“If you lack the materials to work with, go to the beach and draw with a stick in the sand, draw on the dry earth with a line of piss, make a drawing of the song of the birds in the emptiness of space, the noise of the water and of the wheel of a cart, and the song of the insects. All of this may be swept away by the wind and the water, but have the conviction that all these pure realizations of my spirit will influence, by magic and miracle, the spirit of other men.” Joan Miro, 1940
Sometimes, when one’s creativity seems a little stifled or this art becomes a little too serious and responsibilities just too onerous to bare, it is enough to take oneself to the local beach, or a place of personal power, some woods or favourite walk, or even somewhere completely new, and just set to playing – exploring some different materials in a different environment, away from the studio with no pressure of outcome, finance or foe. Francesca and I are presently working together towards a number of exhibitions and open studios but often struggling with the demands of parenthood to find time to apply ourselves fully to our artistic endeavours. It was time for a change – a change in our expectations of ourselves, of our working practice both individually, and with each other, and maybe even a change in the form of our expression. Working together may often help such a process of re-evaluation and movement but it may just as easily hinder it. Whatever, it is always worth trying to get the juices flowing again, to unblock, to break the dam, to release and revive the mojo, so to speak.
Here’s what happened when we went to one of our favourite spots in North Devon – Crow Point, at the mouth of the Taw and Torridge rivers, where the rich estuarine waters flow into Barnstaple/Bideford Bay (wherever your more clandestine loyalties may lie), at the southern end of Braunton Burrows, centre of the UNESCO North Devon Biosphere Reserve, a place I had spent many happy childhood holiday times and one I will be continuing to share with our son Noah now and in the future.
- Transect – collecting objects that appeal from a line down the beach, recognizing arbitrary zones, changes in surface and ecology, bringing those things together as a simple expression of that system, process and place.
- Noah’s Ark at arm’s length – sitting and sorting the stones and sand to find as many seashells as one can within arm’s reach; drawing a line to mark that reach; placing all the shells together on a piece of rock or driftwood within the space; observing, perhaps identifying and counting and enjoying the diversity of life therein.
- Driftwood boardwalk for lizards and beetles – arranging a selection of sticks from one place to another.
- Flotsam and jetsam beach bundle – collect interesting things and tie them together in a bundle; photograph arrangement from a weird/artistic angle to capture a sense of moment and place.
- Rubbish sculpture, an ode to Mr Duchamp – a carefully juxtaposed re-appropriation of discarded toilet seat and plastic, sticks, rope, sand and shadows.
- 4 subtle stick crosses on driftwood with sand – most transient darling!?
- Line in the sand – drag a stick in the sand as you walk along the beach, enjoying this simple expression of movement and mark making.
- Pick things up and take them home – gather some more objects that particularly appeal to one’s artistic sensibilities at the time, tie them all together and cart them back to the car and consequently the studio where they may be arranged in pleasing and/or meaningful ways in the name of art…
As utterly committed contemporary (environmental) artists we, of course, spent time recording and documenting our ‘play’ for who knows just when our lighthearted, seemingly trivial investigative dalliances may trigger a new burst in creative output or inspired artistic flare and productivity. We also had a great time and hope that Noah did too!? From his shoulder-top vantage point who knows what he thought or what affects we may be catalyzing in his innocent and vulnerable being but from his smiling cheeky face chirruping away throughout the windy, sun filled walk, and the way he is chewing away on the table edge as I write this blog, I’m sure he’ll be just fine.
Thank you to Francesca and Noah for such a lovely walk, to Crow Point and North Devon in general for providing such creative and spiritual inspiration in abundance and such a beautiful place to bring up a small child, to this blog post for mainfesting yet another excuse to use one of my favourite quotes and to Mr Miro for writing it. We are now cracking back on with work in the studio in preparation to entertain and inspire you all again throughout the coming months and years…
© P Ward 2015
* and many thanks to Clare Thomas for priming the canvas with rabbit skin glue and linseed oil, and indeed for her inspiring residency at eARTh – I, for one, will be using more natural ingredients in my paint making from now on :-)
early spring 2015
It is difficult to concisely express the accumulated experience of 9 days (216 hours) in such a different culture and environment with a year old baby and loving partner. I was quietly determined to take only a few photos, to try to keep the experience more ‘whole’ through sensory memory alone. Of course, the phone camera was hard to resist and some moments were captured digitally both as sound and image, albeit rather inadequately, along with a handwritten list of bird and animal species. Suffice to say I also enjoyed some fantastic bundles of sticks, carried by people and animals alike, and a wonderful array of earth colours in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. But to sum up, the lingering sensation is that of movement, of change, of noise and smell and taste, of clamour, of conversations, of frustration, deliberation and joy, of meetings and departures, hellos and goodbyes, of a small boy waving and waving with a mouth full of berber bread and happy adoring faces, of colour, of heat, of wind and mountains and sea, of arid brightness and intensity, and then of a return to the soft, patchwork of rolling subdued earthy tones and a familiar English winter landscape from on high.
