black ball

greencliff 25813

“In every society where working the land has involved class distinction, getting your hands dirty has been low status. After generations of that, its no wonder society develops an environmental crisis. The people who have the power to make a difference are people who no longer want to get their hands dirty. But getting your hands dirty is an integral part of having a healthy environmental movement…”[i]

I wanted to make a brain sized ball from Bideford Black[ii]. I wanted to dig it up and form it with my hands, in my hands; to feel the weight and age and history, the texture and resistance of the unctuous material as I shaped it. I wanted to get my hands dirty, to attune my being to this thick black sticky living earth.

The best place to do this was at the other end of the seam[iii] at Greencliff near Abbotsham on the North Devon coast, where there is a plentiful supply of Bideford Black clay or culm and seawater. Over the last few years it has become something of a place of power for me. Cut off by high dark cliffs and big round pebbles, by muddy paths and narrow lanes, not many humans venture so far. But ravens patrol and peregrines shriek their acrobatic displays and oystercatchers whistle their next move while the sea pounds endlessly past Hartland Point, past Clovelly’s cobbled descent and all the way across Bideford Bay to Westward Ho!, Braunton Burrows and Baggy Point. I have listened here, I have watched here, I have drawn and made films here, I have painted and I have shared knowledge and dreamed here. Maybe my actions, my predilection for isolation, my penchant for a more than human company, my indulgence in natural history, do not directly confront or resolve any of the often-terrifying issues facing the earth at this time. But then maybe communing as I do with much broader relational entities and lives, as rocks and birds and wind, I am living more fully with all the world may offer and aligning my sensibility with everything more. That such attunement with my foundation, my evolutionary bedrock, may enable a stronger, a more powerful voice to be profligate in the name of those whose voices are more often not heard.

playing with dirt at greencliff (p ward + f owen, 2013) playing with dirt at greencliff ( p ward + f owen, 2013)

To work so extensively with one material, to watch my response and to see it behave in its own way, to let it speak for itself if you like through the processes of art, both my own and others, to study and enjoy its interactions with different materials, on different surfaces has been inspiring and enlightening. To appreciate its history and others’ relationships to it, to see children and adults play for the first time with this locally unique substance, simply through joy and the spirit of enquiry, has only affirmed the wonder of this planet and the beauty of our becoming within it all, bringing me closer and more in awe everyday. 

‘purity’ (bideford black on blue latex gloves, p ward 2013) ‘purity’ (bideford black on blue latex gloves, p ward 2013)

bideford black ball (p ward 2013) bideford black ball (p ward 2013)

So I continue to dream, to sing the song of love for life. I pick up the earth and sling it with joy. I mix it and make it. I drip it and dribble it and hope that such aesthetically orientated sharing may enable another way of being, another way of seeing the bounty in which we wholeheartedly reside and for which we may only be eternally grateful[iv]


[i] Theodore Roszak from an interview with Carl Anthony, ‘Ecopyschology and the Deconstruction of Whiteness’ from Ecopsychology – Restoring the Earth,  Healing the Mind; Edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E Gomes and Allen D Kanner (Sierra Club Books, Sna Francisco, 1995)

[ii] http://bidefordblack.blogspot.co.uk/

[iii] see https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/the-other-end-of-a-seam/

[iv] http://www.whitemoose.co.uk/

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