THIS TOXIC(?) BEAUTY
The 7 colours shown here have been gathered close to historic mining sites in west Cornwall. Some are waste products from tin and copper mining and may contain toxic minerals such as arsenic and cadmium, ironically both used historically in paint and pigment production. Despite being found alongside public rights of way until sufficient mineral analysis has been made of the samples I am unable to share them with the public.
However, I am comfortable enough to start using them myself (with care). Inspired by the milling process used to extract tin I have started to mix the raw materials with water before filtering with a fine sieve. This minimizes the grinding process and hence the possible inhalation of dust. So far I have only used PVA glue as a binder but enjoyed the difference in colour, provenance and nature of the pigments compared to the North Devon pigments I am more familiar with. As such the imagery has started to take on its own character relevant to the materials, the geographical space and my personal experience of Penwith and west Cornwall. I am currently working with Geevor Tin Mine Museum to develop educational workshops using the pigments. The mine itself and attendant museum is utterly fascinating allowing me to better understand the differences between pigments from natural landforms and those extracted from deep underground. In due time I will be able to better share my findings but for the time being here are some of my first paintings made using the wonderful, beautiful but maybe a little toxic Cornish pigments.
As yet the paintings are relatively small (up to 60x60cm) but I look forward to taking some of these ideas to a larger scale and context. If you are interested in any of the work shown here or would like to support or contribute to any further research please get in touch.
With thanks to the people and places of west Cornwall. In particular, the staff of Geevor Tin Mine, Fiona, Natasha and of course Francesca and family for your inspiration and support.
© P Ward 2018
discovering colour in west cornwall
moving home is always an exciting (if not somewhat stressful) time for discovery, for exploration, for new knowledge and for refreshment of life paths. I have recently moved with my family from North Devon to West Cornwall, as far south and west as one can go in the British Isles (apart from the Isles of Scilly, of course). The move was made to connect with the flourishing and historic arts scene in the area – Newlyn and St Ives on the Penwith peninsula being significant places in British art history over the last few centuries. The area is also remarkable for the globally significant tin and copper mining industries that flourished during the nineteenth century providing a wealth of metal ores and new technologies that contributed to mining knowledge around the world. The industry has now all but died out, due to cheaper sources elsewhere, but has left its mark ecologically and architecturally to this rugged, wet and windy section of Atlantic coast.
having spent the last ten years intensively researching the geology, history and uses of earth pigments found in North Devon, and establishing an international reputation through it, it is quite nerve wracking to up sticks and start again. Added to this sense of newness, is that of the unfamiliar. North Devon is my mother’s family home and a region I have known all my life. While the wild and austere beauty of West Penwith is visually and culturally inspiring it will be a while before I feel it as my home, despite feeling very comfortable here, nestled in a cosy old granite cottage close to the north coast. However, the process of taking root has begun and exploration to reveal the individual peculiarities of my new home, and especially those qualities that appeal to my own nature, have gripped my thoughts and actions.
within six weeks we have found four excellent and bold earth colours locally, associated with historic mining activities. We have revealed a dolmen in our living room as well as starting to visit the plethora of ancient megalithic sites in the area. The sea, the mist, the rocks and wind are ever present on this extreme peninsula, the most exposed place I have ever lived. Having studied for my MA in Falmouth and consequently visited the county on numerous occasions, I am vaguely familiar with the area and some of the sites of interest, but was unaware of the incredible natural and cultural richness it provides. The county of Cornwall is one of the few Celtic strongholds on the British Isles, with its own language and a pride in its unique history, both ancient and modern. This is evident in so many ways – its folklore, place names, wildlife, art and its connection to the sea and land. I am very excited to see how this feeds my own creative output.