Here is a selection of the images taken by Francesca and myself (depending on who was holding the camera/baby at the time)…
Many thanks to Francesca, Noah and all the people and creatures of Morocco who made our time so good.
© p ward 2015
1. http://karol-kochanowski.com/ – a lovely artist we met in marrakech
2. http://www.galeriedamgaard.com/ – a great gallery showing distinctive primitive local art in essaouira
3. http://francescaowen.wix.com/arts – the wonderful francesca owen no less…
I met a man in Marrakech from Manchester.
He was Polish.
He told me how the red-legged storks that reeled high above the Medina walls
Nested in his home town in Poland,
Migrating to spend their winters in Morocco.
There was a certain poetry to his tale I felt
That made me smile.
I told him how the delicate Painted Lady Butterfly
Flew from Northern Africa and Spain
To southern England every year
To breed and to die.
© p ward 2015
This morning I awoke to the sound of birdsong drifting through dawn-lit windows
The small, humble things in life offering sustenance in this big, big world
Spring hath sprung…
“Curiously in amongst this plethora of Buddhism there was one token of Christianity – the autobiography of St Teresa of Lisieux. In spite of Tenzin Palmo’s antipathy to the Christian religion in general, she was drawn to the French saint who had entered a Carmelite nunnery when she was just fifteen and who had died at the age of twenty-four. She read her story several times and could quote from it at will.
‘The ironic thing is that the “little way” that she wrote about had nothing to do with the Way that I practiced. What I liked about her, however, was that she was very sensible. She sometimes slept through the church services and it did not worry her that she slept. God would have to accept her as she was! She never worried about her faults so long as her aspiration was right! She had this thing that she was like a small bird scratching around looking for seeds, glancing at the sun but not flying near it. She reasoned that she didn’t have to because the sun was shining even on a small being like a bird. Her whole attitude was very nice. She described herself as “a little flower” by the wayside which nobody sees but in its own self is very perfect as it is. And to me that is her primary message – that even in small, little ways we can be fulfilling our purpose and that in little things we can accomplish much.’[i]
(Drawings from recent experiments with compressed charcoal.)
© p ward 2015
[i] From Cave in the Snow by Vicki Mackenzie, the inspiring true story of how an English woman from the East in of London became a fully ordained Tibetan nun, spending 12 years in isolated meditation in a cave in the Himalayan foothills during the latter half of the 20th Century.
NEWPORT COMMUNITY INFANT ACADEMY ARTSWEEK 2015 – Soil Culture*
I was recently invited to develop and lead environmental art activities for Newport Community School in Barnstaple, North Devon. The activities offered opportunities for staff and pupils to explore and celebrate our relationships with Nature, in particular soil and local earth pigments. The school has 500 pupils between 3 and 12 years old. A range of activities, including mud painting, making soil balls, bundles of sticks and leaf sorting, were presented to the teaching staff and then left for them to interpret. The communal artworks created were included in an exhibition for children and parents at the end of the week and a 6x1m earth pigment painting made by the whole school was left as legacy of the week’s hard work.
For me to develop such a large-scale event for so many was extremely daunting – how teachers do it day-in-day-out is amazing! It was incredible to see a painting evolve at the hands of 500 children, with only the most arbitrary guidelines, to become a vibrant expression of their experience and of North Devon itself. All participatory group paintings I have facilitated have somehow turned out well, but I have never tried it with 500 children before, and it is certainly a way of working I hope to pursue further in the future. The other simple activities, and reflection upon them, seemed to give children and staff space to try something new and also a space to learn through a different, more hands-on approach. The whole event has given me a great deal of satisfaction and confidence to tackle such events again in the future.
The exhibition was well attended by some most bemused but interested parents looking for their individual child’s work only to find it absorbed into the totality. The school, to their credit, thoroughly got behind both the educational and experiential value of art activities and also the contemporary conceptual nature of the final exhibition. Many thanks to Georgie Treanor for helping organize ARTSWEEK and to the children, teachers and staff for their patient and enthusiastic participation, and to Francesca for her support and help preparing the canvas.
soil . making paint . local history . geology . local resources . environment . culture
INTRODUCTION to TEACHERS PACK
“Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes visible” Paul Klee
Art is one way we learn about the world. The learning and creative processes are based on both sensory experience and reflection. The process and expression of such experience is what we know as Art. From the beginning of human history we have learnt about the world through experience of the materials that are available in our immediate surroundings. From this experience, and through trial and error, we have developed the technologies to enable us to survive. As communications and transport have become more versatile and far reaching we have often lost our knowledge and understanding of the local environment and the materials it provides.
In North Devon, as elsewhere, our culture and identity as a region has been based on the natural resources available. For many centuries the chief industries were mining, for iron and copper, and sheep farming wool on the steep hills and valleys. The soils have promoted a rich and varied agriculture from dairy and beef cattle to crops. Bideford and Barnstaple both had large potteries supplied by clay pits in Fremington and Peters Marland. The potteries have unfortunately closed now but the white ball clay pits at Peters Marland and Meeth still quarry and export clay for use in brick- and paper-making. And, of course, Bideford has a black earth pigment named after it that was mined until 1969. Bideford Black was used in the boat industry, to paint tanks in WW2 and by Max Factor to make mascara.
