Painting with Earth – Cornwall: new home, new works

November 2018

despite the wind

despite the weather

despite the winter

despite the sense of vulnerability

this raw and new found exposure

despite the twisting and turmoil of our times

despite love

and loss

despite it all

this earth still shines

Before I embark on a new phase of experimentation, combining different binders with the Cornish pigments, I would like to share a few paintings that I have made in my new home – a caravan on a dairy farm in the coastal hills of west Penwith, Cornwall.

West Penwith, Cornwall – Morvah, Sennen Cove, Cot Valley and Chun Quoit © p ward 2018

Here, I am surrounded by the historic land markings of the ancient peoples who populated this extremity of the British Isles. Stone walls, reportedly demarcating some of the oldest working field networks in the world, built 5000 years ago. Iron age hill forts, burial mounds, settlements and wells set in the denuded coastal wasteland of heath and moor. It is at times bleak. After the rain and wind that lashes fresh from the vast Atlantic ocean, the colours of autumn shine. The constantly changing hues of the blue and grey and turquoise sea. Rainbows sitting in our laps. The sky heavy and clear and dark and brooding. Salt water permeating. The animals are exposed by their hunt for food, by the lack of cover afforded by the stripped land. It is a place of spirit and history and life, right now.

Penwith dream forms (Botallack black on paper); fogou (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

mineral, vegetable; mist (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

dance on the shore (Cornish earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2018

virtually vertical; community (Cornish earth pigments on wood); earth bound (Cornish earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2018

pigment drift (Cornish earth pigments on slate) © p ward 2018

I am slowly learning to listen to the language of the colours here. The earth pigments, their qualities, their sources are unfamiliar. New to me. They are similar in colour to those of North Devon, that I have been using for a long time but very different in other ways. Their formation. Their nature. They have not been part of my own story, until now. The marks and stories they suggest are gradually revealing themselves. Their relationships unfolding. Their dynamic. And despite my attempts at integrity to their provenance and the spirit of this place in which I find myself, it is the freedom of my children’s paintings and drawings that are inspiring me…

noah, agnes, noah, agnes (pastel and paint on paper) 2018

two heads (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

eventual remediation (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

looking for love (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

Cornish Folk Tale I (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

Professionally, I am working on an Arts Council National Lottery Project Fund proposal in association with Geevor Tin Mine to research the creative and educational potential of the pigments. Through recent projects and contact with the staff at the Mine I have started to appreciate and become really excited by the rich historical, geological, chemical and social provenance that the colours carry. After the far-reaching and ongoing success that Painting with Earth – North Devon has brought, let’s hope I will get some real financial support to enable the continuation of this rich seam of work ;-).

© P Ward 2018

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7 Cornish Pigments: first findings

THIS TOXIC(?) BEAUTY

Cornish Landscape (raw and ground Cornish pigments) © p ward 2018

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.

7 Cornish pigments – paint samples on paper @ p ward 2018

Cornish Quilt (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

6x6x6 (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

red, grey, green (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

grey, green, white, mauve I-III (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

fox walking (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

dagdu (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

in landscape I-V (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

botallack black – arches, obliterate, behind a rainbow (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

vertical palette (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

untitled – explorations in colour and form I-IV (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

falling (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

in relationship I-III (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

in relationship – butterfly (Cornish earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2018

storyteller IV (Cornish earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2018

bird box (Cornish earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2018

4 vertical colours (Cornish earth pigments on board) © p ward 2018

sketch I and II (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

house on wheels – sketch (Cornish earth pigments on paper) © p ward 2018

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


new home new earth

discovering colour in west cornwall

Pendeen, Trewellard, Boscaswell and Geevor Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

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.

Sennen Cove, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Rainbow over Geevor Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Phone Box collection, Trewellard, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Lamppost, Pendeen, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Leswidden block works, St Just, Cornwall © p ward 2018

‘Montol’ Midwinter celebrations, Penzance, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Turning on the Mousehole Lights, Cornwall © p ward 2018

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.

Lanyon’s Quoit, Penwith, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Merry Maidens stone circle, Penwith, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Lanyon’s Quoit in the mist, Penwith, Cornwall © p ward 2018

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.

