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David Nash Exhibition – 200 Seasons

I am always drawn to artists who use natural materials. David Nash works mainly in wood, so when his 200 Seasons exhibition came on at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, I made sure I went to see it.

I knew little about David Nash before the exhibition. I had heard of Ash Dome (here’s a nice little fim about it) and had vaguely heard about Wooden Boulder, but that was all. The exhibition shows a broad range of his work spanning all the years he’s been working as an artist – sculptures, drawings and film. There are piles of arranged cork bark, chainsaw-cut blocks of oak, cedar and other wood, small wooden ladders, oak balls, charred tree trunks. Among my favourites is a blue-black ring made of out bluebell seeds. I wanted to know what I felt when seeing his work, my immediate impression, without knowing too much about the background story.

David Nash sculpture
David Nash sculpture
David Nash cork bark sculpture
David Nash cork bark sculpture.
King and Queen - David Nash
King and Queen – David Nash. It reminds me of a musical instrument ready to be strummed or sounded.
Oak Hearth - David Nash
Oak Hearth – David Nash
200 Seasons David Nash
200 Seasons – David Nash

My first thoughts were – this is about the passage of time – years, decades and longer. It’s about weathering and the elements – earth, fire, water, perhaps air (his ladders reach up and are suspended). It’s about the interaction between humans and the natural environment. The massive nature of some of the sculptures – whole tree trunks or giant chunks of cedar – says something. What, I don’t really know. They are imposing and stately, with gravitas, and some of his charred pieces are almost shocking in their black denseness, their immediacy. Perhaps anything burnt is unsettling. David Nash says he treats his works with a light touch. His wooden boulder project is like a metaphor for a life’s journey – it suggests going with the flow and becoming weathered with moments of stillness and times of motion – acquiescing to the natural way of things. I also saw in it solitude, abandonment and the “is-ness of things”. His works impact me in a place beyond words, they are mystifying and I like them a lot.

The exhibition is on at the Towner until 2nd February 2020.

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Inspired by Deer

We recently visited Wakehurst Place in West Sussex. I haven’t been there since I was a child. It was a damp but bright day and the gardens were autumnal, browns, russets, greys.

Wakehurst Place in November
Wakehurst Place in November

I liked the carvings and one in particular, the portrait of a Sika deer’s head in a living Japanese cedar tree:

Sika Deer Carving in Cedar at Wakehurst Place
Sika Deer Carving in Cedar at Wakehurst Place.

It’s by Japanese Tachigi-bori carver, Masa Suzuki. Tachigi-bori means ‘standing-wood carving’ and is a traditional Japanese practice of carving sculptures into living trees. According to Shinto belief, all things have a sacred force and a large old tree would have a strong sacred force. The carving gives form to the tree’s spirit. This carving was done in dead wood that arose from the great storm in 1987. The dead wood where the carving has been made will eventually heal over with callus wood in the next 25-30 years. For Masa it’s all about connecting to the natural world.

The Sika deer was chosen as, in Japan, it is traditionally seen as a messenger between the earth and the spirit world. The deer were introduced into the UK by the Victorians and I’ve seen them at Arne RSPB Nature reserve.

Well before the Victorians, according to my medieval bestiary,

…”Stags are the enemies of serpents: as soon as they feel the symptoms of illness, they entice snakes out of their holes with the breath of their noses and overcoming their harmful poison, feed on them and are cured……..after they have eaten a snake, they hasten to a spring and drinking from it, their grey hairs and all signs of age vanish….Does do not conceive until Arcturus appears in the heavens.”

Medieval Bestiary
Medieval Bestiary – Richard Barber

The book mentions other peculiarities such as the ability of deer to eat a herb that will help draw out arrows which have harmed them. Such is the weird and wonderful medieval world.

Deer Doodle from my Sketchbook
Deer doodle from my sketchbook

I thought I’d create a little shrine to the spirit of the deer:

Deer Shrine
Deer Shrine

Recently I stumbled on some music I liked by Martha Tilston and was pleased to find it is called Stags Bellow. Here is a Youtube video of the song:

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Ulmus Memoriam

There is a new, temporary, sculpture in the park near me, a gateway or screen, a memorial to the Elm tree. It stands beside the two of the oldest elms on Earth, the Preston Twins of Preston Park, Brighton.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is carved from elms felled in the River Cuckmere valley last year due to Dutch Elm Disease. Elm trees around the country were wiped out in their millions from the 1970s by the disease. In Brighton effective control measures were introduced, so it is the last stronghold in Britain for mature English elms. There is still a wonderful variety of elm trees here, originally planted by the Victorians and Edwardians.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is the creation of wood sculptor Keith Pettit and part of a project called Ulmus Maritime organized by The Conservation Foundation along the South coast. He created the screen as a memorial to this fated tree.

