more new paintings (and thoughts about my practice), summer 2017
“I am no longer sure of what I am doing. But then, quite simply, I am painting. I am putting together objects from materials that I gather locally, here in North Devon. Materials that are significant to me. That have stories to tell. That connect me to this place and to my being. The objects created are celebrations of this life. They are explorations. Simple, intuitive journeys of making in the here and now…” (Artist statement, summer 2017)
At the tender age of fifty I am finding it harder to define exactly what my artwork is about. In the past I might talk about the power of art as an agent of change but no longer feel this is my main inspiration. Its power is now subtler both within my life and in the world. No longer do I work obsessively, searching for meaning and understanding – indeed my life does not allow it – but see it as a means to share my sense of wonder with the world, through both the materials I use and the approach I take to making. It is a space for myself, to come to terms with life, to find balance and peace. For whatever reason art and making has become a central aspect of my being, like a good friend. Whether this has a positive value to society as a whole I am not sure but in society, art is always there, in whatever form, quietly infiltrating the rigid constructs of our existence.
However comfortable I may personally feel with my artistic practice I still feel a need (and this is where an issue/dilemma arises) to verbally justify and explain it to others, both for the sake of art historical context and as an aesthetic anchor within the art market – people seem to like to know what they’re buying into. To say that I enjoy mystery or the process seems simply not enough. Intuition is very important to me – to make, to work with the materials, until a piece ‘feels’ ‘right’ is essential to the process.
To approach work not necessarily from any literal or narrative starting point, beyond the constraints of my chosen materials, but simply as an act of trust or sense of belief in the creative process and in my simple intent – to share my sense of wonder and beauty in existence. I have been slowly building my own language of marks and forms in response to the process of gathering and making paint with earth pigments. As such I feel the work is a celebration of our connection to place, and the physical matter of place, and our evolving relationship with them.
The titles I enjoy as a poetic response to the work, often with reference to personal experience, and as a means for others to access the work.
Politically and spiritually the work I do is significant through its lack of ‘control’, through its trust in simple processes and its respectful empathy with natural materials – it is made in mindful contradiction of the current worldview of human superiority, of ‘power over’, in denial of our supposed ability to know what is the right thing to do – we have already endangered existence through our arrogance, maybe it is time to step back a little before we create more problems. To live simply, in peace with ourselves, with others and all of existence is maybe all we can do…
Infiltration is the process by which water on the ground surface enters the soil. Infiltration rate in soil science is a measure of the rate at which soil is able to absorb rainfall or irrigation. It is measured in inches per hour or millimetres per hour.[i]
© P Ward 2017
sense to non-sense: new paintings 2017
A friend was recently horrified when her painting sold at a gallery before she could “say goodbye to it”!? Of course, she was pleased that someone (a complete stranger) liked her work and could see themselves enjoying it for a while to come (enough to pay a decent amount of money for it) but the fact that we become attached to our creations is hard to deny. We may often feel that our work isn’t finished or good enough, and even wonder why anyone else would see any value or sense in what we do. But is this simply a manifestation of our own lack of self worth or the influence of the present societal disregard for the value of art and culture to our spiritual wellbeing? Fortunately I seem to not suffer too much from any of the above ‘ailments’ and cannot rightly understand why my works of pure creative genius and beauty are not snapped up the minute they leave the easel??!! I am more often overwhelmed with wonder at the shear scope, skill and diversity shown in my humble paintings and offered at such a reasonable price too!
Anyway, here is a selection of my latest work for exhibitions I will be participating in over the next few months and years…
drawing on obscurity II – yoga (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity III – fox running (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity IV – recline (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity V – the light over lundy (north devon earth pigments on board) © p ward 2017drawing on obscurity VI – i close my eyes (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity VII – moorland (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity VIII – marrakech (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity IX – a conversation between flowers (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017sequential II (earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2017jump! (earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2017offcuts in an offcut frame – displacement (earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2017drawing on obscurity X – race (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017The work on show at eARTh studio during Ilfracombe Art Trail 2017 © eARTh 2017
Peter Doig: “We don’t always have to know what our painting is about”[i]
A recent visitor to our studio asked me to explain my work. I said I didn’t actually know what I was doing. That there was no particular symbolism invloved! I am not telling stories. Simply making marks with and on the materials I use. (She was horrified and went on to tell how she only liked pictures of horses!!??) However, I am interested in making things with the materials I gather – natural materials or things we might otherwise throw away – learning about them and how we can put different things together through making. I enjoy nature, history, geology. I like not knowing how a work may turn out. I am inspired by the results and where they may lead me next.
May they fill you with awe and wonder too :-)…
© Peter 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
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!
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