When Brandon Irish ’07 accidentally knocked over a statue in Professor of Art Tony Frudakis’ studio as a freshman, he collided with the world of sculpting.
According to Irish, he was studying music at the time and was only taking Frudakis’ class at the suggestion of his older brother. While he was working on a portrait after hours one night, Irish backed into a plaster cast of a young girl resting on Frudakis’ desk.
“I’ll never forget feeling it wobble on the desk behind me and then turning to see it falling,” Irish said. “Tony was visiting a foundry in New York when it happened, and I had to wait an entire week for him to get back before I could tell him. The first chance I had, I went up to him to confess that I had broken it.”
Before he had spoken more than few words, Irish recalled, Frudakis called him out for his mistake. Irish offered to do whatever it would take to make it right. Frudakis rebuked him calmly and empathized with the freshman.
“I remember that feeling,” Irish recalls Frudakis saying. “I broke one of my father’s statues once.”
Since this unlikely introduction to the trade, Irish has been laboring to master the art of sculpting. He first achieved success at Hillsdale College by helping Frudakis put embellishments on the Liberty Walk’s Abraham Lincoln statue.
“I was amazed at how facile he was — how quickly he learned and caught on to what was going on,” Frudakis said. “He was one of the best assistants I’ve had work for me.”
Since graduating Hillsdale, Irish has moved to New York, where he lives with his family and continues to enjoy artistic success. Right now, he is working on a project to commemorate the victims of the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks which will stand on one of the sites where the attacks occurred.
Irish said his monument will resemble the Statue of Liberty, symbolizing the love to which he believes all men are called in the gospels.
“My depiction of liberty presses in further to explore the step beyond, to understand the spirit behind the law fundamentally recognized by selfless love for fellow man and true brotherhood.” he said. “This compassionate spirit, the guiding motivation behind our law, is the conscientious, responsible exercise of freedom in a way that regards, even prefers, the welfare of others, ensuring liberty for all. The greater a society’s moral code, the more fully it can realize freedom.”
Irish has also become part of acclaimed sculptor Sabin Howard’s team commissioned to design the forthcoming World War I Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C.
“The memorial is not only about the interconnectedness of humanity, but the interconnectedness of time and how our memories of history live on in each and every one us and have a tremendous impact on the future,” Howard said in his 2016 proposal for the memorial.
In addition to using the lessons Frudakis provided him, Irish said he looks up to Howard as one of his role models both in his classical style and his vision for art.
“He’s really terrific. I’ve admired him a long time — actually since I was a student,” Irish said.
Right now though, Irish works out of his home-based studio where he lives with his wife and three children.
“It can be a little crazy at times, but the nice thing is that it allows me to work every spare minute that I can, while also being available when the family needs me,” he said.
He works on secular projects, but Irish said his art is deeply grounded in faith and the idea that every human being has been called by God to serve others by becoming excellent in some capacity during his or her lifetime. According to Irish, sculpting — and all visual art — allows him to say true things about the world that could not be put into words.
“I draw a tremendous amount of inspiration from the math and science of the human body, especially where these design elements are consistent with those found elsewhere in nature,” he said. “I am always fascinated at the way the infinitely creative mind of God chose to order things. I love the patterns and rhythms of his handiwork.”
For Irish, finding God’s truth in beauty is a goal toward which an artist should always strive, even if he will not reach it in his lifetime
“An artist never really arrives. He is always learning, always discovering, always expecting a beautiful surprise,” he said. “Art, as in life, is more about the process of growth than the arrival of old age. A listening ear and clear intentionality in the present moment are the two most important qualities to have in any vocation and in every stage of life.”
Irish said he works with a sense of purpose so that in the future, his work will inspire the kingdom of God on Earth.
“I hope that a thousand years from now, long after this artist has been forgotten, a work of his will still inspire the children of God to love bigger and live better,” he said.