Joseph Walsh: Ahead of the curve

A visionary woodworker, furniture-artist and sculptor, Joseph Walsh creates unique and beautiful pieces through uncompromising craftsmanship and elegant use of line

by Edel Cassidy
Words Edel Cassidy

An 18th-century farmhouse halfway between Cork and Kinsale on the south coast of Ireland is not exactly where you would expect to find a hub of innovation for makers from all over the world. However, it is here at his ancestral home in Fartha that Joseph Walsh established his studio and workshop when he was just twenty years old. Self-taught, apart from a few skills he picked up from his grandfather as a boy, he is a designer and maker whose work reflects his passion for expression through material and form.

From monumental-scale sculptures to one-of-a-kind site-specific commissions, every piece within Walsh’s dynamic body of work reveals an intuitive relationship with making, a sympathetic use of materials and an expressive engagement with form. Between the studio, workshop and gallery he maintains a workforce of about twenty that includes local talent and artisans who have trained at the renowned school of Furniture Design and Wood Technology in ATU, Letterfrack, County Galway, as well as the famous Japanese woodworking school, Shinrin Takumi Juku.

Portrait of Joseph Walsh, furniture designer sitting in a carved wooden chair
Furniture maker, artist and designer Joseph Walsh. Image courtesy of Ellius Grace. 

From the outset, Joseph Walsh has approached innovation through traditional techniques, often in other craft forms, enabling new methods of making to create the truly bold and expressive forms for which he is known today, and which are realised in an ever-widening range of materials, including wood, resin, marble and bronze.

His achievements in art and design have been recognised by an honorary doctorate from University College Cork, a major commission for the National Gallery of Ireland and the acquisition of his works by renowned museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Arts and Design, New York; and the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York.

His body of work is represented in three main series:

Large-scale curved wooden sculpture by Joseph Walsh in a large covered space
Magnus V, 2018. Image courtesy of Norman Wilcox-Geissen.

Magnus

The Magnus series are ‘drawings in air’, but the sheer scale and presence of these sculptures (captured by their Latin name, ‘Magnus’) make their impact by encircling the viewer and redefining the architecture of the spaces for which they are designed. 

The series represents a challenge in innovation to transpose Joseph Walsh’s approach to material and form from the intimate scale of an object to hold in the hand to the monumental scale of an object to stand within. The grace and flow of the finished pieces belie the complex process – from sketch models to design development, prototyping and engineering – through which they have been realised.

Carved and curved dark wood dining chair in an elaborate gold interior
Enignum I Locus Chair, Chatsworth House, UK, 2017. Image courtesy of Andrew Bradley
Elaborate curved wooden canopy bed in luxurious bedroom
Enignum Canopy Bed, Fota House, 2010. Image courtesy of Andrew Bradley.

Opus

Opus represents the core of Joseph Walsh’s creative output. Each piece is designed to enhance the experience of those who encounter it – as it is used, moved around, touched – stimulating the senses each time. The pieces within the Opus portfolio are largely one-of-a-kind, created for site-specific commissions or exhibitions. Each of the works in the six series illustrated – Enignum, Lumenoria, Lilium, Exilumen, Eximon and Erosion – is realised through an intuitive engagement with form, materials and making.

Carved wooden dining table and chairs by furniture designer Joseph Walsh in a white concrete room
Dommus Suite with Cabinet, Dining Table and Chairs. Image courtesy of Andrew Bradley

Dommus

Dommus is a series created for living. Inviting an intuitive response that enhances the everyday experience of familiar domestic objects, these limited-edition pieces embody the expressive design and innovative craft techniques of Joseph Walsh’s work within the parameters of the home.

Man's hand sketching curved lines in charcoal
Joseph Walsh has developed a creative process which captures the fluidity and immediacy of a sketch. Image courtesy of Norman Wilcox-Geissen
Three men carving a wooden frame of a bed designed by Joseph Walsh
Making of Enignum Bed. Image courtesy of Norman Wilcox-Geissen.
  • ‘Joseph Walsh: Ahead of the curve’ is published in Anthology Volume 19. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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