the pigments we have gathered so far include red and purple ‘clays’, residues from the slag heaps at Levant Tin Mine, apparently deposited alongside, and hence coloured by oxides within, the seams of black tin (casserite) found in cracks in the 340 million year old granite mass that forms the majority of landmass here. The huge forces, pressures and temperatures experienced as the molten granite forced its way through weaknesses in the overlying Devonian sediment created a wealth of opportunities for metallic minerals ores to form alongside metamorphic rocks. According to one source the area has some of the most varied and mineral rich geologies in the world! We have collected a yellow ochre-like residue from mine waste heaps further northeast at Tywarnhayle Mine, Porthtowan. The yellow deposit also contains fragments of ‘green’ rock that will be interesting to separate and hopefully use. The oldest China Clay pits, formed in lakes as eroded granite deposits, can also be found near St Just in Penwith with a wealth of local history and national significance. We have been given access to this beautiful smooth white clay by the present landowner, whose father spent some time working in the drying kilns on site during his youth. We are experimenting with different approaches to processing the raw pigments, relying on water extraction, sieving and drying, similar to historic methods of extracting ore, rather than the more physical drying and grinding that we employed with the very different pigments in North Devon. This is partly due to the different nature of the raw pigments but also as a safeguard against inhaling potentially dangerous bi-products of the mining residues, such as arsenic! We are presently seeking geologists to aid in our research.
As you can see, it’s all really exciting stuff. However, as yet, we are still to find a suitable workspace, tubs of pigment being stored and worked on convenient window ledges and in the cramped garden shed. But time will work its magic and the right space will reveal itself. We have already been made aware of a possible arts space development in old buildings at the entrance to the mining museum at Geevor mine in our village, as well as studio spaces associated with the established art schools of St Ives and Newlyn. Work still continues elsewhere too with talks and workshops coming up in North Devon and further afield in East Sussex, so all is good with the world. And all this while juggling childcare priorities and other homemaking eventualities. So, thank you to family and friends for your support during our transition and also to the warm welcome and help we have received from the local community. I am certainly looking forward to seeing how everything unfolds…
© P Ward 2018
at times of loss and grief
we may turn to Nature for solace,
to water, wind, fire and earth
to rocks, soil, fungi and trees
to insects, animals and birds
we may immerse ourselves
in the mundane, in the everyday
in routine and simplicity
not to avoid the pain
but to live with it
to feel it without distraction
we may assimilate our feelings and thoughts
through our work
through creative activity
through cathartic acts
I sit in the flowing river
the cool water moves around my stationary working form
touching my legs, ankles and hips, hands and forearms,
I feel connected to life
or through physical activity
where the rhythm of movement,
of muscles and breath and heart working in time,
lift us to an alternate state
to see our situation anew
in a different light
not with mind
but with body
and in fantasy and dreams
the world becomes larger
not illusionary but more real
past present future revealed
through our actions we may sense
the wonder of each passing moment
of being alive with our pain
of feeling at all
and with thanks
we can move forward
and in love
© P Ward 2017
new works of a more temporary nature…
“Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.” Bertolt Brecht
what does one do when one is in transit, on the move, between stations, so to speak?
just how does one occupy oneself in a meaningful and creative manner when one’s foundations are all asunder, albeit temporarily?
it is a most unsettling situation indeed (quite literally), this moving about, this uprooting and replanting, this altering of, well, almost everything…
I am making ready for change
but unwilling to predict or control just how such changes may manifest.
they will more than likely simply emerge quite naturally,
not without a struggle perhaps,
but in an organic way.
in the meantime
there is the matter of packing away stuff,
clearing space for the new
both physically and emotionally,
and simply getting rid of that which no longer serves a purpose.
then there is of course the more mundane,
taking advantage of a lull or space to administer and catch up with paperwork and websites etc
and, of course, the constant reflection upon where one has been, where one is now and where one might like to go…
the studio, my place of creative refuge for two years is already dismantled
neatly stowed in a safe space, a strange sensation, a sense of detachment from my life vocation.
and yet all this has been done before.