On the front are flying birds – rooks – a copse of Winter elms and a sun. Along the bottom are the words:

“Ad gigantes augustos olim per terram nostrum pervagatos, nunc defectos” which means “A memorial to the lost, majestic giants once spreading through our land.

On the other side are swirlly clouds like waves and the hopeful words:

“The last bastion, shielded so future generations may still know of them.”

One of the Preston Twins

The Elm tree had its own nymph in Greek mythology. She was one of eight tree spirits or Hamadryads and her name was Ptelea. Elm trees feature in ancient literature including the Iliad and the Aeneid, where in the Underworld there is found the Stygian Elm of the River Styx or Elm of Dreams:

Spreads in the midst her boughs and agéd arms
an elm, huge, shadowy, where vain dreams, ’tis said,
are wont to roost them, under every leaf close-clinging.

And finally here is a link to a lovely poem, ‘The English Elms’ by Carol Ann Duffy.

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Hummingbird

Hummingbird has entered my life. I’m not quite sure what I think of Spirit Animals, Animal Totems, Western Shamanism, I try and keep an open mind about it all and find myself drawn to it sometimes.

Feathers
From left to right: 3 tawny owl, feral pigeon, carrion crow, 2 magpie, herring gull, 4 jay, 2 buzzard, pheasant and an unknown.

I’m always interested in animals and wildlife, although this rarely creeps into this blog. A jackdaw has taken to frequenting the scaffolding outside my bedroom window; we were curious about each other. Sometimes it feels as though nature/wildlife has a message and that I should listen. I’ve found myself collecting feathers from woodland paths and even the street. Recently I found a buzzard feather and now I actively search for them – owl, jay, woodpecker – any feather of any bird. Summer may be the best time to find feathers when birds are moulting, but now is OK as well. Feathers give me a tangible link to the natural world; I even had a dream about one. I’m being drawn to birds, to the sky, to flight and freedom.

So often I’ve thought (symbolically) that my “wings” are torn and broken and however much I wish to “take off”, I can’t. It is a sort of freedom I seek, but something has always held me back or down.

My first experience of hummingbirds was in a garden in Mexico. The bird came quietly like an apparition to visit some red blooms – probably hibiscus flowers. It seemed as though it was an uncanny link with an “Otherworld” at the time, as though this was a special, silent messenger. I’ll never forget the memory.

Hummingbird
Hummingbird on reclaimed wood block.

I mentioned another hummingbird encounter in a piece of writing recently published in the magazine Earthlines:

“…After a few minutes I hear a noise, more like a vibration than something audible, coming from my left. It is like feline purring, a soft tinnitus, another sound in this place of voices. A fragment of the forest’s heart splinters off and a tiny hummingbird comes into view unlocked from its own chasm of sound, beating within its own silent bubble.

A coil of memory, recalling a poem by D. H. Lawrence, spools out in my mind,

‘Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.’

The bird hangs needle sharp, chest out, suspended in a brief blur of wings, threading the air. No brilliance here, more like a moth it hovers, patiently in the half light. But, there’s something misplaced, unravelled, something lost and found in the single, graceful poise of this tiny bird fluttering like an off key note against some invisible membrane.

I feel privileged to be caught in a moment with this bird. When the Sun seeks the Moon, says Mayan legend, it becomes a hummingbird. I feel like the moon, feel as though the bird has a message from another world just for me. The moment passes and the White Bellied Emerald is gone, disappeared into the gloom.”

Now I’m painting hummingbirds. And not just in blues! So much of my painting is in blues and turquoises – that I love – but I’ve broken the blue spell and want to paint in yellows and maroons and golds and ….

