Fallon, Conor Hubert (1939–2007), sculptor, was born 30 January 1939 at Holles Street hospital, Dublin, the third of six sons of Padraic Fallon (qv), poet, playwright, and civil servant in customs and excise, residing at 9 Rhoda Villas, Sutton, Co. Dublin, and his wife Dorothea 'Don' (from her pet name 'Madonna') Maher (d. 1985). Shortly after his birth, the family moved on his father's reposting to Co. Wexford, where they lived at successive addresses in and near Wexford town, settling in 1948 at Prospect, an eighteenth-century country house near the town, where Conor and his brothers assisted their father in working a twenty-acre farm. Conor's early interest in literature and the arts was nourished by his father and elder brothers, and by contact with the cultured circle of writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals within which his father moved. Educated at St Peter's College, Summerhill, Wexford town, he began to draw in childhood, and entertained notions of becoming an artist, but indulged familial concerns that he choose a more reliably remunerative career, and studied natural sciences at TCD. While at Trinity in 1957 he began to paint, probably inspired by the example of Tony O'Malley (qv), a close family friend. Leaving university after two years on the advice of a botany professor who perceived his true inclinations, he worked as a trainee accountant in a Dublin firm and pursued his artistic vocation at night and on weekends. Largely self-taught in painting, he learned fundamentals of technique from Richard Kingston (qv), to whom he was introduced by O'Malley. Fallon largely painted landscapes in acrylic and gouache, in a manner heavily influenced by that of Jack B. Yeats (qv).
In 1964 Fallon visited O'Malley in Cornwall (whither the latter had emigrated several years previously), intending also to meet the Cornish abstract landscape painter Peter Lanyon (1918–64), the chief creative force in the thriving artists' colony centred on St Ives; his arrival, however, coincided with Lanyon's death from injuries suffered in a gliding accident. A gently sympathetic stranger amid the bereaved artistic community, Fallon found an immediate empathy and rapport with Nancy Wynne-Jones (qv), a Welsh-born painter sixteen years his senior who had studied under Lanyon. The following year Fallon moved to Cornwall to join Wynne-Jones; they married in 1966, and in 1970 adopted two young siblings, a boy (aged three) and a girl (aged one).
Fallon continued his accountancy studies in Cornwall, but abandoned them in the final phase before qualification. With a neighbour he bought a derelict farm at Zennor, restored the fields into workable condition, and launched a successful dairy operation. From 1967 he exhibited paintings in group shows, including those of the Newlyn Society of Artists. Elected a member of the society in 1968 as a painter, he began to redirect his interest from painting to sculpture, working initially in plaster and then in aluminium, taking as his primary subjects the local fauna, especially owls and other birds; his earliest aluminium pieces were cut and slotted, because as of yet he was ignorant of welding. His progress, especially in metalworking technique, was guided by the English sculptor Denis Mitchell (1912–93), though he eschewed emulation of Mitchell's style of pure abstraction.
Fallon had his first solo exhibition in Newlyn (1972), showing both painting and sculpture. In May 1972 he moved with his family back to Ireland, settling at Scilly House, on a hillside overlooking the harbour at Kinsale, Co. Cork. Removed from any centre of artistic activity, he devoted himself fulltime to a solitary development of his sculpture, refining his methodology and technique, and his skills in working various metals, beginning in 1974 to work in steel. He first exhibited in Ireland at a solo show at the Emmet Gallery, Dublin (1975), again showing both painting and sculpture, including his first steel sculptures to be exhibited. He showed sculptures alongside his wife Nancy's paintings in duo exhibitions at the Emmet (1977) and the Lad Lane Gallery, Dublin (1978). Beginning in 1983, he exhibited regularly with the Taylor Galleries, Dublin. Desiring closer proximity to Dublin art activities, and with their children attending university in the city, Fallon and Wynne-Jones moved in 1987 to Ballard House, Ballinaclash, Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow, where they both had studios.
Fallon's mature work was executed entirely in metals, primarily welded steel and secondarily cast bronze. His preferred medium was mild steel, but because of its tendency to rust he often employed stainless steel, especially for pieces intended for outdoor display. While some of his bronzes were unique works, most were editions cast from originals in steel or other materials. His meticulous reworking of bronze casts to remove defects and the traces of welding rendered subtle differences amongst the individual pieces of a bronze edition. Some of his public commissions were composites of steel and bronze.