and we adapt,
we make the most of what we have,
we continue to create, to cast our influence in the world
and the new situation inspires newness in all
it is rather exciting
this nomadic nuance
so here’s to new life
to new possibilities
to uncertain futures
isn’t it always this way after all…
with many thanks to family and friends, new and old…
© P Ward 2017
** Les Trois Galets de Marc Averly is a project by French artist Marc Averly (https://www.facebook.com/marc.averly) . He asks friends to photograph his hand formed wooden ‘galets’ in different places around the world and is compiling a fascinating and entertaining compendium of the images. Much of Marc’s work focuses on wood and trees, and he has a massive knowledge around the subject that he shares at interdisciplinary symposiums and workshops.
today time returns
and darkness drags us home, amidst swirling russet leaves,
to its familiar solstice resting place
as another year quietly slips away.
losing their resemblance to matter
and we descend into that underworld
of ancestors and past deities,
to industry and wonder,
to miraculous machines
and steam and noise –
hell for some, power for others –
weaving what was once made by hand
beneath clear open skies lit by a million stars,
connecting us to all that has been
and will ever be.
and the Sisters still sit
sharing their charms,
weaving mystery and fate
beyond our control or simple understanding.
Last weekend I visited Dunster, a charming Medieval village in West Somerset with my family. We ‘watched’ stars inside an inflatable dome as part of Exmoor National Park’s Dark Skies program celebrating the unpolluted ‘darkness’ of the area and stayed at my brother’s cottage amongst the massive oaks and rich red soils of the Brendon Hills. On our way home we stopped off at Coldharbour Mill Museum in Uffculme, Devon, for one of their regular ‘Steam Up Days’. This restored working woollen mill is powered by water and steam engines (and electricity) and gives a fascinating insight into the ingenuity and industry involved in the production of wool and woven cloth over the last few centuries when Devon and Exmoor were one of the main centres for the wool trade in Britain. And all this on the days the clocks are turned back to solar time again and the Celtic New year begins – quite a brew for the imagination…
© P Ward 2017
(a new leaf did turn)
paintings after GNAP France 2017
My time in France as part of the GNAP residency has left me inspired in many ways – through the people I met and energy exchanged, the places visited and the scale and scope of work achieved.
Only just more than a fortnight has passed since my return and it has been quite a journey finding my way back to life ‘above the surface’, to ‘normal’ life. I have missed the people, the fun and sharing on such a multicultural, multilingual level, the singsong chatter, the banter, the partial misunderstandings and the poetry of ‘pigeon’ language. I have bemoaned the romance of life in another country and the space to create so utterly supported by the structure of the residency – we were very spoilt. My wings did truly spread. My hair did get utterly let down and shaken.
But what is the meaning of experience if it cannot be carried forward in life, if we do not learn from it or use it in some way? On a personal and professional level the residency allowed me the confidence to see myself fully as an artist again, capable of working in an international arena. It provided me with the confidence to travel and communicate with others beyond my own cultural ecology. Through contact with other artists, more experienced or simply with different approaches and goals, I began to understand principles and pathways within my own practice (and that of others) that will help my work evolve and grow.
I now aspire to make and show my work internationally as I begin to appreciate more fully the social and ecological significance of what I do, as well as the desire within myself to create and share my work as part of the global art network. The experience offered me new perspectives on my work in terms of materials, context and application, as well as a feast of new imagery, ideas and stories to share. Through language limitations I started to learn to describe my work more simply and universally.
Here is a selection of paintings completed since returning home inspired by my time on GNAP France 2017. I have included titles in four European languages (via Google Translate) to acknowledge and celebrate my geographical and shared cultural identity.
sorriso dentro/innen lächeln/sourire à l’intérieur/smile inside, reclaimed wood and rock © p ward 2017; una capra in turbolenza/eine Ziege in Aufruhr/une chèvre dans la tourmente/a goat in turmoil, earth pigments on board © p ward 2017
Thank you again to everyone involved. I hope that the friendships and professional relationships created will enable many new adventures in the future.
© P Ward 2017