Brother Joseph McNally

28 Jan – 28 Mar 2022

Physical Exhibition
39 Keppel Road #04-04  Singapore 089065

Daily 10am – 6.30pm

David Fu (
Tel: +65 6747 4555
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Brother Joseph McNally is a pioneering artist with a deep and enduring legacy. As a De La Salle Brother and founder of La Salle College of the Arts, he has touched the hearts of many through his teachings as well as his art. He famously described himself as an “Educator, First and Last”, and was much loved by his students throughout his long career a a teacher.

Born in County Mayo, Ireland in 1923, Joseph came to Malaya after the war as a young missionary. From the late 1940s, he taught at various Lasallian schools in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Singapore.  After obtaining his doctorate in education from Columbia University, Brother McNally was posted back to Singapore and eventually founded La Salle College of the Arts in 1984. He retired as the art college’s President in 1997 and devoted much of his time after to being an artist and art advocate until his untimely death in August 2002.
Bog Wood Fish
This collection features the last known 22 sculptures created by Brother McNally. Found in St Patrick’s School recently in 2021, these works have been mostly untouched since Brother McNally’s death in 2002.

The aim of McNally’s works was to create three-dimensional images that can be apprehended to be organically developing and transforming in accordance with material and organisational features. The artist’s hand carves, cuts and casts the chosen materials of bronze, copper and especially bog wood into organic-like forms in varying degrees of realism and abstraction. Form and material find a ‘natural’ balance.

McNally is known for this sculptures that portray nature and question whether it is natural or man-made. Many of his works have duplicates whereby one is made of bog wood and the other bronze. As he sculpts his works, the vision of the pieces only unravel as he experiments with the natural shape of the wood.

“When I Processed it, the form appeared.” – Brother Joseph McNally

Bog Wood
90 x 60 x 19 cm
67 x 60 x 19 cm (without base)

100 x 40 x 20 cm
91 x 40 x 20 cm (without base)

Bog wood Fish
Bog Wood
95 x 77 x 15 cm 
59 x 77 x 15 cm (without base)

Bog Wood Fish
89 x 85 x 16 cm 
56 x 85 x 16 cm (without base)

Homage II
Bog Wood
110 x 24 x 24 cm 

Homage II is a tribute to a Chinese artist, Chu Ta. Otherwise known as Bad Shan-Ten, he was an artist of overpowering stature and a pre-cursor of minimalism. “Maybe that is why he impressed me so much. When he painted birds he showed them standing on one leg. When I found myself sculpting one-legged crane in my much-loved Yew wood. I thought of dedicating it to Chu Ta.”

Female Form
140 x 40 x 35 cm

Female Form is a unique piece as McNally created this sculpture following the natural curves of the oak tree. McNally stated that “the work of the Spirit was obvious on the twist of the oak tree and in the way it split in drying after it was extracted from the bog,” thus organically bringing the artwork to life. ______________________________________

Untitled (Celtic One)
73.5 x 107 x 37 cm
61.5 x 107 x 29 cm (without base)

signed and inscribed FINE ART CASTING on base plate

This is a piece that McNally was working on at the time of his retrospective “Wind of the Spirit” in 1998. Following the theme of new beginnings and one representing beginning again, McNally explored metaphysical areas in relation to Chinese culture. “All deistic religions have a strong sense of unity of God, which lies behind all outward manifestations. It also stands for the unity and uniqueness of each person” said Brother McNally when explaining this piece. The cursive character in this work is intended to be fully three-dimensional in its mass and curvature. The work also features McNally’s usual spiral motif which brings together the Chinese and Ireland cultures.

Bog Wood
152 x 36 x 30 cm
10 x 36 x 30 cm (base)

Untitled (Man)
Bog Wood
143 x 23 x 12 cm _______________________________________________________________

“A self-portrait with classic aspects of vanitas and memento-mori – following in the footsteps of self-conception in a mirror pregnant with meaning” – Brother Joseph McNally

Interior Self Portrait
Bronze with glass
86 x 46 x 34 cm
81 x 46 x 43 cm (without base)

Exterior Self Portrait
65 x 62 x 36 cm ________________________________________________________________

Interior Self Portrait and Exterior Self Portrait embody McNally’s use of mixed media in his sculptures. Each sculpture has a perfectly formed spherical glass orb surrounded by reflecting glass of varying shades of green, giving it an iridescent appearance. As self portraits, these works deeply reflect where self-portraiture started out from. A self portrait with classic aspects of vanitas and memento-mori following in the footsteps of self-conception in a mirror full of meaning.


When McNally begins working on a log, he would first clear away certain outer layers of decay, which have resulted from thousands of years exposure to acidity of the moist peat. The resultant natural sculpture then urges him on to seek greater inspiration by defining the vision as far as possible.

In this piece, the oak yielded the death of struggle of two of Ireland’s greatest legendary heroes. Cuchulain of Ulster and Ferdia of Connaught.

Cucullain and Ferdia
83 x 88 x 25 cm

Signed and inscribed FINE ART CASTING on base plate

Untitled (Spirit of Family)
76 x 115 x 15 cm
59 x 77 x 15 cm (without base)

Signed and inscribed KINNAREE on base plate

63 x 65 x 15 cm

Untitled (A Flash of Lightning)
Bog Wood, Glass, Mixed Media
190 x 34 x 15 cm 

113 x 24 x 28 cm

Signed at the side of base plate

84 x 15 x 14 cm


Belian Wood with Epoxy
210 x 34 x 19 cm
200 x 34 x 19 cm (without base)

Untitled (Tree of Life Series)
Metal and Industrial Materials
114 x 40 x 33 cm

McNally is also inspired by Chinese calligraphy, mainly the Chinese script of Caozi. Caozi is the Chinese equivalent of cursive writing in English and is defined by the strokes of characters being fused. The shapes of each sculpture notably resembles the actual characters but also carries the energy and emotions of each word.

Belian Wood with Epoxy
172 x 109 x 17 cm
158 x 109 x 17 cm (without base) ______________________________________________________________-__________________________________

Ancient Yew, Glass, Epoxy
170 x 70 x 20 cm
157 x 70 x 20 cm (without base)

Affixed with a plague containing the description of the work



200 x 95 x 90 cm
187 x 95 x 90 cm (without base)

“I get great pleasure looking at and finding inspiration from cursive Chinese character. Of course, not being myself a Chinese scholar I need Hong Zhu An’s help in the final definition. My resulting sculptures are therefore primarily abstractions which, viewed from a particular angle may have for initiates a literary meaning. I take inspiration from the heart of an old oak tree or from centuries of Chinese cursive interpretations of concepts.”

– Brother Joseph McNally