water, air and earth
sticks and stones
and, somewhere, fire
as the year unfolds
to a new life
and you grow
and hold us rapt
in your emphatic personality
we deliberate upon Nature
and deafening response
there is red and black and grey and green
dirt to some
riches to others
what is left
we play together
The year began with family and friends in a rainswept County Clare, Ireland, my home for 10 years. Many of the places I wanted to revisit and share were beneath meters of water. Things, of course, had changed for better and worse but the spirit of the land still shone through.
Then more mountains and lakes, family and friends, as my brother’s path shifts to the Welsh borders, an area I have not visited before but will visit again. This time snow, ice, fog and sunshine accompanied my journey. Lake Vyrnwy reservoir submerged a Welsh village to supply England with water.
And at ‘home’ the winter lashes the coastline, reshaping and reforming. Ilfracombe was originally named after King Alfred and was gifted to two of his sons as a sheltered harbour on the western approaches to his kingdom. Before then an iron-age hill fort overlooked the natural harbour from, what is now, Hillsborough nature reserve. This part of the North Devon coast is formed predominantly from Devonian slates, sandstones and shales and boasts some of the highest sea cliffs in England. We have a new studio here that we hope will provide a base for our creative endeavours and space for others to enjoy.
In May, as part of the CCANW Soil Culture project, I led a walk and talk with the White Moose Gallery and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to celebrate North Devon’s relationship with its earth resources. “Let’s Walk and Talk Dirt!” involved local potters, Harry Juniper and Roger Cockram, geologists Chris Cornford and Andrew Green, and soil scientist David Hogan to present some different perspectives about our local resources. Participants really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the events but were frustrated by the lack of time to explore the subject matter in more depth. We are now working towards a ‘summer school’ to further explore North Devon’s potteries, pigments, rocks and soils.
The Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, East Devon invited me in May, to run painting with earth workshops to accompany their ongoing Soil Culture exhibitions. The first workshop introduced the ideas to a small group of partially sighted children from the WESC Foundation, providing a space for us to enjoy the more than visual experience of the process and materials. I was also excited to be exploring a new area of the country, encouraging me to find new pigments and learn about their geology and history. The second workshop, for artists, included an invigorating morning field trip to Jacob’s Ladder beach in Sidmouth to gather small quantities of the iron-rich red and green mudstones, and whatever else took our fancy, followed by an afternoon of furious experimentation grinding and binding a selection of pigments with a variety of mediums. It was great to meet some new faces in such a lively and friendly gallery.
Something that did surprise me was the presence of chalk in the landscape of East Devon. Having been raised in Portsmouth I am familiar with the chalk and flint of the South Downs and Isle of Wight but wasn’t aware of it so far west along the coast. The sedimentary Cretaceous beds at Beer, that I saw from Branscombe beach during a day of research, lie above Upper Greensand that then rests on the more familiar Mercian Triassic red mudstones of South Devon. Apparently there is an ‘unconformity’ here in that the interceding Jurassic layer is missing, the area being land during that era. The nodules of flint and chert present in the Chalk and Upper Greensand that make up the beaches are also apparent in the local architecture creating further similarities to the South Downs and other Chalk areas across Europe.
One such region, that I also feel an affinity with through my ancestry and boyhood cycling adventures, is the Wessex Downs. The ancient country of Wessex encompassed Hampshire, west to the Cornish borders, and Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon and Somerset. In more recent times its character and characters have formed the backdrop for the literary works of Thomas Hardy. I was recently contacted by a research fellow from Exeter University to collaborate in a project to explore the value to health and well being of arts-based environmental workshops. His previous research looked at the work of Thomas Hardy in relation to the Wessex landscape. We are now waiting to see if our initial funding application has been successful before embarking on a major AHRC project around a similar theme. It has been fascinating working with a complete stranger towards a shared goal.
Meanwhile, closer to home again we have been working with the local community towards re-landscaping an unsightly patch of ground behind the bus shelter in our village. It was good to be invited, to meet some more of our neighbours, to learn about the history of the village and to think how to we might alter such a space to celebrate the area. It was recently discovered that the area is owned (rather than it being public space) which has put the project back somewhat!?
And back in the studio I have been enjoying putting together some new work (see previous post) using old offcuts of wood, old pots of paint and some new pigments. After 9 months I finally feel like I am settling in, enjoying the space and making something new, as well as finding time for my other interests and beautiful family. With a new arrival imminent we’ll be working hard to keep it up…
© P Ward 2016
My latest work combines using leftover bits of wood, a love of simple woodworking and an interest in the more everyday applications of paint. While, as artists, it is easy to focus on painting as an intellectually aesthetic discipline or as a means to test and enjoy our powers of observation, manipulation of materials and hand-eye coordination the majority of paints and pigments have been, and still are, used for decorating and protecting surfaces around the house and industrially.