His chief subjects continued to be animals – birds, mammals and fish – in a style that combined figurative representation and varying degrees of abstraction; only occasionally did he depict the human form. While his imagery was rooted in close observation of his animal subjects in nature – their anatomy, movement and behaviour – his artistic aim was not to achieve a precise literal representation, but to capture the essentials of the animal's appearance and character, while exploring the interplay of form, movement, and energy in space. His concepts usually began with a specific visual experience which, beginning with a preliminary sketch and continuing through numerous drawings, he would distil into an abstracted image that captured the essentials that he wished to express; after constructing a three-dimensional maquette in card, he would execute the finished work in metal. With a meticulous attention to detail, he took obsessive pains on finishing a work to his absolute satisfaction, conscientiously heeding Mitchell's dictum that the last one-hundredth inch removed from a sculpture's surface was critical to the work's integrity; his aim was an absolute clarity that would be sullied by the slightest fraction of superfluity. (Not every observer was enamoured by the elegant technical finish thus achieved; reviewing Fallon's 1996 retrospective, critic Luke Clancy asserted that Fallon compressed and distilled his metal images to such a degree that they had 'the compact presence of corporate icons' (Ir. Times, 21 September 1996).
Influenced primarily by the cubist paintings and sculptures of Picasso, Fallon was absorbed by the handling of artistic space, 'a space that penetrates and illuminates the object' (Fallon, 13). Other influences were Gabo, Brancusi and Calder. As against what he called the 'puritan' style of Barbara Hepworth (to whom Mitchell had been an assistant), which strips the image of inessentials in an attempt to reveal the essence, Fallon identified with the 'purist' style of Brancusi, which expresses the essence while retaining features of the physical and the particular. He was especially notable for his handling of negative space, and of the internal space of a sculpture. Only rarely did he conceive of sculptural volume as an enclosed mass; working with thin steel plates, and exploiting all the qualities of steel as a medium, he utilised the metalworking techniques of heating, bending, cutting, piercing, welding, hammering, incising, and polishing to create sculptural forms that twisted and curled and coiled around defined areas of space. Ciaran MacGonigal, contemplating Fallon's clearly defined curvilinear outlines that delineated chasms of negative space, compared his art to that of the calligrapher (O'Regan, 14).
As creatures of the sky, 'penetrated by air and space' (Fallon, 21), birds were peculiarly appropriate subjects to address Fallon's artistic concerns. He had a special interest in depicting birds of prey, and was fascinated by the 'concentrated intensity' of the hawk (ibid., 17): the taut alertness and potential for movement when on the perch, and the precisely controlled energy in flight, landing or attack. The only birds that he depicted as solid forms were crows, which he perceived as essentially earthbound, birds of the earth not of the air. His imagery was often invested with symbolic or archetypal connotations. Many of the recurring subjects of his bestiary – the owl, the hawk, the crow, the horse, the hare, the goat, the salmon – held significant places in Celtic and classical myth, folklore and art.
Most of Fallon's sculptures were on a relatively small scale, rarely exceeding half a metre in height, and often considerably smaller. Though most were sculpted in the round, occasionally he executed works in relief that comprised compound images depicting a bird in a landscape: 'The hawk crosses the void' (1990), 'Winter woodcock with Orion' (1999), 'The spirit of the lough' (2005). In 'The cock that crows in the morn' (1990), the cock's crow emanates visibly from its beak as a swath of negative space cut out of the metal panel.
For some time Fallon was ambivalent about executing public sculpture, fearful that the larger scale required would distort his imagery. As his reputation grew, from the mid 1980s he fulfilled commissions for increasingly larger pieces in public places throughout Ireland. 'Bird of hope' (1985), executed for a courtyard of the new Jonathan Swift wing of St Patrick's Hospital, Kilmainham, Dublin, depicts a woman with upstretched arms holding a bird with extended wings; the ambiguity of whether the bird is ascending or alighting suggests both a release from the confinement of illness and the intake of hope and grace. The monumental 'Dove' (or 'Bird in space'; 1985) is a quasi-geometric conception, commissioned by the Arts Council of Ireland for the quay at Mountshannon, Co. Clare.
Fallon executed a series of small and large sculptures on the theme of birdsong, all ultimately derived from the song of the nightingale: a bird of lustrous song but drab appearance, and rarely seen. Though meant to evoke the song, not the physical appearance, of the bird, the sculptures all are composed around a bird shape with uplifted beak in varying degrees of abstraction. The series culminated in two of Fallon's most accomplished public commissions. The 'Singing bird' (1991) in the atrium of the Irish Life building, Beresford Place, Dublin, is 6.7 metres high and placed amid lush foliage. Another 'Singing bird' (1993), consisting of sinuous steel rods that outline the bird shape, was installed in a fountain at Abbey Square, Enniscorthy, Co. Wexford.
