Gael O’Leary’s extensive artistic career began as a teacher and as a painter and printmaker. Since discovering her calling and talent in sculpture, her work over the past three decades has been predominantly in bronze and includes many large commissioned works, some up to five metres.
These works are installed in various localities in New Zealand, Australia and the USA. They are in schools, churches, hospitals and public spaces and reflect themes of spirituality and social justice so dear to her heart. She believes that, as an artist in the Christian tradition, the challenge for her is to make these themes relevant to today.
This relevance is seen especially in recurring themes such as her fascination with trees and all that they symbolize – growth and deterioration, hope and resurrection – as in the Tree of Life, Wisdom, and Regeneration, and a concern for the environment and the plight of the aged in Fractured Landscape, Carapace and Fragment. In the timeless piece called Family and in many of the religious works such as Madonna and Child, Refugee Holy Family, Last Supper and Return of the Prodigal, the primary subject matter centres around relationships.
Look closely and you will see not just visual representations of human issues but a sense of spirit which abides and gives life to the sculptures. Sometimes it is the gesture, the loving gaze, or the painstaking detail with which the hands have been created; at other times it is the surprise of a tree growing from a chair or a head, or, the echo of the absent figure rather than the present one, which piques the curiosity and the imagination. This is the essence which draws us to relate to each piece individually, engages our emotional responses and connects us with our own need for relationship and for hope.
Gael has worked with many churches, schools, hospitals, religious communities and other public institutions to create stunning works in bronze. Larger than life size monuments, religious figures, high-relief sculpture, figurative as well as abstract work are among Gael’s repertoire and she is able to work with clients to create a sculpture specific to their needs.
There is a fun side to Gael’s work as seen in sculptures such as GaleForce 1 and Galeforce 2, and Waiting for Ewe. These whimsical bronzes still reference the rich natural world with its supernatural energy, and each piece has an individual, distinct form which speaks of an inner energy or soul.
Born and educated in New Zealand, Gael came to Australia in 1994 to attend the Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne University, completing a Master of Fine Arts (Sculpture). Subsequently she was commissioned to create a Centennial Bronze, two five metre wall reliefs, for Mt Lilydale Mercy College, Melbourne. Commissions throughout Australia, New Zealand and the USA snowballed after that. In 1996 Gael was Co- Director of the Mercy Art and Creativity Centre, Black Rock Melbourne. From 2005 until mid- 2009 Gael managed the Bayside Sculpture in Highett, Melbourne, a ministry of Nga Whaea Atawhai o Aotearoa Sisters of Mercy New Zealand. In July 2009 Gael acquired the business in her own right and renamed the centre Bayside Sculpture.
This unique place caters for three resident sculptors and many students, predominantly women, who form a community of artists with varying degrees of experience and who work in diverse materials and forms. All are encouraged, supported and challenged to express their own individual essence through sculpture and to honour that endeavour in each other.