Continuing my research and experimentation with the North Devon earth pigment Bideford Black for both The Story of Bideford Black project[i] at the Burton Gallery and the forthcoming exhibition at the Whitemoose Gallery in Barnstaple[ii], I have felt inspired to paint my face (in keeping with my tendency to gain intimate knowledge of my subject matter[iii]); both as a response to its commercial use in the make-up industry (as the basis for mascara), and also through the local miners’ stories of being continually covered in this sticky sooty substance. During the 1950’s and ‘60’s the miners were given a bar of carbolic soap to wash themselves at the end of each day but it often took months after leaving the mines for the pigment to sweat out of their skin – their clothes, bed sheets and furniture constantly ingrained with the stuff!
The sensation of smearing the 350 million year old earth pigment into my face (albeit in a somewhat suburban setting) but more so seeing the images that such a primal action creates (for no other purpose than visual exploration) was pleasantly liberating, slightly unnerving in its transformative power and most enjoyable (to both myself and my long suffering and supportive family)! The process of washing it off was equally appealing and visually remarkable – a little like removing charcoal from paper, working back into a painting or washing a really dirty car. Thankfully it came off a lot easier for me than for the miners.
With special thanks to Francesca[iv] for taking such a wonderful selection of sensitive and intimate portraits for me to work with.
P Ward 2013