29th October 2014, 1000-1600
“To celebrate the Richard Long Exhibition at the Burton Art Gallery & Museum the Burton Youth Collective presents: Art in the Park. This is a free, drop-in event where skilled artists will help you discover environmental art. Mud, charcoal, Bideford Black and much more! @ Victoria Park, Bideford, Wednesday 29th October 10-4pm. Hope to see you there!”
(poster by Jum Fernanadez)
I was recently invited to contribute to this event in North Devon organized by the Burton Gallery Youth Collective for Tate Rooms to offer young people an opportunity to get involved in some environmental art. Five local artists whose work is inspired by the environment were asked to take part. The activities were to link with Richard Long’s work. The artists included a dancer, a performance artist, a willow worker, a sculptor and myself. On reflection it is interesting to see how different ‘environmental art’ has become since Long’s seminal pieces with walking and words. In fact many in the ecological art world do not consider Long’s work to have much relevance in terms of current environmental politics – it was generally all made some 40 years ago, a very different time – but more in line with the questions facing contemporary fine artists, questions of material and form. Personally I feel that any work that helps enrich or inform our relationship within the world is helping to heal the rift between ourselves and ‘Nature’, so Long’s work is as important as any dealing with environmental destruction head-on. (But I must admit I still don’t get the large crazy-paving gallery floor pieces!?)
Anyway, the day was well organized and funded and went along smoothly with a good number of children and parents enjoying the free activities on offer. The organizers hoped that the day would also offer the artists an opportunity to try out something new and I think we all got something useful out of the day. My own contribution was a painting with earth communal painting, ‘a line made by walking’ parallel to the Bideford Black seam that run’s close by and a get-your-hands-dirty activity involving a large bucket of Torridge river mud and a big dot of Bideford Black painted onto a 5x5foot piece of paper, akin to Long’s large wall pieces. It was exciting to see how the works evolved and how involved people got, smearing layer upon layer of unctuous smelling mud into the circle, and also how liberating the activities were for those who seldom get the chance to ‘paint big’.
Many thanks to the organizers for a great day and hopefully through our combined efforts a few more children, and adults, will think twice and linger a little longer on the wonderful life around them while they’re in this world.
© p ward 2014
in preparation for our first event at eARTh – a meeting of COMBEbusiness group to share ideas around how the arts are and can contribute to sustainable economic development in the ilfracombe, woolacombe and combe martin area of north devon on the 5th november[i] – we have been getting busy making new work, refamiliarizing ourselves with painting and enjoying the possibilities of the space to share and exhibit work (as well as juggling babysitting of our 7 month old baby). we have published a new website about the space and our work together – http://www.earthnorthdevon.wix.com/arts.
here is some of the work in progress…
my own work has principally been inspired by reusing and repainting some over and into some old canvases, allowing me to nudge gently back into the painting process. while this has raised a few old nagging questions about the purpose and validity of painting in the 21st century, and left me to ponder where to keep them all while they’re waiting to find homes, I have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in a practice that I have been working with for quite a long time. it has been pleasantly surprising how quickly one can confidently slip back into the ‘zone’ of aesthetic contemplation and creativity. after a most productive and revealing break from painting onto canvas (or board), while exploring the more conceptual dimensions of my work on the MA art & environment at falmouth university, I have come to see and consciously place my work within a more global and historical context. this has similarly given me more confidence in my approach and hopefully a more realistic and effective position.
i was recently contacted by an artist in residence at the florence paintmakers arts centre in egremont, cumbria[ii], enquiring about the development of learning programmes about earth pigments. the arts centre and enterprise has been based on the site of an old haematite pigment mine. the pigment was originally used extensively in more industrial applications – iron oxide paint – but is now being developed as a range of artists colours along with a selection of other earth colours from the area. as a result of our exchange I was sent a very finely ground sample of ‘egremont red’ which I have used as a background in the above painting. when mixed simply with water and pva it initially has a rich warmth that when dries gives a soft metallic sheen – very satisfying and quite unlike any iron-based pigments I have used from devon. many thanks to lorna and jenni in egremont – I look forward to seeing what you make of north devon’s pigmentsand to visiting your project some time in the future.
eARTh’s mission statement…
ART, as an interdisciplinary and interactive process of investigation, is essential and intrinsic to our understanding of the world we inhabit both for the enrichment of our own experience and the development of sensitive and responsible relationships within it.
