looking through some old work for a recent commission proposal i found this early short film and realised it hadn’t been published yet. the sequences were captured on a basic compact digital camera during a two hour walk on windy afternoon in the forest of bere in hampshire…
P Ward 2013
an intimate response to a local practice
In preparation for a forthcoming exhibition celebrating the unique earth pigment Bideford Black with four other North Devon artists at the white moose gallery in Barnstaple[i], I have been playing with an idea based on the recollection of a Bideford shopkeeper who used to sell bags of the pigment from his hardware store until as recently as 1996 – the pigment mines closed in 1969[ii]. According to the gentleman, who I met at a presentation I did about North Devon earth pigments for the Torridge U3A, the rich black pigment along with other locally sourced ochres were used by sheep farmers to paint on the bellies of rams at breeding time to mark any ewes they covered.
Inspired by his story, and its fertile connotations, I am collecting fleece naturally shed by sheep grazing on an area of common land near my home as the temperature rises for springtime[iii]. With the generous assistance of fellow artist and natural dye specialist Francesca Owen[iv] the fleece was washed gently in cold water to remove any dung and plant matter embroiled in its woolly mass but to retain its greasy and somewhat smelly lanolin coating. The discarded remnants of tangled fleece – dung, sticks and all (waste not want not!?) – were then soaked in a mixture of Bideford Black and sea water (sea water having a traditional use as a dye mordant) and used as a printing pad, rhythmically pressing and dragging and dripping the pungent spongy mass into a variety of papers and surfaces to produce abstract shapes and patterns, the pigment mixture providing a sensual depth of tone and texture, and finally leaving us with a ball of stiffly dyed wool – a splendid creative residue from the process akin to the symbolic signature felts of Joseph Beuys. We will be continuing our experimentation with a variety of other local pigments.
Not surprisingly, my obsessive foraging for ‘stuff’ has caused much amusement to local residents in this age of consumerism and science – politely enquiring if I would be using the filthy fleece for spinning, an obviously much respected craft; I reply, “No, it is for an art project exploring the possibilities of dyeing with earth pigments.” “Oh really!?…” they reply, looking somewhat blank and a little concerned, and moving away promptly. Maybe at least a little joy was shared, a small creative spark ignited and a rudiment of aboriginal connection recognised. In the words of playwright Bertoldt Brecht we must ‘make strange’ to ‘knock upon the imagination’ through our art. With each simple step I take may I enrich and inspire, fertilise and empower, and may I be amply supported on my journey…
P Ward 2013
[ii] There is presently a resurgence in interest about the pigment garnered by a project I am leading with the Burton Gallery, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Friends of the Burton, which is hoping to gather memories and artefacts about the industry before they fade forever for a permanent display for the Burton museum. For more information see www.bidefordblackblog.blogspot.co.uk.
[iii] Northam Burrows Country Park maintains a policy of free livestock grazing for local residents
within and without this proximity
this air and earth
this body and breath
in which we share
through touch and taste and sight and smell and sound
just what we are
and may become
in limitless community
exercising subtle calculations
towards possible mutability
and sense what sense
there might be here
these birds and beasts
and other entities
that befriend us
and listen and learn
to value all
to conjure magic and mystery
P Ward 2013
i am without time and without form with you
a friend from hereafter
this, my home
as often mentioned, the importance of connecting with the more-than-human, the land and fellow beings about my home, to just spend time here, to allow time to feel, to see and to heal and to be consequently open to inspiration, is an essential element of my arts practice, and arguably of any healthy participation in this miraculous existence. this short film and set of images documents one such circuit, one small journey, one mindful walk around my home – northam country park and westward ho! in north devon.
while I feel privileged to enjoy my time with nature – others are not so fortunate to live within easy reach of such obvious beauty – a classically grounded education in the arts has deeply enriched my everyday experience, helping me see more clearly, to observe more rigorously, to feel more deeply and to appreciate and enjoy the wonder of life as a whole. it may not be for everyone to paint or to become what has been traditionally known as an ‘artist’, but the skills, insights and experience that the arts give, combined with an informed respect for the natural world, will most often make us more contented and creative beings in every aspect of our lives. on days such as these when all I see and everything I do becomes a thing of immense beauty, an intricate part of this rich complex tapestry of life, I am more than grateful to be alive. my only desire is to share such joy with others, to enrich lives as mine has been enriched and to continue to do so…
P Ward 2013
“All things start on the land – not least the townsman and most surely the mechanic.”
