Artist’s blog | Meriel Clarke

Meriel Clarke, Sculpture Town Artist In Residence 19-20, was asked to identify a sculpture from Harlow’s collection that she particularly enjoyed visiting during her year working in Harlow. Find the sculpture on our digital map here.

“Early in my residency, I was drawn to visit F.E. McWilliam’s “Help!” the bronze sculpture of Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams, founders of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement. Growing up and even now, family car trips from home in Dublin, to visit relatives in Derry, are often broken up by a stop at F.E. McWilliam Gallery & Studio in Co. Armagh. We enjoy a lovely slice of cake and an art exhibition, and spot the McWilliam sculptures dotted around the garden. Because of this, seeing F.E McWilliam’s work always feels familiar to me, and in some way seems to connect me to my family, both those in the South and North of Ireland. (ctd below image)

Help! F.E. McWilliam, 1987, photographed by James Smith

Visually, I like how at a glance “Help!” might be thought an abstract artwork, the figures at first obscured by the large sign, and the crumpled bronze surface unifies colour and pattern into one. The piece reveals more the longer you spend with it, the last thing I noticed was the word ‘HELP’ embossed on the front. In this way it rewards the viewer for taking time to experience it, this slow reveal is what I aim to achieve with my own work.

I hadn’t heard of Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams before I visited this sculpture. I’m pleased that through the artwork I have now discovered their important stories. It also reminds me of a novel that often comes to my mind while I think about my work, Anna Burn’s incredible Milkman. For me, Milkman describes a fraught and fragile tight-rope walk, in a place where to fall is to become one of the ‘beyond the pale’ people, an exceptionally dangerous thing. Both the book and the sculpture speak of a female relationship to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and as my mum grew up in this environment, they connect me to this part of my family’s history. Visually I can’t help but notice how papery the sculpture appears, as if it is constructed out of a material more delicate than it actually is. A vulnerability that only highlights the bravery of these two women, and many more from both sides of the Sectarian divide. With a great effort they loudly express the need for help and encourage others to join the peace effort.”