By learning about the materials in our local environment and appreciating their importance to our lives it is hoped that we may also learn to respect them a little more.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself” Zen Proverb
- THE SOUND OF CHILDREN LISTENING – we have quietly listened to the wind and trees and birds and the sounds of Newport. We have felt the sun and wind and rain on our faces and the earth beneath our feet.
- CIRCLES MADE BY WALKING – we have been walking in big circles on the playing field, making big muddy drawings with our feet.
- 500 children – communal painting on canvas by all members of the school using North Devon Earth Pigments. We have learnt about where paint comes from, how the rocks it is made from are formed, where they can be found in North Devon and how to make paint before adding our mark to the big painting.
- Soil Balls – we have been investigating soil brought in by teachers from around North Devon to see what it is made of and what creatures live in it and then forming it into balls with our hands.
- LEAF COLLAGES – we have been collecting leaves and sorting them to see how many different plants, shapes and colours there are.
- CHARCOAL DRAWINGS – we have been looking very closely at leaves and drawing them using charcoal.
- BUNDLES OF STICKS – we have been gathering sticks from the playing field and tying them together. This simple activity has led to discussions about fuel, building materials and ways of tying things.
- DIRTY HANDS – we have been getting our hands ‘dirty’, covering them and some paper with mud.
- CORDYLINE STRUCTURES – we have been using cordyline leaves to explore natural fibres and making all sorts of things from them.
- WORD WALL – we have been writing down words that the ARTSWEEK activities have inspired.
- SLIDE SHOW – here are some pictures of us exploring, creating and enjoying the activities this ARTSWEEK.
© p ward 2015
To see more of the work visit http://www.newportprimary.devon.sch.uk/artsweek-19th-23rd-january-2015/
* Soil Culture is a project by the Centre for Contemporary Arts & the Natural World to raise awareness about soil through the arts (www.ccanw.co.uk)
a pleasant few days break in west somerset
after a week of hard work inside the studio.
despite a forecast of persistent heavy rain
and a recurrent mechanical inconvenience
there was sunshine
a chance to tidy the garden
to the sound of wind shaking the trees and familiar birdsong
inspiring peace of mind and a few life-art works
to celebrate the simplicity, beauty and creativity of nature
reflections of place and time and relationship
Waste and wastes implies unwanted or unusable materials. The term is often subjective (because waste to one person is not necessarily waste to another) and sometimes objectively inaccurate…[i]
In preparation for a local school’s artsweek I will be leading at the end of January I have been researching some very basic materials such as sticks and leaves and mud, and wheelbarrows… I have been invited, as an environmental artist, to develop a series of activities to engage 500 children between the ages of 4 and 12, and their teachers, with ideas of local ecology, its influence on the region’s historical development and our current relationship with it. 2015 being the UN International Year of Soils, and being one of my own specialisms, I have chosen the theme of SOIL. The activities will allow children and teachers to explore and hopefully learn something about the nature of soil and its importance in all our lives. The activities, designed to be starting points for creative journeys for teachers to explore with their classes, will also lead to an end of week environmental art exhibition including work made by every child in the school. The centrepiece will be a large earth pigment painting built up during the week by the children and finished by a group of ‘gifted and talented’ students who have shown a particular aptitude and interest in the arts. The painting will be left as a legacy for the school and acknowledgement of the hard work accomplished during the week. Hopefully the children and teachers will have an enjoyable and memorable time.
© p ward 2014
Many thanks to everyone who came along and shared their support for eARTh, both in person and on line. Despite the cold (our central heating packed up during some of the coldest, wettest, windiest weather so far this year) we had a good number of interested and interesting visitors, some great ideas shared, some good work done and even some work sold. It was really encouraging to see our ideas taking shape and to have others excited and wanting to share in them. We are presently putting together a series of initial events and activities for 2015 based on discussions had during the week including a contemporary environmental art support group, open space days, painting and dyeing workshops, a number of meetings, two more open studio events (Ilfracombe Art Trail and North Devon Art Trek) and a few residencies, including a visitor from Canada exploring natural pigment binders and some performers from the Netherlands.
Here are a few images of the work done for and during the OPEN STUDIO…
“Then, when the waters sank, the great goddess smiled again and in her heart declared herself for man. She blessed the harvests, and her gentle spirit was ever in the fields and granaries; and in the long evenings, she loved to take her ease in some countryman’s home and listen to the talk of sunshine and grain, and new shoots and old trees and the mischief-making nymphs.”
from The God Beneath the Sea by Leon Garfield and Edward Blishen.
If you have any further ideas, no matter how small, that you would like to explore or ways you would like to utilize the space please contact us directly. We would love to share and develop our work with others of common interest and intent so please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Similarly, if you would like to be kept informed of our work and events please send us your email address and we will add you to our mailing list.
© p ward 2014