eARTh aims to provide a space for such investigation in the outstanding and unique environment of north devon utilizing contmporary artistic skills and experience, developed itself over many years through such investigation.
alongside their own evolving work as environmental artists peter ward and francesca owen are asking how the arts may be utilised to stimulate ecological awareness and influence the policies that are shaping the world. they are more than happy to share this work with any organisation or party committed to such research.
but first and foremost eARTh hopes to celebrate the wonder and beauty that is this world…
we are now planning our next event – an open studio for a week during december to share our latest work with a broader audience – watch this space. many thanks and lots of love to francesca[iii] for her determination to get the studio up and running, her patience and beauty with noah’s constant demands and to noah for his patience with his arty parents :-)
© p ward 2014
At a second attempt, a motley crew of eight interested and involved parties mustered opposite the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford for a day of exploration into the blacker than black, the dirty sticky stuff, the pigment pride of North Devon[i]. To lead the party were myself, an artist by most accounts who has previously dabbled creatively most deeply into this unctuous substance, and Dr Chris Cornford, director of IGI Ltd[ii], who has conducted personal but extensive geological research into the pockets of vitrinite (coal measures) that punctuate the underworld between Greencliff on the coast and Umberleigh on the River Taw 12 miles inland.
Having chosen vehicles we headed to ‘the source’ at Greencliff to start the day. Dr Cornford settled into his rhythm, spinning geological tales, tales over hundreds of millions of years, tales of light and colour and structure and form, of crushing heat and weight, of forests and mountains before our imagination. For all we knew he could have been making it all up but science has a funny way of drawing us in – of describing our observations and imaginations with such doubtlessness that our questions seem trivial. Just let the waters flow over with the words and I’ll see you on the other side. The story wrapped up for another day. Given to permutations and evolutions in its dreams before it is unearthed on another.
Thus we enjoyed the magnificence of the coast, the seam and its company for a while, taking our fair share as others had evidently done before us – mini mines punctuating the 70-degree cliff-face smudge, a puddle of paint appearing at its base, art and science happily wandering hand in hand, not adulterated pseudo-science or wishy-washy art-fangled nonsense, but ART & SCIENCE, making no excuses for their individual natures but co-existing and complementing, enriching experience in their own ways for whoever may have an ear, or an eye or a sense at all.
So after a most generous lunch and perusal of past work in the Burton Art Gallery & Museum, the afternoon was spent in the inspiring presence and environment of the Sandy Brown Museum in Appledore, a starting point for my own earthy adventure. And armed with the morning’s preamble and a few buckets of black thick gritty carboniferous clay, we set to work in our own ways, exploring our own relationships, surprising our presumptuous preconceptions, being frustrated by a lack of colour and a dull ache for more. This is BLACK. I am BLACK! Do with me what you will and I will do as much as I can muster. I will sink in deeply, drawing light from this most pleasant day until we learn to play in joy and recognition of our own natures. Light and shadow arm in arm…
Many thanks to all those who participated; to Sandy[iii] for sharing her space, to Chris for giving of his time, knowledge and enthusiasm and to beautiful Nature for sharing her abundance so generously.
© P Ward 2014
chapel wood 19914[i]
a local woodland, newly discovered, a sense of the sacred and a poignant reminder that our work can reach beyond our own immediate realm of influence. yet how and why must we (humankind) consider and demarcate some areas of land over others? does this then allow us to abuse those not considered quite so ‘sacred’ or special?
in some ways such an argument reminds me of the concept of ‘ecopornography’[ii] that identifies how the selective/discriminatory practice of the visual arts and popular media, especially with regards environment, often mask and hence proliferate ecocidal abuses through denial of its continued existence. maybe it is one task to find beauty in all, to celebrate, embrace and value the mundane and commonplace – the often ‘dirty’, messy side rather than the idealized, pristine, ‘perfect’ and virtually impossible version of reality that inspires our continued dislocation from this dynamic emerging world!?
this said, it is hard to deny the restorative powers of an ancient woodland filled with birdsong at dusk, traces of other mingling with the moist resonant scent of regenerative earth…
“DON’T GO TO NATURE, LET NATURE COME TO YOU.”[iii]
© p ward 2014 [i] http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/seenature/reserves/guide/c/chapelwood/about.aspx [ii] http://ecoartfilm.com/2012/07/09/ecopornography-slow-violence-and-the-deep-slow-art-of-place/ [iii] from bench in chapel woods, author unknown.
