Poured, pounded, polished, and sometimes patinated, Irish maker Niamh Barry’s process working with bronze is something like practicing alchemy. But the real sorcery is the transmutation of her ideas into a marriage of craftsmanship and modern innovation. Self-taught in metalwork, Niamh Barry’s most iconic pieces are an amalgam of meticulously engineered bronze, glass, and polycarbonate.
What’s more, her studio manages to manufacture roughly 30 furnishings a year with some of her larger endeavors crafted over the course of 600 to 1,400 hours following years of rumination. Several recent creations including the Shouldering Table, Ghost Bench, and What if Everything is Not Linear? are exemplary works showcasing Barry’s ability to defy gravity, manipulate perception, and commune with nature.
Underpinning each form is that of a 6-inch hammered gold boat, which references an artifact from the Broighter hoard – a historic treasure trove of gold artifacts from the Irish Iron Age. And while the genesis of Barry’s phosphor bronze fleet is rooted in the same spirit, each contributes a little bit more to her creative canon. “It’s difficult to say if or how these pieces correspond or advance each other,” the designer says. “All I concern myself with is listening to what my creative mind is telling me to do. It’s intuitive and visceral and expressing that with the highest level of authenticity to myself is what matters.”
The complexities of each object cannot be distilled to a singular “ah-ha” moment, but rather a fermentation. Sketches, maquettes, digital designs, and several dedicated studio assistants are activated by the slow burn of her genius. Ideas percolate, bubbling up from Barry’s subconscious until she recognizes the essence that wishes to be expressed. A series of images are then translated from her mind’s eye to paper establishing the piece’s language before those verbi-visual qualities are given physical form through model making. Engineering and craft techniques are further employed to draft workshop drawings that will help realize the final artifact.
Ghost Bench is a modest – relative to her portfolio – mirror-polished, solid hand-formed bronze seat. The seemingly floating, reflective mass is buoyed by three thin legs that are more like vertical planes thin enough to disappear. In contrast, the Shouldering Table pulls focus with its blue patinated bronze finish and organic structures that prop up a thin surface further articulated with a mirror polish around the edge.
Sculptural furniture originally launched Barry’s career but her foray into lighting design is transcendent. Considered her breakthrough piece, What if Everything is Not Linear? is of biblical proportions. A dazzling eight, hand-hammered solid bronze components join together as one sculpture that descends from above. “It is the realization of a sense I’ve had for 8 years… completely contrary to the ‘drawing’ with bronze lines that I was making,” Barry says. “It finally appeared in front of me and I thought, ‘oh there you are!’ Fully realized on paper and then finally in bronze.”
To learn more about Niamh Barry and see her work on view, visit MaisonGerard.com.
Photography of product in situ by Nigel Swann.