According to various sources, hummingbirds can symbolize many things – energy, joy, perseverance, flexibility, Eternity and Infinity. Apparently hummingbird wings flutter in a figure of eight, the symbol of Infinity. Hummingbirds appear playful and light encouraging enjoyment of life and positivity. I do feel joy, after sometime of shadow, should I trust it I ask myself…

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The Boat Project comes to Brighton

The Boat Project - Brighton MarinaThe Boat Project - showing my contributionThe Boat Project book

The boat of The Boat Project, arrived in Brighton yesterday. I went down to Brighton Marina to take a look and managed to get to the boat before all the hoards of people. Luckily too, amongst the guitars and walking sticks, I easily recognised my contribution – a piece of driftwood from Crete that I’d notched to count down the days! (See my earlier blog post: The Boat Project) I later saw my photo in the book that accompanies the project, listed number 346. They put down everything I’d mumbled on the day of donating it, which makes my smile :)

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The Boat Project

My knotched piece of drift wood

I’ve just found out about a great “art” project in the South east – Emsworth, Chichester harbour to be precise – that started today, The Boat Project. The project involves creating a 30 ft sailing boat out of bits of wood donated by the public. Each bit of wood has to have a story, so the finished product will be a “boat of stories”. Truly a boat of the people.

The project is a collaboration between artists Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters of Lone Twin, acclaimed sailor and boat builder Mark Covell, and international boat designer Simon Rogers. I was very excited to learn about it as I like any wood, boat, sea, art connection.

There’s a wood donation day in Brighton on 8th May and I thought I’d make a humble donation in the form of a piece of drift wood that I found when doing turtle monitoring for Archelon in 2004. Each day I made a knotch in the wood to count off the days til I would leave – a bit like Robinson Crusoe! I enjoyed the monitoring but was still keen to get home! Perhaps they’ll accept it, perhaps they won’t, I’ll see in May!

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New Year

Woman Moon BirdA quiet end to the year, a year of reflecting, writing and blogging. I stood on the balcony when the pips struck twelve and watched as hundreds of orange lanterns took to the skies. One floated quite close by from the garden next door to join the magical scene. And then fireworks on the horizon bursting forth above the silhouettes of roofs and chimneys. It was so mild compared to the recent snowy spell; I was just in a light long sleeved top.

The New Year has started well. We saw friends who took home some of my recent paintings and were curious about some of my early stuff. It was fun bringing out from storage, a large red painting that I haven’t seen or thought about for years. My last few paintings have been light or of vibrant colours but now I seem to want dark paint….and stories. Perhaps illustrative paintings. I want to continue with my Turtle Dreaming story and it would be good to finish it this year. The “Dreamcatcher Woman” in my last post was the start of painting on wood once again. It’s not a good painting but I like the depth and darkness, the hint of ocean about it. The song just came into my mind while I was scanning in the photo. Here is the next piece, “Woman, Moon, Bird” also on sanded scaffolding board.

I shall put up the end of year paintings soon if I can finally finish them. Meanwhile, wishing much happiness for the New Year ahead.

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They will lean that way forever…

The other night I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed, thoughts tumbling through my mind…and then the song, “Suzanne” by Leonard Cohen, started up in my head. I began to sing the words and before I could think properly, I crawled out of bed and fetched my guitar, blew the dust off it and began to play. Or tried to. A friend taught me how to play it, so I can play it but not very well. That night it didn’t really matter, it was just good to be singing and switching off my work head.

Leaning birds

Today I’ve had the day off and decided to make something related to a phrase in the Suzanne song. The phrase I particularly like is:

“there are heroes in the seaweed,
there are children in the morning,
they are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever,
while Suzanne holds the mirror…”

I found a piece of sanded scaffolding board that I had since my “Blue Goddess” painted board and got to work. The result is far removed from children and seaweed, instead I’ve painted birds! I’d like to have painted heroes in seaweed but couldn’t quite manage it. The result isn’t great but it’s a start to getting back into creating after months of learning and working (which has been enjoyable but different.)

I shall talk about birds soon, perhaps next time, I can see a theme there….

The Leonard Cohen lyrics are great and can be found here.

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The poetry of wood…and rust

A recent cloudy day beside the sea yielded these photos. I love the weathered, sea-washed wood of these groyne posts and the rich rust colours of the pier’s iron pillars! Click on the thumbnails for a larger image.
groyne postgroyne post2groyne post3groyne post 5groyne post6groyne post 8groyne post 9wood-groynewood-groynewood-groynewood-groyne

I didn’t realize the words on the pillar were the chorus of a Spandau Ballet song until later!
rust-on-pier-polemessage-on-rusty-pole

Gold
Always believe in your soul
You got the power to know
You’re indestructible
Always believe in,because you are
Gold

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