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Can tradespeople be artists? Lets ask Johnny Clasper.

Updated: Mar 1, 2020

Can tradespeople be artists? An interesting question which is being explored by a new Irish series on TG4 at the moment called ‘Dullamullóg’

Launched last Sunday 13th January, the show follows six tradespeople who take on the challenge of creating a piece of critically acclaimed art.

Each tradesperson is paired up with a professional artist who helps them with their work. The final piece is then put in amongst professional art works which are all scrutinised by art critic Ciaran Bennett who then has to decide which piece is made by the tradesperson.

The show features renowned Irish artists Cliodna Cussen, Peadar Lamb and Turner nominated Liam de Frinse. The first episode follows Eamonn O’Neill, a Tree Surgeon from Shankill, Co. Dublin paired with professional sculptor Séighean Ó’Draoi.

Episode two pairs plasterer and bricky Gearóid Ó Ceannabhái, from Dublin, with the great Irish stone sculptor Cliodna Cussen.

An interesting show, worth checking out. Screens at 8.30pm on TG4. Repeated the following Tuesday at 11.30pm. The series will run for six weeks. Can also be played back on the TG4 website watch it here. I will look forward to seeing the next episode.  This show reminded me of a great tradesperson cum stone artist that I have been meaning to highlight for a while now. This person being Johnny Clasper.

Before becoming obsessed with stone, Johnny started off as a bricky. In fact from an early age his weekends were spent working with his father (a builder) as a labourer on building sites. Johnny quickly got promoted from broom and wheelbarrow to trowel and hammer. Johnny said that something happened when he was handed that rusty old trowel and heavy split handled lump hammer in his hands, a magic feeling inside. “With these tools I can build (a feeling I still get today when I pick up certain tools). A short while after I saved up and bought myself some decent tools. I was one proud 16 year old lad!”

A fast learner and keen to learn anything he could, Johnny put himself into college to study brickwork “At last something I really wanted to learn and really enjoyed doing”. Johnny became top of the class and earned the student of the year award 1997. “College taught me all about the modern ways of building while my time at work I learned many traditional techniques of laying stone, at the time I was always drawn to stone.. so many ways to lay it as opposed to bricks.”

The next 5 years or so Johnny worked on many stone houses, extensions and barn conversions before going self employed. Years passed doing the same things, that is until he started to read up and practice drystone walling. 

“This changed everything, without the mortar separating the stone, i became more in-tune and aware of the stone, studying the grain, natural shape and textures, different results and finishes were possible, everything was now falling into place or was it?

it was always my dream and goal to build something that hadn’t been done before, but everything seemed to have already been done by someone..

I had thoughts of somehow bringing stone to life but how?

a wall will always be a wall or will it?”

In 2010 Johnny decided to rent a small studio where he hoped to create something that wasn’t bound by the rules of building or drystone walling “both seem to contradict each other”

He started by making a seed sculpture with leftover roof slate, the pinnacle moment and the start of his creative journey.

“But the seed sculpture wasn’t quite what I had in mind” explains Johnny. “I wanted movement in the stone somehow”.

“I had an image of an attacking scorpion in my mind made with jagged stacked slate and polished black limestone, materials I had kept from previous jobs.

against all advice from my sculptor friends, family and my own instinct telling me not to do it, I decided to create the scorpion (or the illusion I saw in my mind)

the scorpion was an instant success and the door to my creative part of my mind blew wide open!”

From here Johnny started experimenting with flow. “If stone can be brought to life maybe it could become fluidic and flow like water would?”.

“Any chance I got I would arrange pebbles or shards of slate into flowing patterns or drains, mimicking the flow of water spiralling away.”

Last year Johnny was involved in the construction of a gold awarded show garden at the 2012 Harrogate Spring Flower Show. Part of Johnny’s design brief was to lay a stone slab and pebble path. Most people, if not pretty much everybody else would have been content with pebbles neatly spread between the flagstones. But Johnny being Johnny felt compelled to spend what should have been a five minute job into a nine hour labour of love, transforming what (in my opinion) was otherwise a nice ordinary show garden into an extraordinary gold winning one.    

Johnny has lots more great work on his website  but he is also a great man for the facebook so be sure to give his facebook page a like and keep up to date with all his work. 

Can tradespeople be artists? Hell yeah!

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