Friday, 29 October 2010


Yesterday was a very important day for me. I spent the afternoon at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park looking at the extensive David Nash exhibition there and it was a pretty incredible experience!

I was on my own, which was wonderful. I can't remember the last time I went to the YSP without kids - it's great for them but this time it was important that I went on my own - serious research and all that! It was also a really beautiful autumn day. There was lovely sunshine, mild air and an almost blustery wind coming and going, sometimes with moisture playing about in it. So it was the kind of day when you really feel like you've been outside, really feeling the weather and all the time surrounded by beautiful views. Lovely autumn colour all over the place; stopping to pick up brightly coloured leaves every few minutes - you know the kind of day.

I'm ashamed to say I hadn't really come across David Nash's work before. I was vaguely aware of it but didn't really know anything about him. Yesterday I really enjoyed getting to know something of his work - the rawness of some of it, his willingness to show the process, both on the marks left on the wood, but also in his descriptive drawings showing a particular tree and which bit went into which piece of work. This kind of humble illustration adds so much to the viewer's understanding of where the work has come from and how much it means to Nash to use every bit of a tree in a useful way. Much of the work is on a really big scale, monumental, imposing. This is particularly the case in the Longside Gallery, where lots of large work is arranged in a very big room in a way that forces you to walk between things, dwarfed by some of them - really quite awe-inspiring.

The work that made the biggest impression on me were the really long term projects he is engaged with. The wooden boulder that he made in his wood in North Wales, tipping it into the mountain stream in 1978 and then documenting its passage along the watercourse, always moved by the water without any other help (apart from the time it got stuck against a small bridge!), following its progress down to the main river: periods of flood, low water stranding it; all the way to the estuary and then salt marsh, watching it change and move over a period of 25 years (it was last seen in June 2003): this project required such for-thought and confidence.

The other long term project (30 years to date and still going), that is so beautifully documented through film and his diagrams, is Nash's work in his own wood. Here he has planted young trees and continues to care for them and manipulate them to make real in-situ sculpture. This work really is rooted to the spot. The quiet determination, skill and care he deploys as he works on these trees and that is shown so beautifully in the film about the project is really inspiring. He is using the trees and his knowledge of how they function, change, react, to manipulate them and use them as marks in the landscape.

Nash strives to make positive interventions in his environments and to work with natural processes to make sense of, and to celebrate, the world around us and our place within it.

This work is amazing, but actually what really affected me was Nash's writing, which forms much of the interpretation for the exhibition. The way he writes about his practice really struck a chord with me and added so much to my understanding of him as an artist. Personally I so often get more out of an exhibition if I've been able to understand the artist's work and their thinking behind it. Not all artists are good at writing about their work - just because you're good with materials why should you be good with words too? Writing well about one's own work is certainly something to aspire to.

Nash describes a desire to live and work simply:

I want a simple approach to living and doing.
I want a life and work that reflects the balance and continuity of nature.

This is something that I feel lies at the heart of how I want to live but it is so easy to forget it and get caught up in all sorts of things, make decisions that are not quite true to this desire.

Nash has such respect for his materials and has developed his 'language' with them over a 40 year career. He describes so well a feeling that I have about the 'embarrassment of riches' one can experience at the point I am now:

As a student, I jumped into a sea of theories, histories and identities and floundered about with great eagerness, seeming for brief moments to glimpse some sense, but mainly finding myself in a confusion of complexity.

I know that finishing my degree will just be the beginning. I have so far to go before I can confidently call myself an artist and I am prepared for it to take years before I really find 'my visual language'. This degree is very broad, which suits me in many ways - I love the interplay of different media and quite frankly I like doing too many things - but really I am aware that I will come out of it without a specialism and I have to find a way of devoting serious time (years) to developing my craft, once I've established exactly what it is! The only trouble is how to do that alongside bringing up a family and running our busy lives!

