Born in Dublin in 1938, and now living and working in Galway where he continues to vary his style of expression, John Behan RHA is firmly established as a sculptor of international stature. After an apprenticeship in metal work and welding, the foundations for Behan's success were laid in the sixties, when he trained in London and Oslo and began to exhibit widely. He was a founder member of the New Artists' group in 1962 and Dublin's innovative Project Art Centre in Dublin in 1967. He was a co-founder of the Dublin Art’s Foundry in 1970.
He has been awarded many honours over the years and became a Member of the Royal Hibernian Academy in 1990, having been an Associate of the Academy since 1973. He is also a member of Aosdána. Behan is celebrated for his early bull sculptures - described by playwright Brian Friel as “enormously solid artefacts, 4-square on the earth, confident, assured, executed to a point of absolute completion”. In a general sense he can be credited with playing a major part in the development of sculpture in Ireland over the last fifty years. In June 2000 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland Galway and on the same day his large commissioned sculpture, ‘Twin Spires’, was also unveiled there.
In 1999 a film documentary of John Behan's work entitled 'Famine Ship' was broadcast in Ireland and the U.K. and was distributed in North America by The Cinema Guild Inc. and the rest of the world by Network Television. The poet and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney has said of the artist: "There is something psychologically salubrious about John Behan. It is as if you are encountering what the Upanishads call the ancient self, something previous to an underlying individual character, some kind of psychic bedrock."
John has exhibited in all major Irish Exhibitions since the sixties. He has had many major commissions and his work is included in numerous and prestigious private collections throughout the world.
Notable sculptures include ‘Arrival’, commissioned by the Irish Government and presented to the United Nations in 2000, which is proudly sited outside the UN buildings in New York and ‘Wings of the World’ in Shenzhen, China, 1991. In 1997 John Behan's sculpture of the 'Coffin Ship' in Westport, Co Mayo was unveiled by Mary Robinson, then President of Ireland, to mark the 150th anniversary of The Great Famine.
The sculptor has seen his work included in the private collections of Mary McAleese, President of Ireland; Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner; Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands; and former U.S. President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary. Notable public collections include The Hugh Lane and Crawford Municipal Galleries and The National Gallery of Ireland and the Arts Councils of Ireland North and South.
Two major commissions completed most recently include, a monument to commemorate the flight of the earls at Rathmullan, Co. Donegal which was unveiled by President Mary McAleese on September 14th 2007 and the casting of a six metre bull in bronze for a private client in Co. Meath. This was the biggest animal sculpture ever undertaken in Ireland.