Fallon sculpted two works for the Belfield campus of UCD: a crowing 'Chanticleer' (1991) at the Belgrove student residences, and a gracefully striding 'Horse' (1994) at the Glenomena student residences. 'Fantailed on the falls' (1995–6), a relief on an exterior wall of the UCC student centre, is a stylised compound image comprising a bronze salmon amid undulating strips of stainless steel representing the falls. 'Famine' (1995) was included in a group exhibition commemorating the 150th anniversary of the great famine, mounted in Claremorris, Co. Mayo, and Boston College, USA; determining that images of gauntly emaciated famine victims have lost most of the emotional impact they once conveyed owing to their familiarity via modern photography and electronic media, Fallon composed a work consisting of three broken cast-iron cooking cauldrons, evoking those used to feed the hungry during the famine, each surmounted by a crow in mild steel. The original version (1981) of 'Birds of day and night' was made for an exhibition benefiting Amnesty International at the Bank of Ireland Centre, Dublin, in 1982, and depicts two flying doves in an interlocked, yin-yang relationship, one a positive image in steel, the other a negative image cut from the steel panel. A later, larger version (1999) was made on commission for St Luke's Hospital, Rathgar, Dublin.
Fallon made a stainless-steel 'Winged horse' (1992) as a memorial to his father, Padraic Fallon, in Athenry, Co. Galway, and a bronze 'Running horse' (1999) for the garden of the Merrion Hotel, Dublin. His last, and possibly most important, commission was 'Pegasus' (2002–04), outside the Independent News and Media printing works at the Citywest business campus on the M7 motorway near Saggart, Co. Dublin. The composition comprises three images of a horse placed atop separate plinths arranged in a row; the first horse is wingless, the second winged and striding, the third winged and rearing; the bodies are executed in bronze, the wings and tails in stainless steel. The composition does not so much depict three individual horses, as the metamorphosis of a single horse from an earthbound to a celestial being.
Fallon's portrait of his father, Padraic Fallon (1987), was commissioned by the Arts Council. His portrait (1990) of James Joyce (qv) cunningly conveys the subject's 'visionary myopia' (Hilary Pyle in O'Regan, 14–15). A self-portrait in relief (1985), for the National Self-portrait Collection at the University of Limerick, captures the artist in pensive mood.
Fallon showed work regularly from 1977 at the annual exhibition of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA); from 1980, at the Oireachtas exhibition (where he was awarded the gold medal for sculpture, 1980) and with Independent Artists, Dublin; and from 1984, with the Figurative Art Group. He had an Arts Council solo touring exhibition in 1983, and was represented frequently in group shows of Irish art abroad. Besides regularly exhibiting new work at the Taylor Galleries, he had major solo and duo exhibitions in Sligo (1994), Carlow (1996) and Wexford (2006). His 1996 show at the RHA Gallagher Gallery was a career retrospective, including sculptures from the mid 1970s and a few paintings. In 1995 he contracted with Theo Waddington Fine Art, London, to represent his work worldwide outside of Ireland, where he continued with the Taylor Galleries. He was included in a group exhibition of modern sculpture at Waddington's (1996) and had a solo exhibition there (1997). His work was included in the collections of the Arts Council of Ireland, AIB, and Bank of Ireland.
Elected to Aosdána in 1984, Fallon was made an associate member (1982) and full member (1989) of the RHA. Serving two terms as RHA secretary, he worked closely with the academy's president, Arthur Gibney (qv), to effect reforms aimed at improving exhibition standards and forging a more modern and relevant public image for the academy; he organised the first in the annual series of RHA banquet exhibitions (1991). He represented the RHA on the board of the National Gallery of Ireland (2002–05). He was a board member of the National College of Art and Design (1990–93), which granted him an honorary associateship (1993). In 1994 he and Nancy Wynne-Jones were awarded resident fellowships by the Ballinglen Arts Foundation, Co. Mayo, occasioning the first of many working visits the couple made to the county; the fishing in Lough Conn inspired Fallon's late interest in sculpting fish, especially trout. (While angling was his chief recreation, he practised the sport idiosyncratically, observing and sketching landscape as much as tending his rod and line.) He was represented in an exhibition of Ballinglen fellows in Philadelphia (1994).
His eldest brother, Garret (d. 1996), was a Wexford-based veterinary surgeon. Brian (b. 1933) was for many years art critic of the Irish Times. Niall (1942/3–1996), a journalist and author, was assistant editor of the Irish Times (1985–90). Ivan, also a journalist, was deputy editor of the Sunday Times before joining Independent News and Media, serving as the group's South Africa manager and UK CEO; he wrote biographies of business magnates, including the authorised biography of Tony O'Reilly. The youngest brother, Padraic (1946–2012), was a financial journalist, author and entrepreneur.
In summer 2007, some six months after his wife's death, Fallon was diagnosed with advanced metastatic lung cancer. He died 3 October 2007 at the Blackrock Clinic, Co. Dublin, and was buried beside Nancy in Ballinatone churchyard, Greenane, Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow. A typescript in journal form was edited by his brother Brian and published posthumously, copiously illustrated, as Thoughts on sculpture (2012).