Eilís O’Connell was born in Derry, Northern Ireland, in 1953. She studied at Crawford School of Art, Cork 1970–74; Massachusetts College of Art, Boston 1974–75 and again at Crawford 1975–77. She currently divides her time between London and Cork in the Republic of Ireland.
A selection of public commissions include: University College Dublin for the New Science Building, UCD, Dublin (2014); Atoms & Apples, sculpture commission for Trinity College Dublin to commemorate the life and work of ETS Walton who jointly received the Nobel for splitting the atom with Sir John Cockcroft in 1951 (2012); Vortex for a private garden in Kensington in collaboration with Andrew Ewing and Luciano Juibelli (2010); Secret Station, a sculpture in bronze, fibre optics and steam for Cardiff Bay Art Trust, sited at the Gateway, Cardiff, 1992; Vowel of Earth Dreaming its Root, a large outdoor sculpture in Kilkenny limestone for London Docklands Development Corporation, Isle of Dogs; and Pero’s Footbridge for Bristol Chamber of Commerce, designed in collaboration with Ove Arup Engineers and installed at St. Augustine’s Reach, Bristol (1999).
Her awards include those from the GPA for Emerging Artists, 1981; the British School at Rome; Arts Council of Northern Ireland Fellowship, 1983–84; the PS1, New York; Arts Council Fellowship, 1987–88; and the Royal Society of Arts, 1998. In 1996, she had sculpture residencies at the Centre du Sculpture, Montlieu, France, and Delfina Studios, Manilva, Spain.
O’Connell explores a plethora of materials and processes in her work. She hoards found objects such as discarded agricultural tools and dairy vessels, which may eventually find their way into her sculpture or become an inspiration for a form or texture. She teases the most extraordinary forms out of various materials, from stone and rubber to steel cord, sheet metals, glass and plaster for casting in bronze. O’Connell looks to archaeology, architecture and geometry, in addition to smaller objects and materials, for beginnings to both her large and small works. Recently she has begun to use fibreglass, usually reserved for building yachts and boats, in order to create graceful organic shapes, reminiscent of natural forms and familiar objects. O'Connell has long held an interest in forms that confound the natural and artificial. The refined, yet, organic shapes of imatra stones and concretions— geologic structures often confused with fossils—are often used as the departure point for her sculptures. Imatra stones often develop over centuries when minerals precipitate within rock cavities or build up around a nucleus such as a pebble or shell and evolve into a tacked disc shape. O’Connell is fascinated by such complex natural processes, which exist on a minute scale, and which she magnifies to provide a new perspective on their usually negligible existence. .