For example, Bideford Black, a North Devon pigment that I have spent time researching[i], was used primarily in the shipbuilding industry as an anti-foul, as a household paint (Zats Black), to paint tank camouflage in WWII, for dyeing rubber and cement and even for making mascara, but I am yet to find evidence of it being commercially processed as an artist’s pigment. Despite recent local and national artistic interest it is, in my experience, a rather gritty, difficult and dull black material that is prone to sapping the life out of all the other colours it comes close to. So while Reeves of London may have considered another North Devon pigment, Berrynarbour Umber, ‘essential for any paint box’ I cannot see Leonardo sending for some Bideford Black (as he may have for yellow from Naples or green from Verona)! But then it has its very own nature and one that as artists and/or paint makers we can choose to embrace or at least take into account if using it.
Every pigment I have used has its own quality and spirit, and recognizing and working with this understanding is one of the primary and most exciting lessons I have learnt from gathering and processing pigments. They are all an expression of a place, of a geological process and may carry with them a provenance rooted in nature and social history, as well as qualities that lend themselves to one purpose or another. Similarly, while the colours I often use for display and educational purposes are quite bold (to impress and surprise people with the richness of colour under our feet) the subtlety and range of colours of soils, clays and rocks associated with any site is utterly sublime. This may often be seen when studying the colours of materials and paints used in architecture from region to region and the sense of place this inspires.
Another area of interest to me, through my alter ego as a painter and decorator, has been the fashion (albeit necessary) for ‘environmentally friendly’ household paint. While industry searches for new products to replace traditionally oil-based paints we are happy to accept (inferior) low-odour acrylic substitutes. I am not sure exactly how household paints are manufactured or what they are made from but do know that acrylics have an equally dubious environmental impact.
From my experience, traditional oil based paints work – they stay on the surface for a good while whereas contemporary substitutes tend to scratch off easily and attract dirt more readily, sometimes removing more of the paint when wiped! To my knowledge oil based paints have been made using plant resins and oils and cleaned and thinned with turpentine – another plant based product. The issue of pollution often occurs in production, cleaning brushes, in disposal and from fumes given off when applying. Whereas modern ‘plastic’ paints, while addressing many of the H&S issues of traditional paints, may stop plaster and stone from ‘breathing’ causing problems with damp and water retention[ii]. This is not to say that there is nothing wrong with good old traditional paint – that we should just ‘get a grip’ over a bit of casual solvent abuse and some dead fish – but that there is obviously still a lot of work to be done to reach a satisfactory conclusion both in terms of environmental impact, health and safety, and durability.
Maybe it is more our attitudes towards and understanding of such matters that need addressing!? Whatever, every circumstance and application is individual as are the solutions…
Rants and ramblings aside, it has been fascinating cobbling together old bits and pieces of wood to make new surfaces to paint on and seeing how the hand made paint works with the different surfaces. The pieces have taken on a more sculptural feel, playing the illusional 3D qualities achieved by painting off against the shallow relief of the structured surface. Thankfully some of the pieces have already been sold, the buyer commenting on the ‘Wabi Sabi’ quality of the work – a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection[iii], the principle of repair, making new from old, celebrating the beauty of decay and repurpose. While this was not necessarily my intention, I do like the association.
© P Ward 2016
(Note: Apologies for the slightly distorted imagery – the frames are actually square. I have temporarily lost use of my photo editing programme due to a systems upgrade. If anyone knows of a good free photo editing suite that allows you to rotate by degrees and adjust camera distortion, please let me know :-))
[ii] However, to the contrary, we have recently been experimenting with organic binders, such as rabbit skin glue and gum Arabic, and found that in certain environmental conditions, such as damp and cold, or through errors in preparation, they are prone to rapid disintegration – to mould and flaking. A factor not conducive to good business practice in the production and commercial distribution of fine objets d’art!
MIDWINTER OPEN STUDIO
Saturday 28th and Sunday 29th November, 1100-1600
After an exciting first year, including a great exhibition at the White Moose Gallery, a number of successful workshops and OPEN STUDIOS and participation in other international projects, eARTh has relocated to a smaller, more rural space at Hele Corn Mill where we (myself and partner Francesca Owen) will be continuing our work with local earth pigments and plant dyes.