having waited all summer for our front garden fennel seeds to ripen, ready for collection and consumption, we were treated to a splendid downpour of autumn rain. the insects, that had already enjoyed the aromatic flowers and shelter of the umbilifer form, settled in with dusty webs and sporific mould, until we were left with an inedible mix. but, not to waste a visually creative opportunity, the seeds were gathered and sorted and dried and shimmied on paper in orderly array for pleasure and knowledge and wit. and they smelt great…
Culpepper[i] says: ‘One good old custom is not yet left off, viz., to boil fennel with fish, for it consumes the phlegmatic humour which fish most plentifully afford and annoy the body with, though few that use it know wherefore they do it. It benefits this way, because it is a herb of Mercury, and under Virgo, and therefore bears antipathy to Pisces. Fennel expels wind, provokes urine, and eases the pains of the stone, and helps to break it. The leaves or seed boiled in barley water and drunk, are good for nurses, to increase their milk and make it more wholesome for the child. The leaves, or rather the seeds, boiled in water, stayeth the hiccup and taketh away nausea or inclination to sickness. The seed and the roots much more help to open obstructions of the liver, spleen, and gall, and thereby relieve the painful and windy swellings of the spleen, and the yellow jaundice, as also the gout and cramp. The seed is of good use in medicines for shortness of breath and wheezing, by stoppings of the lungs. The roots are of most use in physic, drinks and broths, that are taken to cleanse the blood, to open obstructions of the liver, to provoke urine, and amend the ill colour of the face after sickness, and to cause a good habit through the body; both leaves, seeds, and roots thereof, are much used in drink, or broth, to make people more lean that are too fat. A decoction of the leaves and root is good for serpent bites, and to neutralize vegetable poison, as mushrooms, etc.’[ii]
© p ward 2014
(the following series of statements were written some time ago to help redefine my work as an artist. the images document a similar process through actions within our new workshop space – eARTh.)
…more concisely it has enriched my relationship with the natural world – through observation and increased sensitivity to its rhythms, entities and energies – and with myself
my work as an artist (environmental, ecological or earth) hopes to share this sense of enrichment
from this statement it may be seen that there are strong similarities between my perception of art and of education (or forms of learning) – I make no apologies for this
art and education may both provide spaces for people to enhance and transform their experience and hence perception of the world, and they can both be enjoyable and entertaining
through utilizing my skills in graphic design and illustration this originally took the form of illustration and interpretation for environmental education projects
art may also be enjoyed as a form of escape, but to escape from what is always the question, or as a means to focus our sense of interconnection – art and life as ecology
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” T. S. Eliot
“Aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment is not simply a matter of looking at objects or ‘views’ from a specific point. Rather, it is being ‘in the midst’ of them, moving in regard to them, looking at them from any and every point and distance and, of course, not only looking, but also smelling, hearing, touching, feeling. It is being in the environment, being a part of the environment, and reacting to it as a part of it. It is such active, involved aesthetic appreciation, rather than the formal mode of appreciation nurtured by the scenery cult and encouraged by photographs, that is appropriate to the natural environment.” Allen Carlson, 2009
“Re-engaging with the raw materials from which our lives are shaped is a potent reminder of the difference between what is real and what is only illusory” Anna Konig
painting with earth
as a painter my intention has been to share a sense of resonance and connection, a sense of the spirit of nature, that have inspired and supported my actions in this life
an obvious way to do this is to use earth pigments, to use nature itself
another way is through experiential workshops in the environment
initially I collected soil from mole hills and mixed this with paint
later I was invited to research earth pigments in north devon where there is a rich history and abundant supply
working with pigments, gathering and processing them, and learning about their nature and history transformed my art practice from one focused on the production of objects (paintings) to one based in process and collaboration
this is not to deny the fundamental processes and products of traditional art but to embrace all and any means and forms of communication and expression and to maintain my practice as an artist
my work has included illustration for field guides, interpretative displays for environmental education projects, environmental art workshops, collaboration with ecologists, geologists, geomorphologists, conservationists, foresters, dancers and choreographers and work for museums and ecologically inspired companies and even arts organisations; I have illustrated and written books, made paintings on canvas and cliff faces, installed installations in galleries and the environment, performed residencies, organised events and made films for public and online viewing
none of this has altered my artistic intent…
to enrich and inform experience of the natural world and ourselves within it.
© p ward 2014