazing options open to me as to how to develop something
very immediate and moving. I did the best I could with photography,
plaster bandages and a tape-recorder, simulating those last
moments with my own body. I did another project, Blasket Project,
in 1978 on Blasket Island, a small island off the coast of
Ireland, very archaeological, going through the houses of
the one abandoned village, doing various interventions 'in
situ,' using photography, archival material, excavated artefacts
and fragments, words and drawing. The feeling of abandonment
was everywhere in the mouldering roofless cottages, open to
the wind and storms from the Atlantic ocean, filled with knee-high
nettles and scurrying rabbits. That too would have been immensely
enhanced by the knowledge of computer programs.
So eight years ago I set aside a time of six months to master
this technology. I was alone in the village in Greece with
a small digital camera, a laptop and taught myself Photoshop
and other programs. But I don't abandon my object-based practice.
I recognize limits within each. The
virtual world of digital imagery is a genuine experience in
as much as it triggers our brains in specific ways. It is
sensual and immensely malleable. For this reason alone it
has become the meeting place of all major art disciplines,
as well as any information-based discipline including all
of the sciences. This is immensely important for the development
of the arts, because, in a society that is marked at every
corner by the sciences, the arts have, up to recently, excluded
the sciences from their subject matter. We now know that pure
science is highly intuitive and shares visions as extraordinary
as any conceived by poets or artists.
So this meeting place is to be celebrated in a world that
is starting to have a coherent vision of itself. Think globally,
act locally is a potent slogan particular to our time.
But, as a sculptor in traditional material I am not satisfied
to ignore the world of virtuality, but to think about it as
an expansion from traditional object-based concerns. I will
give a concrete example. I made a wooden sculpture of a life-size
figure in 1995 with outstretched arms which appear to be taking
off into space, and called it Isis. It's very beautiful, slim,
feminine, mysterious, other-worldly. You could not have a
more traditional sculpture. Then, much later, I made, with
the help of a digital technician, a 3-D digital model of this
sculpture, put a black background and rotated it as if it
were drifting off into planetary space. I made a 3-minute
DVD which I looped and projected with a video projector onto
the floor. The impression was that we had a ten foot square
hole in the floor we were looking down into, seeing the sculpture
of Isis moving very slowly in an unpredictable way, sometimes
tumbling over and over, sometimes moving out of our vision
to reappear again from another side into an infinitely deep
space. It was incredible, vertiginous.
I put a partition so on one side one could experience this
projected vision in semi-darkness, and on the other side was
the sculpture, lit up normally, that one could examine and
walk around. The artwork was the two parts, the comparative
and complementary experiences of the sculpture and the video
projection. It was not two works but one work. I finally finished
it in 2007, a work that took twelve years in the making. I
called it Isis Exploratrice as a counterpart to all the maleness
of the space jargon of Apollo Explorator.
Digital technology doesn't replace anything. It is different.
It genuinely creates language when used creatively. But its
difference puts immense pressure on so-called traditional
artists to rethink what they had taken for granted. It either
makes them entrenched in their beliefs prior to computer-technology
or inspires them to transform. Some disciplines respond more
easily than others, but it’s primarily a response of
the individual practitioners than disciplines as a whole which
LYDIA SCHRUFER: I thank you David for sharing your time and
images © David Moore