This Article by The Logical Radical had originally appeared in the print edition of Cork’s Evening Echo.
For Cork’s multihyphenate artist, Tom Campbell, happiness is as simple as a paper-made pooch. The 44-year-old sculptor, who lives in St Luke’s, is trying to make art inclusive by sharing a pack of life-size dogs, made entirely out of dried paper, with children or people with mental disabilities, hoping to make a joyous impression.
“Art is for all, I have done the project twice in Cork, once in Oxford with people with poor mental health, and recently at Carlow Art Festival [with children],” he says.
“I’m hoping to repeat the project in Barcelona next year.”
Tom made the first member of the papier-mâché (composite material consisting of dried paper bound with glue) doggy pack with his friends at Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre, back in 2005. One day, when the artist, in the company of his hand-made pooch, was on his way to Cork city, he became intrigued by people’s reaction to the sculpture.
“They were people waiting for the bus in Skibbereen, it was a group of women who were travelling, they really liked it, and they wanted to hold the dog,” Tom recalls.
The pleasant experience prompted the artist to blueprint the single pooch’s impossibly calm expression, 99 more times. A flock of vivacious hand-made dogs, ready to cheer up anyone who is delighted by the appearance of simplicity.
“People like and enjoy it, it’s a slightly more interactive project because people can move the dogs, and interact with them,” Tom says.
The artist and his friends named the simplistic conceptual art instalment The Dog Project.
Tom thinks the fact that the dogs, although not real, are so generously present and accessible to the audience, makes people, especially children, feel connected to them, making art diverse and inclusive of various groups.
“I think children like them, because they look like real dogs, and there is a group of them, and I suppose because no one is telling them that they are not allowed to touch them; for me an important part of the project was that they’d be made strong enough so that children could play with them.”
A video from this summer’s Carlow Art Festival shows a group of small children boisterously exploring Tom’s pooches, one after the other.
“Normally children are not encouraged to touch sculptures, not even encouraged, but they are being told that they can’t,” he says.
The dogs have been showcased in St Finbarr’s hospital as part of Triskel’s artist residency programme, and brought joy to people on the streets of Cork, during carnivals.
The statues, while sharing a similar face and colour, are still markedly different from one another. Some are sitting, some standing on two legs, and some look like as if they’ve been immortalised in a joyous occasion that would prompt any dog to wag its tail briskly.
For Tom, whose brother grapples with severe mental health issues, it was crucial to try to involve people with a psychological disturbance in the project. “I did a similar project in Oxford with dogs, it was funded by a [British] national charity called Mind that works with people with mental health problems,” he says.
“This is a charity that has given my brother, who lives in Oxford, and has very serious mental health problems a place to live.”
Tom says the mental health patients under the support of Mind were allowed to spend time with his dogs “for as much or as little as they wanted”.
Asked if a particular moment from more than a decade of exhibiting the dogs has stayed with him, Tom laments the demise of one dog along with a sea captain to whom he had gifted it.
When the historic tall ship Bounty sank in the Atlantic Ocean after being pummelled by Hurricane Sandy, it was carrying one of Tom’s pooches, a basset hound signed by British singer Bryan Ferry.
“They [the Bounty crew] had come to Cork at one point, and I gave them this basset hound, and I said, ‘look you can have this dog but I want its picture to be taken at different places,’ and I ended up leaving it with the captain,” he says. “Apparently he got really precious about it and kept it in the ship’s cabin, so it wouldn’t get wet.”
Robin Walbridge, the Bounty’s seasoned seaman cruised the oceans with his beloved basset meticulously tied in the cabin.
“The ship sunk during Hurricane Sandy, and the captain and another one on board were killed, it is a very sad story,” Tom says. Although lifeless, paper pooches don’t stand a chance in the water.
However, Tom is always making more. He says he is hoping to showcase thousands of papier-mâché dogs in Barcelona next year.
Also an adept painter, the artist wants his art to continually bring joy to his audience, the kind of pleasure found in small things. He says he has always fancied himself as a clown travelling with a circus, so much that he has learned to ride a unicycle, juggle and walk on his hands.
“Circus is a very exciting art form,” he says.
Tom’s paintings are an amalgamation of his deep-rooted love for people, their appreciation of his art as well as small joys. One, in particular, seems to manifest them all: a serene clown with a rooftop on his head above which a few people stand happy, among them, a sea captain and his basset hound.