John Stewart Collis, The Worm Forgives the Plough
having volunteered to help with some bramble clearance at courage copse – a local woodland restoration project in north devon returning a larch and fir plantation to a sustainable oak and hazel coppice enterprise – expecting a quiet day usefully connecting with nature, i was called to reflect on the ever present necessity and reliance on modern technology even within the most well-meaning projects, being accompanied all day by the sound of chainsaws felling and trimming trees nearby. this selection of stills and sounds from the day were captured with a kodak HD camera and edited using i-movie…
P Ward 2013
INNOVATIONS IN MARINE EDUCATION Workshop
FSC Dale Fort, Pembrokeshire 15-17313
I was recently invited to take part in a 3-day workshop organized by the Field Studies Council at one of their fantastic field centres at Dale Fort in Pembrokeshire, South Wales to explore the possibilities and potential of teaching about the sea and seashore. The event, funded by the British Ecological Society and the Field Studies Council, brought together teachers from a variety of institutions, conservation groups, environmental bodies and even an environmental artist(!?), to provide an opportunity to share ideas and skills, make contacts and to promote new thinking about ways to engage and inform learners with the seashore and the contemporary issues surrounding it! Activities ranged from PowerPoint presentations, rocky shore ecology lessons, Seashore School activities, plankton sampling and identification with microscopes, to an exhilarating rib (boat) ride around the bay and of course plenty of time to chat and play with the ideas. For myself, it was really refreshing to be amongst such a wealth of knowledge and experience about the natural world and exciting ways of engaging with it, and also excellent to be able to provide a more creative and open space within the sometimes heady and more empirical methodologies present, to maybe bring out the art lying just under the surface of science. Hopefully the open-mindedness of the organizers to include artists in such a conference is a growing trend…
My own involvement was an impromptu presentation looking at how art may support and inform environmental education and a participatory workshop on the final afternoon. The workshop involved a silent walk for half a mile from the field centre to castle beach; a silent breathing/listening/grounding circle on the beach; group foot circle drawing on the beach to create a working space; sharing a single word or object that sums up individual connection to the seashore environment; 20 minute silent, individual and mindful collection of objects from the beach focusing on why, how and any imaginative responses to process; placing collections in circular space; sharing of individual experience and reflection upon process; affirmation of new insights; washing hands in sea to close. I think it is important to note the workshop was developed over the course of the weekend as a response to the event as a whole, trying to create activities that would fit best. It was thankfully very well received and seen as a valuable element of the weekend generally producing some surprising and interesting results and insights for those who participated, in particular the necessity to give ourselves time to simply be in the natural environment, without the pressure of work or specific outcomes, and to revisit those activities that may have inspired us in the first place. Personally it was empowering to allow ideas for the workshop to evolve during the weekend and to then have the confidence to lead. Many thanks to all who took part.
- Field Studies Council
- British Ecological Society
- The Wildlife Trusts (Cheshire, Ulster, Sussex, Hampshire & IOW)
- Marine Conservation Society
- Seashore Schools
- The National Trust
- Pembrokeshire Coast National Park
- Pembrokeshire Coastal Forum
- Pembrokeshire Marine Special Area of Conservation
- Independent teachers, trainers and practitioners
Further accounts of the weekend workshop may be found at…
P Ward 2013
how invisible may i become,
how virtual in my being,
how camouflaged among the foliage,
how indistinct from any others who purport to express the same,
how discredited, how disrespected, underrepresented and misunderstood,
how taken for granted, how unacknowledged, how comfortable in my nonentity?
if i were to sink back and back and breathe slowly and silently
or slip my head beneath the safety of the waves and dive down and down
or dig a hole deep and dark and bury myself in it,
would i be walked upon more than i am already
or swept aside and ignored more than i am now?
do i not shout loud enough or shine brightly enough
or whisper clearly enough or use enough clever words?
are they too long or too short or just put together incorrectly?
or do i not put myself in the right place at the right time
or know the right people or ask for what is rightfully mine?
am i simply missing something, not seeing what’s right in front of my eyes,
some logical conclusion or analogy to make my essence clear,
some distinctive nuance of purpose and worth
to allow others to share their fortune
to become valued in this world?
i am often told how gifted and talented i am when on show,
for which I am truly grateful and without which I would not know
how kind and capable, in word and deed,
how practical and sensitive to others in need, how skilled
and just how invisible i have become.
but then i am a lucky one -
i have a house and a home
i am loved and cared for
i am neither hungry or thirsty or cold or even ill,
i am simply disgusted at how so much talent can go to waste
how these precious resources are more often misused and abused,
how such potential may remain unharnessed, how so much love is lost.
now if i move inwards quickly enough, turn about and within this radiant form to leave an empty space,
maybe i can create a vacuum into which all the wars and stupidity will be pulled at once
and leave us all to wonder at just how invisible we have become?
P Ward 2013