David Nash gave me a lot to think about! This came at a time when other thoughts and influences were bouncing around in my head, just edging towards forming conclusions, and the combination of circumstances came together to help me make certain decisions about the way I want to work. All this thinking raised as many questions as it did answers, but perhaps that's the really exciting bit. You have to be able to step back in order to make decisions sometimes (maybe decisions you didn't even know needed making!) and perhaps you need a little push on the way too. Intentions and resolutions are so often tempered by practicalities - stepping back can remind you of the reasons you made them in the first place.

Inspired listening: Janacek string quartets.

Monday, 25 October 2010

yellows and greens

The light today was glorious, illuminating small parts of the fading garden with such a glow

The shadows were pretty striking too.


Having spent quite a lot of time arranging and photographing my beach-combed items I then started to draw some of them, experimenting with different media, trying to treat the man-made items in the same way I would the natural ones, really looking at them, knowing their form.

As a step on from that I've started to engage more directly with them, get to know the different types of material, seeing how they feel, how they act and react to being manipulated.

How does a synthetic material act when you try to knot it?

How do natural and synthetic materials act when you try to bring them together?

How does each material act under tension?

Does a synthetic warp act differently to a natural one?

I started off with this translucent plastic which was twisted into a rope. I unravelled some and used it on my wooden frame to make a narrow warp. It is rigid, whip-like, smooth, hard and un-stretching.

Knotting it was difficult because of it's un-stretchiness but it holds tight and taut.

More of the same as weft sits very awkwardly.

A natural fibre as weft slides about; there isn't that relationship that you get between two rougher fibres. The bends that remain in the plastic are absorbed by the natural weft. Inserted objects, a twig or bits of feather, are held tight but the warp doesn't pull back either side easily so there is more distortion caused by the object for longer.

Different synthetic in the same warp, a more hairy plastic string, knits together more easily, acting more like a hairy natural fibre would. Strips of dried out seaweed, flexible but also a bit brittle, hold well amongst the warp. A few rows of a thin plastic wire-like thread is more stretchy and knots nicely.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

green grids

I've been playing with ideas for greening the grids I've been looking at and one of those ideas is growing things through them. Cress seemed the obvious fast-growing plant, so here are my cress squares:

time away

We had a crit this week at college, a summing up of where we're all up to with our projects. It was fine, I'm on top of things (this week - it feels like that changes dramatically fairly often even if it appears to the rest of the world that I'm coping with everything) and my tutors are pleased with how things are going. I do need a bit of a break though and my head is spinning with college work and the rest of complicated life.

A couple of quiet days at my parent's will hopefully sort that out. With the kids on half term I wouldn't get much work done anyway so perhaps its best to resign myself to that and not try. Having said that of course I'm over-optimistic about all the stuff I bring to do 'just in case'. This then adds to the disappointment in myself that I didn't achieve any of it, but hey ho!

A stroll round the garden this afternoon with the autumn sunshine coming and going behind the odd cloud; each time it disappears I think it's gone, sunk behind the wood over the road, and then suddenly its back again, illuminating another corner or a few leaves.

This track in the grass is a fox's path, well trodden. Its narrow but really distinct and runs right down the garden with a couple of different routes in different places. It seems rather appropriate that the Fox's garden is frequented by foxes.

There are lots of splashes of red, brightened in places by the light

Project work is always in the back of my mind, it's hard to switch off from it. I will update on both projects in other posts. I do find this blogging lark a useful tool for summing up developments in my work, mulling things over, stepping back a little, so even if not many people read it I think it is worth it.

Driving listening today: Seth Lakeman: Hearts and Minds; Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

light and shadows

I did some mark making yesterday that followed on from some of the sketches and paper experiments I'd done on my Green architecture project, but it was all wrong. The lines were too dirty, messy, not clean and precise enough. Suddenly I felt constricted by working on a small scale too. I'm comfortable working at sketch book size usually, perhaps a bit too comfortable. I was relying on things I know work... but this time they didn't.

So I left it all alone and came back to it today. I haven't started working on a bigger scale yet, that's to come, but I did play about with some of what I'd done that I wasn't happy with, adding layers of tracing paper that take elements from the layer below and add something to them.

I also took some photos of some of my sketchbook pages held against the light:

Current listening: The Unthanks, Here's The Tender Coming