Hele Corn Mill dates from 1525 and is a unique working watermill in North Devon. Located just 300m from stunning Hele Bay beach just east of Ilfracombe, a visit to the mill makes a perfect family visit. Opposite the mill is the Miller’s Wife Tearoom, where you can relax and enjoy a traditional cream tea or a slice of one of many delicious cakes, which are homemade every day. For directions, parking and opening times please visit www.helecornmill.com.
You are warmly invited to a pre-Christmas opening – a chat, some nibbles, a glass of wine and some art. If you cannot make the opening please feel free to visit anytime. eARTh will be open on a regular basis along with workshops, exhibitions and events throughout the year and is looking forward to seeing you soon.
For more information please visit www.earthnorthdevon.wix.com/arts
© P Ward 2015
Geumgang Nature Art Pre-biennale 2015, South Korea
7 October – 30 November 2015
I was invited to contribute photographic documentation of 3 works to highlight aspects of my practice (below) and a project proposal (A BUNDLE OF STICKS) to this international environmental art residency programme and exhibition organised by YATOOI in South Korea. The proposal will hopefully lead to a 3-week fully paid residency in South Korea in 2016.
The Geumgang Nature Art Biennale is an international Nature Art exhibition planned by Yatoo, the Korean Nature Art Association firstly established in 1981. Yatoo spreads Nature Art around Gongju in Chungnam Province. Based on Yatoo’s experience of planning and hosting international nature art events since the early 1990s, the first Biennale was held in 2004, supported by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, the South Chungcheong Province and Gongju City. Throughout three weeks the artists from around the world live together and create their works. An introductive session for the nature art project and other programs are conducted in parallel. There are two programs for foreign artists and IWO campers. The first is introducing the Korean culture, the second is a project created together with children and other citizens. The works of the artists are displayed at Ssangshin Park allowing the visitors to observe how they interact with the natural context.
expressions of an intimate ecology:
I came upon this large driftwood log during a walk along a beach in North Devon and painted it with locally gathered earth pigments. After a few weeks the log disappeared from the beach, taken back by the sea. Six months later it reappeared on the same beach, still painted but altered by its journey, wherever it may have been.
Work is often made spontaneously, in response to and with the environment, using gathered materials and elemental forces to shape its evolution. For me, ART and making are means through which I may learn about the world both practically and imaginatively.
“Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible” Paul Klee
Two works relating to animals: ‘1 hour of feathers’ is made from feathers collected during a short coastal walk; ‘birdsong’ aims to capture some of the varied intonations of sound expressed by our feathered friends through simple drawing. My relationship to wildlife, to the other life forms with whom we share this earth, has been a constant source of inspiration and wonder.
“I think of what wild animals are in our imaginations. And how they are disappearing – not just from the wild, but from people’s everyday lives, replaced by images of themselves in print and on screen. The rarer they get, the fewer meanings animals can have. Eventually rarity is all they are made of.” From H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.
painting with earth / painting together:
An action performed as part of an artists’ residency expedition on the Isles of Scilly to explore creative responses to climate change. Participants were invited to make marks with earth pigments on a small, round granite boulder found on a nearby beach while bringing to mind an act they may contribute to earth’s wellbeing. One pigment had been gathered from my home and brought with me. Another collected that morning from the shore. The painted stone remained as a talisman within the space throughout the meeting, then left as a gift to the space.
Painting with locally gathered earth pigments has become an important and integral part of my art practice, offering insights into geology, social history, art and our relationships with earth’s resources. Making has been enriched through a deeper understanding of the materials I use. Beyond observation and a simple response to materials, painting may offer a space for investigation of environment and even ritual. Painting with others may bring together all these as well as a sense of communication beyond self.
“Re-engaging with the raw materials from which our lives are shaped is a potent reminder of the difference between what is real and what is only illusory” Anna Konig
© p ward 2015
One week on the Isle of Man, 2015
It is nearly thirty years since I last visited Ellan Vannin – the Manx name for the Isle of Man. Situated in the middle of the emerald waters of the Irish Sea, within sight of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Heaven, so it is said, this self-governed commonwealth nation is probably best known for the yearly motorcycle TT race. For me, as an idealistic teenager surrounded by radical older students, it became a place of great significance in my own spiritual development. For the Celts it was the centre of the Faerie Empire, the royal thrones sitting atop the second highest mountain, South Barrule. Even today, respect for the other realms is still very much in evidence. Beyond this the island, once you have accepted the proliferation of lycra-clad outdoor pursuits, the squeals of cliff-leaping coasteerers and the constant stream of motorcyclists, is still a peaceful haven with stunning views and coastline, a place of folklore, local heritage and marine and avian wildlife.
