Paddy Campbell Sculptor

Di Cuore - From the Heart (ENG)


Between Chianti's vinyards to the South and the wilder hills of the Mugello to the north, Florence nestles in a valley, protected by hills that are studded with magnificent villas and the most elegant of Tuscan icons, its olive and cyprus trees. Modelled over the centuries by wealth, power and art, Florence still embodies, lives and breathes its status as the birthplace of the Renaissance. Even today, when we think of art, of sculpture, our thoughts come naturally to this small, still-potent city and to the history that is woven into its streets, squares and palaces.

Close to the heart of Florence, Palazzo Medici Riccardi offers imposing testimony to that history ? and in fact was instrumental in adding to it: as Florence's first important renaissance Palazzo, it was to become a model for others within and beyond the city's walls. It is also where the 13 year-old Michelangelo started his extraordinary life as a sculptor. Built on commission in the mid 1440s by Michelozzo di Bartolomeo for Cosimo, patriarch of Florence's Medici banking family, it was a seat of immense power, dominating a central area of the city that accordingly became known as the Quartiere Mediceo. Even today, Palazzo Medici Riccardi maintains that role as the seat of the Florence-based Provincial Council. It's a role that suits its facade perfectly: the ?bugnato?, the stony lower facade, lending the Palazzo the authority and sobriety of a city fortress, while the upper facade with its large stone windows gives it the airy grace of the noble home it was designed to be. A treasure trove of tapestries, artworks, ornate halls and the fabulous Chapel frescoed by Benozzo Gozzoli, Palazzo Medici Riccardi is its own most eloquent guide, showing us how power and nobility can be combined with art in one of Florence's most elegant buildings and one of its most evocative exhibition spaces. Indeed, once through the impressive main door, we enter the cool space of a magnificent open courtyard graced by some of Michelangelo's earliest works. Bounded by a covered portico and classical columns, it's a welcome and shady respite from the summer heat.

It's a perfect space too for Wind and Water, Paddy Campbell's giant homage to the elements. Standing 5 metres tall, this powerful bronze sculpture commands our attention, its exquisitely finished male and female figures intent in a delicate dance that belies this piece's sheer size. Its qualities are such an uncanny reflection of the building that houses it that Paddy's exhibition could not open on a more apposite note than this. It is the first time that Paddy has ventured into the creation of larger than life figures ? and in his characteristic all or nothing spirit, he has created not one, but two such pieces. Indeed, his Life and Death, also on show, stands no less than 7 metres high. The result of a commission from the council of Vicchio di Mugello, this breathtaking sculpture is a memorial to the victims of all wars. The making of these pieces has stretched the artist's capabilities enormously ? from technicalities such as building special armatures and studio supports that would fully hold and protect the wax originals, ensuring that they would not sag under their own weight in the summer heat, to moulding, casting, building and finishing them. And that's before considering the artistry and craftsmanship required to scale up from the artist's typical 1/3rd life size models. That Paddy and his extraordinary team have succeeded in making these two giants, four figures, is testimony to their skills, determination and enormous courage.

At the same time as Paddy has gone macro, he continues in his passion at the other end of the size scale with his scenarios ? the scenes from everyday life that are populated by crowds of real 1/3rd sized sculptures. Supported with hundreds of tiny specially-styled props, accessories and clothes, the scenarios are fun and approachable, and tell the myriad stories of normal people. The largest of the three scenarios on show depicts Florence's (and Paddy's) beloved Sant'Ambrogio Market, complete with stalls, buyers, sellers and all the chaos that goes with them. It seems hardly possible that the artist who climbs the lofty heights of his giants can also be passionate about the placing of a tiny leg of ?prosciutto crudo?, but that's the story teller in this Irish artist. And it's a showcase for his and his team's extreme versatility as artists, craftsmen and people.

And then there is the main body of Paddy's work ? the 1/3rd life size and full life size bronzes of men and sassy modern women who tell it like it is, who speak to us of things we know already, who challenge us and defy us, or the pensive nudes caught in the profound and very human space of a moment, who speak to our hearts, through their own bodies and hearts. It's clear that Paddy has a deep connection with all of his figures: from the market hustler, to his bronze girls on the town, through the lightly veiled and extraordinarily sensual Seven Veils and the feisty Ilaria, to his giants whose message is simply too big to ignore. He loves them all, the nostalgic, the powerful, the distracted, the fearful, the cheeky, the introverted, the joyous. And he loves them because he understands them deeply. He's a teller of their stories because he listens to them with cour-age ? the rage, the passion of the heart.

And now, here he is, with his work, with his stories, with that passion and cour-age, in the very palazzo where the renaissance took form, to speak to ? and from ? the heart.

Amanda Gronau