For Michael – both Blacksmith and Sculptor in County Sligo, Ireland – the manipulation of metals via a heat source is in his lifeblood and DNA. Growing up and drinking in his brother and father’s welding careers at Portsmouth docks began the seepage of a vocational calling in his veins, later realised upon by moving to Ireland and becoming a blacksmith’s apprentice. In his early 30s at the time, Michael experienced a ‘coming home’ the moment he first stepped into the forge. In his own words:-
‘It was as if I’d been away on a long trip but had finally made it home again. I became enthralled with the forge’s hidden depths, its elegance underlining strength and durability.’.
Going on to win an RDS National Craft Award and to be shortlisted in the Golden Fleece Awards, served to galvanise this instinctive career move. Since then this passionate, outspoken artist has appeared as a Blacksmithing Mentor on RTÉ’s Craft Master television series, as well as becoming a teacher at the Leitrim Sculpture Centre. He also continues to mentor at his own forge, alongside producing some truly inspirational sculptural pieces.
What is your favourite art medium?
Hot forged steel. It has captivated me from the start. Its depths, subtlety, strength, versatility, the list is endless. When I first discovered the world of forged art, I was shocked at its diversity and richness. Mostly I was shocked because these artists/blacksmiths were, and still are, virtually unknown in the wider world. I think at some point the dam will break and I look forward to seeing the excitement of people coming to know these artists for the first time.
What stages do your sculptures go through before they become a finished piece?
Well I have an odd way of working, I guess – or cack-handed as I was often told growing up. I don’t sketch my sculptural work, I feel hot forged steel is my medium and I want to work my ideas within that medium. Usually the ideas come from something that has affected me. Something I can’t shake – that I’ve experienced, seen or heard. Then it will start to take shape in my mind and once it is close to fully formed, I’ll start. I’ve learnt over the years to start making by picking the bit that intimidates me most about the sculpture and work from there. That way it feels less of a struggle making something I’ve only visualised take form. I’m happiest when I have my hammer in hand forging out hot metal, so most of my work hinges on the fact that there will be a lot of time standing behind my anvil in my happy zone listening to The Clash and hitting hot metal.
The hardest thing is, because I self-fund my sculpture by taking commission work, I don’t often get a clear run at a sculpture. Most of the time I have to put it aside to keep the bills paid. Then you have to find a way to get back into the flow of that piece.
What do you hope your sculptures convey?
I hope that in some part they carry with them the passion and emotion they meant to me while working the metal. I’ve never liked mission statements and don’t explain my work. I see it as my job, my intent to express my emotional response to the world I find myself in – a given situation. Then the real fun part of being an artist is to see what others make of your work. People are always surprising me, seeing things I did not notice myself. When I started in sculpture I didn’t realise they would have a life of their own once they grew up and left my forge.
What is your favourite piece that you’ve ever made?
Usually I say my latest piece, you are always most enamoured with your new love. But if I had to pick one it would be The Gift That Keeps On Oppressing, or “The Black Hole” as my wife, Tiffany, called it while I was making it. It was hard fought and a joy at the same time, dragging that out of myself and it was one of those pieces I could not put down for paid work. It took a long time to recover, financially and emotionally, from making it. Just turning down paid work because I couldn’t think of anything but that sculpture. Then, I was emotionally drained for some time after. No one told me about that when starting out as a blacksmith. You never get used to it, you know it’s coming at the end of a project but you’re still not ready. Or maybe I’m just a bit soft.
What made you take up metalwork full-time?
A mixture of compulsion, stupidity, and stubbornness. In equal measure. I had worked a lot of different jobs, and I really do mean a lot. I found myself in Ireland with a young family and no career. Then one day I heard of a local blacksmith who was looking for a little help. I’d worked with metal when first leaving school and grew up with it as my Dad and one of my brothers were metalworkers, so I thought I’d give it a go. The moment I stepped foot in the forge I had this feeling that I was at home and it has never gone away.
Have you ever studied art formally or did you come to the profession via another route?
No, I’ve never studied anything formally. I left school at 15 in the mid 80s with no qualifications and a feeling that I was already on the scrap heap. I always felt I had missed out on not going to art college. But through my work over the past fifteen years I came to realise that my experiences have greatly influenced and enriched my work, giving a different vantage point. I meet a lot of graduates who appear to work by a rule book of sorts that stops much of their creativity before they have chance to experiment with it. My life before finding forge work has given me a depth of knowledge that has been of great benefit to me in my sculptural work and I would not exchange that now – it’s far too valuable.
What exhibitions have your previously taken part in?
Sculpture in Context, National Botanic Gardens, Dublin, 2017.
Open Submission Exhibition, The Dock, Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim, 2016.
Sculpture in Context, National Botanic Gardens, Dublin, 2016.
Made 2016, The Craft and Design Collective, Belfast, 2016.
Sculpture in Context, National Botanic Gardens, Dublin, 2015.
An issue worth mentioning, Hyde Bridge Gallery, Sligo, 2013.
LSC summer show, LSC, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, 2011.
RDS National Craft Awards Exhibition, 2011.
Contemporary Irish Forge work, LSC, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim. 2011.
Design Tree Exhibition, Moxie Studio, Lad Lane, Dublin, 2010.
RDS National Craft Awards Exhibition, 2010.
Openart, LSC, Manorhamilton, Co. Leitrim, 2009
What is your most common inspiration?
