Home Editor's Pick Devils and angels: The work of Arthur Dooley

Devils and angels: The work of Arthur Dooley

by John Maguire
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Skull Samuel Zeller
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I found it interesting when Annie Lennox said recently that she finds it increasingly difficult to write when she is content and would rather be happy and not writing music than in emotional chaos. Chaos is undoubtedly part of our current society. This world is like a spinning wheel, constant spin, spin, spin, spinning into digital mayhem. Twitter is like looking into a river stream full of planks of cheap wood drifting along; with the very occasional salmon swimming past. The old adage ’empty vessels make the most noise,’ has never been more relevant. To escape at least once a month, I visit a very dear friend who has a small cottage in Oxton, a tiny village right next to Birkenhead in The Wirral, Merseyside. This is my sanctuary and I dub it the Oxton retreat. I love the space, just 24 hours in this quirky bohemian space rejuvenates me with its cold stone floors, burning log fire and secret courtyard garden, plus an excellent library of art books, films and music. It is like taking a week away in the sunshine. It is also in this quaint village that I stumbled upon what is now one of my favourite pieces of sculpture. I recommend to those who have not visited The Williamson Art Gallery to do so and particularly to see the work, ‘Satan’ by Arthur Dooley.

Artist and sculptor, Arthur Dooley (1929-1994) appeared in a list of the 100 Greatest Merseysiders. His piece ‘Satan’ has clearly sprung from the dark recesses of the artist’s mind. It is disturbing in its simplicity and really never fails to deposit a minuscule cube of ice from the top of my spine right down my body every time I see it. I am sure Arthur Dooley – like most creatives – had his own troubles, his angels and devils. But I always find myself wondering what demon he was trying to exorcise with this sinister Beelzebub.

Many artists and writers have used their craft to wrestle with their demons. The maestro of the macabre, Stephen King, openly discusses his alcohol and cocaine use in his part-autobiography, part-tool-kit for writers, On Writing. He speaks of how Annie Wilkes, the psychotic protagonist in his tale Misery, was a personification of the evils of his addiction. The impeccable songsmith John Grant bleeds lyrics from his personal heartbreak in his albums Queen Of Denmark and Pale Green Ghosts.

Thankfully, creative people can use their work to express their inner turmoil. Personal turbulence is our gain, even if it is a gift that for the individual is both a blessing and a curse. As Stephen Fry quite aptly puts it in his autobiography Moab Is My Washpot:

It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.


Skull photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

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