On a recent visit to the ‘long island’ of Dugi Otok on the Adriatic coast of Croatia I was taken by the unfamiliar marks of paint daubed on walls and buildings. Not graffiti as such or even nonsensical paintbrush cleansing ablutions but intentional spots and splashes of household paint. We thought they were maybe way markers or boundary signs. Whatever their purpose I enjoyed how they honed my vision both to the unfamiliar in such a rich but alien culture and also to another sense of painting in and of the environment.rocks and soil I + II, framed; dugi otok, croatia © p ward 2017
Wherever we travel it is the unfamiliar colours, patterns, shapes, sounds, smells, tastes and materials that inspire and refresh our imaginations and remind us of the richness, diversity and potential of this planet that we share while also refreshing the ‘familiar’ in our own backyards. It only leaves us, as creative people, to show our gratuitude through sharing our vision and inspiration with others, hopefully continuing the cycle.
With thanks to the people, animals, plants and places of Croatia for a most inspiring experience and to Francesca, Noah and Agnes for sharing it with me.
© P Ward 2017
new paintings from 2016
Since the birth of our daughter Agnes in July last year, and our son Noah nearly 3 years ago, it has been rather slow getting the painty wheels turning but work has been done and exhibited and new artistic thoughts and inspiration are gradually emerging from the baby-addled-brain. Most recently I have been really enjoying Noah’s freestyle scribbling as he explores manipulation of simple mark-making tools, finding a similarity between that and my own evolving physically energetic relationship and understanding of the primitive materials that are earth pigments.
In January I was invited to give a presentation and workshop at THE ART STUDENTS CONVENTION 2107[i] at Plymouth College of Art, part of a TATE initiative[ii] to look at creative education in the UK, providing a most enjoyable personal (and paid) opportunity to look back over my development as an artist and painter, its highs and lows, and to share some thoughts with others – always a worthwhile exercise and bringing a sense of confidence and satisfaction at what I have achieved over the years.
Anyway, here is a selection of new small paintings from the last year and a quote that offers renewed meaning to my work with rocks and geology…
“Those who suspected Hawkes of solipsism were guilty of misreading: she in fact offers an account of selfhood in which, molecularly and emotionally, ‘every being is united both inwardly and outwardly with the beginning of life in time and with the simplest forms of contemporary life’. The ‘individual’ (from the Latin individuus, meaning ‘indivisible’) is not unique but soluble, particulate, fluid. Her book is dedicated to proving that ‘inside this the whole history of life’; she is merely one of the outcrops or features of the ‘land’. ‘Consciousness must surely be traced back to the rocks,’ she argues. A Land should be read, she suggests at its close, as ‘the simple reaction of a consciousness exposed at a particular point in time and space. I display its arguments, its posturings, as imprints of a moment of being as specific and as limited as the imprint of its body left by a herring in Cretaceous slime’. Her book is itself a geological formation, no more or less extraordinary than a fossil or a pebble.
To Hawkes, stone did not only prompt thought – it constituted it. Our ‘affinity with rock’ was so profound that she understood us to be mineral-memoried, stone sensed. Often in A Land she writes geologically of the mind’s structures: thoughts are ‘rocks . . . silently forming’, memory is ‘the Blue Lias’ of fossil-filled strata around Lyme Regis. She admires Henry Moore because while ‘Rodin pursued the idea of conscious, spiritual man emerging from the rock’, ‘Moore sees him rather as always part of it’…”
Robert Macfarlane writing in Landmarks (2015) of Jacquetta Hawkes’s book A Land (1951).
© P Ward 2017
some things I have seen, done and made that have made me think, feel and smile over the last few months…
“Reading true literature [Nan Shepherd] reflected, ‘it’s as though you are standing experiencing and suddenly the work is there, bursting out of its own ripeness . . . life has exploded, sticky and rich and smelling oh so good. And . . . that makes the ordinary world magical – that reverberates/illuminates.’ ” taken from Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane.
drawing a line, coast to coast with skedge 13916 © eARTh 2016
with special thanks to francesca, noah, agnes, family and friends for your love, support and companionship 🙂
© p ward/eARTh 2016
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
as an artist experiencing cessations in the creative flow
or an utter lack of enthusiasm for making from time to time
it is heartening to experience how the most simple actions
no matter how difficult they may sometimes be
like folding and tearing paper
grinding some local earth pigments
and painting basic patterns
(with the intention of creating a set of cards for sale)
can enliven my spirits
get the mind ticking again
and lead to a bounteous plethora of new ideas and directions
whether it is something particularly inspiring about the whole process
of collecting pigments in the landscape and making paint
or whether it is evident in all forms of simple creative actions
i’m not sure
but it feels good
and reminds me of how art has enriched and inspired my life for so many years
i like my work
i like what I make
and i am eternally grateful to the universe for offering me these gifts:
the ability to perceive beauty
the aptitude to make beautiful things
and the opportunity to inspire others to do the same…
© p ward 2016
i really do not get Art
its place in my life
or the wider world around me
seemingly superfluous pedantic intellectual bickering
over aesthetic form and function
for some fashion or other
in the face of pressing global issues
not quite big enough
or loud enough
specific or far reaching enough
to make a difference
(although every whisper counts, I know)
without it (some will argue)
life would be just an incessant instinctive struggle and movement
towards food, shelter and a mate
for nurture within our own nature
to survive within this wildness
for everybody else
this is quite enough
our innate beauty
our diverse evolving nature
our ecologically defined behaviour
in such abundant splendour
and complex contradiction
humbly seeking our place
within the heave and flow
of ever shifting forces
I do not get art
but thank it once again
for bringing me to these conclusions
© p ward 2016
The Soil Culture project led by CCANW and RANE will be drawing to a close soon with its final exhibition at Peninsula Arts in Plymouth from 16th January to 19th March 2016[i]. The project as has been documented in a 120-page publication with essays by prominent soil scientists and soil artists, along with illustrated accounts of residencies and other activities enjoyed during the 3-years.
My involvement in the project began when I met CCANW director Clive Adams in 2009. I presented him with six small glass pots of ground earth pigments from North Devon. He suggested I meet soil artist Dr Daro Montag at Falmouth University who was just starting an MA Art & Environment Course, which I subsequently attended.
I was invited to join the Soil Culture project development team in 2011. My contribution has also involved workshops, exhibitions and some of the imagery used to promote and support it. I was recently asked to write a short essay for the publication and retake a series of photographs of ground and raw earth pigments to be used for the cover and chapter/section headings…
The publication is available from http://www.ccanw.co.uk/ at a price of £15 per copy.
© p ward 2016
[i] Peninsula Arts Gallery, Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University, PL4 8AA. Open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 11am-4pm