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.

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