further material responses to existential emergence, crisis and change
I was reminded recently, while gazing fleetingly into the shimmering turquoise green blue ocean here in West Cornwall, of my early art training based in the classical understanding of colour. colour as light. a systematic mixing together of homogenous materials to represent the colours that we observe in Nature from a set of ‘primaries’: reds, blues and yellows. no black. white in moderation. of hue.
our perception of colour, of light and shade, and hence of depth, size, form and materiality, is sometimes explained as the processing and communication of visual information created by the reflection, refraction and absorption of light in relation to materials. working with earth pigments has revealed ‘colour’ as more than just a visual ‘scientific’ process of perception. it is more a holistic appreciation of material presence which encompasses not just colour but texture, smell and a provenance of time and place, of formation and decay, of ecology, history and Nature itself.
we may often associate earth colours with a range of browns, reds and yellows. with this latest set of paintings I have been enjoying a more subtle selection of greys, greens, mauves and whites that I have found, gathered and mixed near my home.
I could say that the stories they tell are unique expressions of their own experience that I have been privileged to bring into contemporary form, but maybe that is for you to decide…
like chopping onions in a northwesterly gale (Cornish earth pigments on board; 56x38cm) © p ward 2019stones that stand in fields with swans and cows and geese: penwith (Cornish earth pigments on board; 70x68cm) © p ward 2019
© P Ward 2019
new paintings from Cornwall – early 2019
For many years I have exclusively used colours from the earth in my paintings, gathering and processing all the pigments myself. Each location offers a unique palette and quality of colour to work with as well as a deeper understanding of that place.
To some it may seem as if creativity is being limited. “How can I paint the sky or the trees?” are frequent questions when running workshops. Working with earth pigments has changed the way I work and my understanding of painting in many ways. It has enriched my perception of colour and the ‘material’ of colour. Black is no longer “an absence of light”. For me it allows a specific expression of place orientated, of course, by my own relationship to being there.
The paintings here respond to the nature of earth colours and experiences in West Cornwall…
© P Ward 2019
(Thanks to Mat for a good conversation about politics, age and forward thinking)
while the universe may be perceived as infinite,
as our imagination does allow,
this world (upon which our existence depends) is not.
there is life
and there is death.
beginnings and ends.
throughout our history, especially in certain cultural geographies,
there has been a gradual shift towards arrogance as our understanding has increased.
with our own permission, in the names of progress, evolution and survival,
we have plundered, transferred and transformed the dynamic integrity of earth.
yet for us, as humans, omnipotence is not a possibility.
and while we may have broken it
and know how and why
we are not capable of mending it
beyond abstaining from activities and attitudes
that may perpetuate such demise and hopefully promote a self-sustaining recovery of sorts.
the universe is quite simply too vast, too diverse for us to knowingly manipulate or predict.
although we may want more,
whether that is peace or possessions or power,
there is little more to be had.
there is already more than enough.
we are simply regurgitating past revelations in a different guise,
re-appropriating wisdom again for our own selfish ends.
to be grateful
to be thankful
to appreciate what there is and what we have
to strive for less
to recognize our own limitations
and to live within them
while not profitable or fashionable
may provide and define a feasible space for creativity, for resourcefulness, for compassion and for joy…
but then, who am I to say?
© P Ward 2019
I was recently asked to paint some dog portraits for friends and family – something a bit different. It was a good reminder of my own skills as an illustrator and draftsman and an affirmation of the suitability of the pigments for a series of wildlife images I hope to produce sometime soon. I used a combination of Cornish and North Devon earth pigments for the paintings and really enjoyed the results…
© P Ward 2019
In darkness, I think of you
And in my thoughts
I cover you with flowers,
A multitude of colours, shapes and scents,
And remove them one by one
To reveal you anew
In beauty and in wonder.
May your world be full of light and joy,
Inspiration, warmth and love
© P Ward 2019
despite the wind
despite the weather
despite the winter
despite the sense of vulnerability
this raw and new found exposure
despite the twisting and turmoil of our times
despite it all
this earth still shines
Before I embark on a new phase of experimentation, combining different binders with the Cornish pigments, I would like to share a few paintings that I have made in my new home – a caravan on a dairy farm in the coastal hills of west Penwith, Cornwall.
Here, I am surrounded by the historic land markings of the ancient peoples who populated this extremity of the British Isles. Stone walls, reportedly demarcating some of the oldest working field networks in the world, built 5000 years ago. Iron age hill forts, burial mounds, settlements and wells set in the denuded coastal wasteland of heath and moor. It is at times bleak. After the rain and wind that lashes fresh from the vast Atlantic ocean, the colours of autumn shine. The constantly changing hues of the blue and grey and turquoise sea. Rainbows sitting in our laps. The sky heavy and clear and dark and brooding. Salt water permeating. The animals are exposed by their hunt for food, by the lack of cover afforded by the stripped land. It is a place of spirit and history and life, right now.
I am slowly learning to listen to the language of the colours here. The earth pigments, their qualities, their sources are unfamiliar. New to me. They are similar in colour to those of North Devon, that I have been using for a long time but very different in other ways. Their formation. Their nature. They have not been part of my own story, until now. The marks and stories they suggest are gradually revealing themselves. Their relationships unfolding. Their dynamic. And despite my attempts at integrity to their provenance and the spirit of this place in which I find myself, it is the freedom of my children’s paintings and drawings that are inspiring me…
Professionally, I am working on an Arts Council National Lottery Project Fund proposal in association with Geevor Tin Mine to research the creative and educational potential of the pigments. Through recent projects and contact with the staff at the Mine I have started to appreciate and become really excited by the rich historical, geological, chemical and social provenance that the colours carry. After the far-reaching and ongoing success that Painting with Earth – North Devon has brought, let’s hope I will get some real financial support to enable the continuation of this rich seam of work ;-).
© P Ward 2018