Today I let a Peacock butterfly out of the window of my house. It is mid December but the weather is mild.
We have a number of butterflies – mainly Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) and Peacock (Aglais io) – who appear to hibernate in our house. When the weather is mild they wake up. I am never sure whether to let them out or not. Would staying in the house mean further hibernation or slow starvation as they flap helplessly against the windowpane? Letting them out into the changing weather can only mean certain death as their life force is drained by the cold and lack of nutrients from their natural food sources.
From childhood I was taught that a butterfly’s life lasts but one day, as it emerges from its chrysalis with shimmering wings, drinking briefly from its chosen flowery nectar, choosing a mate and exhausting itself in procreative fervour. This seems not so or at least not entirely accurate. I have read that the Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui) reaches British shores after a migratory flight from northern Africa and Spain, while obviously the Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell often spend a winter, at least, in dry dark sheltered roof spaces and cupboards before embarking on life once more.
As this butterfly flew out into the dim blustery day I wonder on how much more misinformation I have been fed during my formative years, and if this brief liberation, caused by my own puzzled intervention, was truly for the best…
© P Ward 2014
eARTh MIDWINTER OPEN STUDIO 6-13 DECEMBER
To celebrate the opening of our new workshop and art space in Ilfracombe – eARTh – we (Pete Ward and Francesca Owen) will be holding an open studio from 6-13th December, 11am – 5pm daily. Pete and Francesca’s work explores their relationship with nature, and more specifically North Devon’s rich and diverse ecology, through contemporary painting, installation and workshops. Come and meet the artists in a relaxed informal atmosphere, find out how you might get involved, enjoy their work and maybe take some away with you…
For further information visit www.earthnorthdevon.wix.com/arts or contact Pete (07876 733720) or Francesca (07828 703353). eARTh is at 15 Greenclose Road, Ilfracombe, North Devon, EX34 8BT.
© P Ward 2014
making a mole hill soil ball, baggy point 281114
i come upon
in my perambulations
the hill of a mole
a breathing space for some subterranean excavation
tunneling her way
through rich rooted firmament
and on meeting such a mound
it is my inclination
to reach down
from my lofty perspective
to bury my soft suburban hands
in this sifted sorted moist soil
and to draw out a handful
i form a ball
and place it thereabouts
acknowledgement of our underground companions
symbol of my connection
with what lies beneath my feet
above your head
that supports this miraculous life we do enjoy
© P Ward 2014
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.