In Memory of Arthur Dooley

Remembering a Liverpool sculptor ‘privileged never to have had an art education’

Arthur Dooley and one of his works

Arthur Dooley and one of his works

Born in Liverpool in 1929, Arthur left school at 14 and took up an apprenticeship at Cammell Laird’s shipyard, where he contributed to the construction of the Ark Royal. On being finished up, he worked briefly on a tug-boat, then joined the Irish Guards.

Having served in Europe and the Middle East, his army career began to draw to a close after an impulse decision to desert and join the Palestine Liberation Organisation – not then associated with terrorism – as a mercenary. Promoted to colonel in its ranks, he was soon after caught and returned to the Army, who tried and imprisoned him in a detention centre in Egypt. He amused himself during his time in prison by modelling sand and sculpting rock. But he never forgot his time at Cammell Laird’s and later at Dunlop in Speke, where he began to learn about the metals, fabricating and building which formed the cornerstone of his work in later years.

On his return to the UK, he sought out a job as a cleaner at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London. Seeing the students’ work, he had a strong conviction he could do better and began working with discarded scraps of metal. By 1955, he’d returned to Liverpool and established himself as a sculptor, working at a variety of jobs, from stage hand at the Liverpool Playhouse to park policeman in Sefton Park, to fund his life and work.

He had converted to Catholicism while in the Army, and was also a devout communist, but in later years, he turned away from both his faith and his political allegiance. Despite this, he retained strong views about both and is perhaps best known for a number of religious works, including The Stations of the Cross for St Mary’s Church in Leyland, The Risen Christ in Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral and The Resurrection of Christ at Princes Park Methodist Church in Toxteth.

Politics remained at the heart of his work throughout his life and in later years. Becoming something of a personality, he often appeared on national television, not only promoting his work but also his strong views on the plight of the working classes in his home city. He was an ardent campaigner for the redevelopment of the South Docks, the abolition of high-rise housing and ongoing support for the long-term unemployed.

In 1974, he created the much-loved tribute to the Beatles in Mathew Street, a sculpture picturing the Madonna and the band with the inscription ‘Four Lads Who Shook The World’ beneath. In the 80s, his work grew less fashionable, but he himself continued to be energetic in his two favourite causes, establishing a workshop for the unemployed in Kirkby and helping to found the Liverpool Academy of Arts.

He died suddenly in 1994, having given away much of the money he had earned throughout his lifetime. His workshop remains preserved as he left it, in memory of the great man himself, and short videos from 2008 can be seen here.

Louise McTigue is a freelance writer and researcher, writing on behalf of Sarsfield Memorials.