Walking into John’s workshop at the Matt Talbot, you are immediately drawn to the pieces hanging on the wall. As I take a seat, John apologises for the smell and explains that he is currently treating his pieces with sulphur. We begin our conversation with us both working away as we speak, John on a piece for his exhibition and I taking notes on a laptop, but it’s not long before we both desert our work and concentrate on the story John tells.
Introduced to the trade by his father around 7 years old, copper work was the perfect outlet for his creative abilities. Creativity was always a part of his life in some shape or form having worked with crafts people including builders, plasterers and stone masons. Around 14 years old, however, his life choices began to catch up with him and drugs began to take over, taking any creativity that was in his life previously away. When recovering from addiction years later, meditation and mindfulness were never good options for him, and he says that instead he meditates with his hands through his work. What was originally a hobby for his father turned into something that would prove hugely important in John’s life and an escape from what he was facing. Creating copper pieces served as a distraction for John, often working on the pieces for 14 or 15 hours a day while he was working to overcome his addiction.
At the Matt Talbot, John would work on his pieces anywhere that he could find the space which often meant the kitchen table. Having seen talent in John’s work, the staff at the Matt Talbot offered him a room to act as a workshop:
‘So I just kept making pieces, never intending to sell anything, I had intentions of going back to be a stone mason. I would make things for people that I knew through the trust’
Over a five year period, John estimates that he has probably made 300-400 pieces. Just as his father passed on the skill to him, John has passed on the skill to many others and continues to do so. Having done a Train the Trainer QQI course, John now teaches workshops at hostels for people struggling with addiction. When we speak about the environment of his classes, John says that he doesn’t mind chaos and always takes the time to speak with the people who come to his class and hear their stories. He likes to make them feel as though it’s their class. He says:
‘To watch a guy strung out on drugs…to give him a break from all that for two hours. To see a guy like that have a break for two hours because of something I am doing is…more than heart-warming.’
When speaking about his pieces John mentions that it is more about the process of making them than the end result. For him, ‘each piece is like a part of the person I am today…the fact that I spent time on each piece, it helped to create who I am’. When people ask him what his favourite pictures to create are he always says Celtic knots. He makes a comparison between the complexity of the knots up close and his own life:
‘I love them because they’re chaotic, you can look at it up close but then when you step back from it and take time you can see that it is a full picture. It kind of mirrors my life, when you take the time to step back it’s a complete picture.’
He says he is always happy to sell his work to someone who is genuinely interested in the piece and appreciates it for what it is. Finally I ask John if there is anyone in particular that he would like to create a piece for or if there is anywhere he would like to see one of his pieces hanging. To this he replies ‘No, I’m quite happy to have 25 pieces hanging up here’ and points to the wall of his workshop. If this isn’t proof that it’s about the process and not the final piece for John than I don’t know what is. Every one of his pieces has brought him to where he is today, and for that reason the buyer walks away with a piece of John’s story.
Last modified: December 12, 2017