That’s hard for me to say. Mostly, because I feel the truth hinders my chances of getting exhibited. But that could just be my perception, being somewhat isolated in the wilds of the Northwest of Ireland. But fuck it, it can only be what it is. A number of years ago I realised that I was living in one of the most turbulent times in the past 60 years. Yet none of my work reflected this. Not only that, but I did not see a lot of other artists reflecting what was really going on around them. Ever since then, I have put my frustrations in this political quagmire we have all created into my work. Whatever gets under my skin finds its way into my work. I remember a curator going white once when I told her I wanted to call a possible exhibition of my work “Machiavelli was a cunt!” which sums up my feelings on the world, I think. Needless to say, that gallery lost interest in my work. That’s why I find it hard to say it, but I’m also compelled to say it. Otherwise I would be betraying my work in some way.
If one of your sculptures could be placed anywhere in the world, where would you like that to be?
From a professional-achievement point of view I’d love to have a peace in the V&A’s permanent metal collection. As a blacksmith it would be the pinnacle to have work purchased by the V&A, and it has been a goal of mine since opening my own forge.
On a more personal level, I’d love The Roses to be in a public collection in Munich. I created The Roses as a tribute to the White Roses of Munich. Their bravery and humanity has long been an inspiration to me. I can’t comprehend the magnitude of it. Sophie Scholl’s words – ‘Stand up for what you believe in. Even if you stand alone’ – are incredible on their own. But when you put them in context of her being only 21, living in Munich in 1940, loving her country but hating what was being done and then doing something about it, knowing it would cost her and her friends their lives. It’s astounding to be that brave. I hear a lot at the moment that we should not judge the events of the past by today’s standards; excusing complete bastards because they were talented. But people like Sophie Scholl remind us that people did stand up. They said ‘No. Not in my name’. I think today it is a lesson we need to heed.
How did you find being a mentor and metalwork teacher?
At first I didn’t want to teach. The reason I started was to help keep my art practise afloat. But I quickly realised that I loved it and would get a lot from it. I’ve met incredible people through teaching and have learnt a lot about myself and my work through them. It’s a gift to see your medium freshly through the eyes of others. I love watching my students grow in confidence, seeing how their ideas change and flourish with that confidence and ability. It helps remind me how much I have gained from my medium and how much I have to learn.
What are your creative goals for the long-term future?
I’m at a bit of an impasse at the moment. A catch 22. I need to spend more time on my sculptural work to bring it on to the level that I envisage. To do that, I need my work to be more widely exhibited and collected so I can afford to turn down commission work and concentrate full time on sculpture. I’m finding that hard fought. I only have myself to blame. I wanted to work in a medium that, on the whole, the art world doesn’t really understand. I chose to move to the Northwest of Ireland where I would be somewhat isolated from the opportunities afforded by living in major metropolitan areas. This makes me think of a comment by Grayson Perry:- ‘There is no such thing as an undiscovered artist anymore.’. I think he was talking in very general terms about the impact of social media. But it still is utter bullshit. Of course there are loads of undiscovered artists. They work in unfashionable areas and mediums. Like the rest of the world now, we all work in little bubbles and none more so than the art world. I think it is getting harder for artists from outside what is the art bubble to gain recognition. If you don’t live in the right areas or go to the right art college, your chances decline dramatically. As a result the tapestry of the art world diminishes. There seems to be less diversity in our galleries and I think there is a correlation from this to the declining number of visitors to public galleries. Outside of the major galleries like Tate Modern, for example.
Who would you most like to collaborate with on a metalwork sculpture?
I’ve never really been interested in the idea of collaboration. I’d feel sorry for the person who might have to collaborate with a stubborn blacksmith like me.
If I had to choose, there are two who stand out to me. Elisabeth Brim and Tracey Emin. Elisabeth, because I’m astounded by her use of materials and how it appears; she uses the attitudes of people reacting to her forging and incorporates that into her sculpture. I imagine that we would have the craic at the end of the working day. Tracey, because it has always amazed me how brave her work is. It must take a lot to be that personal and honest with your work, and I find it so touching. I would also love to see what she would do with forge work.
Who is your favourite sculptor?
Martha Quinn. Her work scares me with how she uses stone and other materials, so precise yet free-flowing. It leaves me in wonder every time. She is also a force to be reckoned with, forthright and intelligent which really comes out in her work.
If you could ask a sculptor to dinner, who would it be and why?
Erwin Springbrunn without a doubt. He was a good friend of ours and an amazing artist, not to mention philosopher. He died two years ago and I miss him and his wit and insight dreadfully. He was one of the most inspirational people I have ever met, along with his wife Doris who is a force of nature. Their house and our time with them have been very dear to Tiffany and me. He could floor you with a look and had such an amazing mind. He made me feel sane in a mad world.
Art Today wishes Michael all the best in his ongoing battle to highlight metalwork and blacksmithing as a fully recognised and incorporated art form. It is easy to see how he will continue to demand the required air time his genre so richly deserves. We fully appreciate his refreshingly honest, informed and passionate approach to his life’s work and career.
Michael Budd works out of his forge in County Sligo, Ireland. Details here:-
Mobile : 00 353 (0)87 6688400
email : [email protected]
[Credits:- michaelbudd.ie; rte.ie; bbc.co.uk; standard.co.uk; irishartblog.com; olivercornetgallery.com; magnumlady.com]