The sculpture of James Joyce ‘Ripples of Ulysses’ was commissioned in 1999 by Martin T Hart as a gift to his Alma Marter, Regis University. The agreement was that I should have complete artistic freedom and that Regis would have the option to ‘take it or leave it’ once the piece was completed.
I made a maquette (small study) of a single figure of James Joyce standing surrounded by rings of engraved text from the 18 episodes of Ulysses. The maquette was eagerly accepted and I started on the full scale piece, making the bronze figure was fine, I had done this sort of thing many times before, however the engraving was another matter – this was new territory. I realized that on the full scale a single disc of bronze would not be possible as expansion and contraction could cause all sorts of problems, so the idea of wedges seemed like the best solution. Then the eureka moment came, Ulysses is a story divided into 18 episodes that take place on a single day, so why not make a sundial? It is always so exciting when sculptures develop into something more during the work process.
Work on the 18 wedges got underway and took me 3 months, working every day with a howling milling machine running at at 60,000 revs per minute splattering a mixture of oil and shards of metal everywhere. Just when I was at the end of the job and thought I was finished a phone call came from Regis saying that they had, for the first time, read the text on the maquette and found Joyce’s words unacceptable for the university campus, wanting the text to be changed on 6 of the wedges. I could not compromise. Firstly I thought it was disloyal to James Joyce and secondly I couldn’t face the idea of re-engraving 6 of the wedges. So I said I would simply sell it to someone else.
It was sold to The Merrion Hotel, Dublin and unveiled on Bloomsday 2000.
Martin Hart was bitterly disappointed and acted as a mediator between myself and Regis till we eventually agreed that I would redo the sculpture with text chosen by Joycean scholar Tom Staley. Tom offered alternate text for the 6 offending wedges and I embarked upon the project for the second time. It came out better than the one in Dublin but took even longer, it truly exhausted me and since then I have never done a repeat of any sculpture, always moved on.
However on August 27 2012 the unthinkable happened, 9 of the wedges on the Regis sculpture were stolen and, to my horror, I found myself having to engrave them for the third time.
The question that nobody ever asked was – did I revert to the original or did I engrave the revised version?
Rowan Gillespie 2018