Thank you to my family for treating us to this short holiday and this time to restore my connection to those things that inspire my living.
© P Ward 2015
an investigation in creative collaboration through painting
(in support of my/our latest exhibition in north devon)
Pete Ward and Francesca Owen
White Moose Gallery, Trinity Street, Barnstaple, Devon, EX32 8HX
13th June – 1st August 2015
“Art does not reproduce the visible but makes visible” Paul Klee
painting together is a project by North Devon based artists Pete Ward and Francesca Owen that brings together concepts of contemporary art (dialogical art, ecopsychology, environmental awareness and process-based interdisciplinary collaboration) with the more traditional practice of paint making and painting from locally occurring earth pigments. While Pete and Francesca continue to work on individual projects in their shared studio space and on more collaborative pieces together, they will also be inviting selected artists and members of the public to take part in group paintings/makings in various settings and locations, offering workshops and space for reflection and feedback about the project and process involved.
We have occasionally attempted to paint simultaneously, or in turns, on a surface with a fellow artist with varying results, the process often revealing the dynamic of egos and styles. In a similar way we are always responding to the relationship between ourselves as creative practitioners and the medium and environment with which we chose to work. Our experience of working with earth pigments has certainly led to a massive shift in practice both concerning our understanding and relationships with specific colours and the process involved. Earth pigments have also revealed a surprising freedom of expression and confidence seldom felt with more commercially available media – everyone just has a go! However, when working with other human beings a whole set of new questions and creative possibilities arise. For example, who owns the painting and to whom does credit for its creation lie? At what point do our egos let go and the collective subconscious come into play, if at all? How much are our individual actions influenced and dictated by the dynamic ecology of the group? Do guidelines and prescribed parameters help or hinder the process and then how and to what extent? Is the sense of satisfaction of making work together the same or different from working as an individual and how? The ‘art work’ of ancient history and indigenous cultures that we presently enjoy is rarely attributed to a sole artist, but more to a group, tribe or moment/phase in earth’s history. Do these works of cultural expression reach beyond the ego to a place of shared experience, of shared intention and mutual respect for the world we inhabit? painting together as a process will hopefully begin to reveal a sense of art more aligned to such sentiments than the overriding individuality of modern times.
Art may be seen as a space for creativity to take place, for time, ideas and materials to reveal thoughts and processes anew. Whether this is a painting, a poem, a film, a performance, activity or workshop is all the same. Art may be a catalyst for further creative action and thought rather than merely the product of such actions. It is not always for the artist to dictate any specific outcome but to provide and structure meaningful parameters within which we may engage, actively and imaginatively, with ourselves and the world. To make work with others, within a creatively conscious and reflective environment, is therefore an ideal situation to explore and reveal new and inspiring relationships, while also producing work beyond the ego of individual artists to represent a specific and relevant ecological dynamic.
‘These projects mark the emergence of a body of contemporary art practice concerned with collaborative, and potentially emancipatory, forms of dialogue and conversation. While it is common for a work of art to provoke dialogue among viewers this typically occurs in response to a finished object. In these projects conversation becomes an integral part of the work itself.’
(Grant Kester, 2005)
painting together will include opportunities to participate in communal art through workshops, artist’s talks and walks in the local environment as well as the exhibition at the White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple, North Devon. For more information see http://www.whitemoose.co.uk/site/painting-together/
- Working Together http://www.laurahudson.co.uk/blog/2015/6/13/working-together
- for the love of art https://dancingwithdyes.wordpress.com/2015/02/18/for-the-love-of-art/
- eARTh gown https://dancingwithdyes.wordpress.com/2015/04/07/the-beginning-of-making-an-earth-garment/
- TH&TW https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2012/06/29/the-home-the-world-a-report/
- the value of trees https://peterwardearth.carbonmade.com/projects/3915674#1
- 500 Children! https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/500-children/
- Art Trail / Art Trek https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2015/06/18/painting-with-earth-again-a-new-start/
The exhibition at White Moose Gallery has been organized in conjunction with the Centre for Contemporary Arts & the Natural World Soil Culture Project in the International Year of Soils 2015
- White Moose Gallery http://www.whitemoose.co.uk/site/painting-together/
- The Centre for Contemporary Art & the Natural World http://www.ccanw.co.uk/
- International Year of Soils 2015 http://www.fao.org/soils-2015/en/
P Ward 2015
“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 🙂