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
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
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
Falmouth Art Gallery 19 September – 21 November 2015,
and at Peninsula Arts, Plymouth University 16 January – 19 March 2016
Having been involved with the development of the Soil Culture project since 2011 it was a great honour to be invited to be part of its final exhibition alongside such highly respected names in the world of environmental art as herman de vries, Ana Mendieta, Richard Long, Mel Chin, Chris Drury, David Nash and Andy Goldsworthy, to name but a few. The show aims to express the way artists have worked with and about soil and ranges from simple soil rubbings and paintings, alongside sculptural installations and bioglyphs (a photographic process using microbes) to soil remediation projects and large-scale earth works. It is also the perfect culmination to the long and distinguished career of CCANW’s enthusiastic director Clive Adams.
My own contribution to the exhibition was an earth pigment painting completed in 2009, as well as installation of three glass top display cases showing different aspects of soil art including pigments, soil science and soil biology to help contextualize the other work in the exhibition. Helping install the exhibition reminded me of the attention to detail necessary that makes work of this caliber really shine – it took 3 of us over 6 hours to hang herman de vries’ grid of 16 soil rubbings and a team of 8 a week in all to hang the show, not to mention the years of preparation involved in bringing all the work together!!
© 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
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 🙂