Levant mine entrance, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Red ‘clay’ at Geevor Tin Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Bottallack Mines, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Purple and red ‘clays’ at Levant Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Leswidden China Clay Pits, nr St Just, and Spoil heaps at Tywarnhayle Mine, Porthtowan, Cornwall © p ward 2018

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.

shapes, marks, patterns and forms, Cornwall © p ward 2018

textures and marks, Penwith, Cornwall © p ward 2018

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…

Geevor Tin Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Levant Mine, Cornwall © p ward 2018

Geevor and Levant mines, Penwith Heritage Coast, Cornwall © p ward 2018

© P Ward 2018


with sadness (and in love)

.

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

.

for guidance

for resilience

and strength

.

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

through play

.

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

once more

.

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

.

la grille d’entrée, Les Perrières, France © p ward 2017

les crânes et les plumes, Les maison troglo de Forges, France © p ward 2017

pic vert, les Perrières, France © p ward 2017

graffiti, Ackermann champagne vaults, France © p ward 2017

morning lake, Offwell Woods, Devon © p ward 2017

pollen path, Coombe Woods, London © p ward 2017

blocks, The Lizard, Cornwall © p ward 2017

blue butterfly, Hele, Devon © p ward 2017

mine shafts, Penwith, Cornwall © f owen/p ward 2017

Portland Place, Ilfracombe, Devon © p ward 2017

Croyde Bay, Devon © p ward 2017

.

© P Ward 2017


terms of engagement

a conversation of sorts 121117

Q:

“What’s the difference between a social or educational project and an artwork?”

uncomfortable orchids, London © p ward 2017

A:

each may indeed have much in common and much to share.

it is the means and manner through which they communicate,

in which they engage, inform and sometimes transform that renders them effective or benign.*

.

an understanding of an audience, a demographic, an ecology

may encourage participation and transformation

reaching out and beyond those and that originally targeted.

.

the artist, teacher, social worker and ecologist intuit a means

to estimate, interpret, facilitate and hence empower (oneself and others)

literally, pictorially, intellectually, imaginatively, actively, physically, emotionally and most skillfully

.

the aesthetic that directs whatever intent motivated the craft,

that manipulates, interferes with and informs the intrinsic (or created) dynamic

towards a specific end or beginning or…

.

it is not necessary to determine how or when or what

those (or that) which experiences may take away

or if anything further does become

.

but it is in relationship that one may experience and affect movement

from one moment to the next

.

from one breath to another

.

so different too

that a tension reveals

swinging back and forth and around

.

we are all children in this world

vulnerable

unknowing

.

dancing under the stars

of this earth

that we share

.

pavement, London; pavement, Nantes © p ward 2017

© P Ward 2017

(* yet how we may quantify such effectiveness is another matter.)

 


in Transit…

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…

.

perceptions

perspectives

.

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…

.

walking up Holdstone Down, Exmoor, North Devon © f owen 2017

après les Perrières (boots, sheep dung necklace, ibis feathers, clay model (courtesy Majid Ziaee*), tickets, red valerian sprig, stick and string) © p ward 2017

flowers and earth, red valerian posy, earth pigments, pestle and mortar © p ward 2017

XO, boots with ball clay and cordyline parcels © p ward 2017

red valerian posy © p ward 2017

walk in Brownsham Woods, Hartland, Devon © p ward 2017

tides, offcuts on canvas; we are a break in the waves (my beach) © p ward 2017

walk at Shirley Heights, London © p ward 2017

woodland graffiti, Shirley Heights, London © p ward 2017

les trois galets de Marc Averly; Prince Albert Bridge, River Thames, from Battersea Park, London** © p ward 2017

les trois galets de Marc Averly; Peace Pagoda, Battersea Park, London** © p ward 2017

Shirley’s boots © p ward 2017

les trois galets de Marc Averly; Turbine Hall, Tate Modern, Southbank, London** © p ward 2017

OXO – the City from the Southbank, London © p ward 2017

pavement arrangement, Shirley, London © p ward 2017

les trois galets de Marc Averly; Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire** © p ward 2017

daisy earth ball; procession; Stonehenge, Wiltshire © p ward 2017

new year sunrise, Hele, North Devon © p ward 2017

no Wales today, from Hillsborough, North Devon © p ward 2017

samhain, Hele (heal), North Devon © p ward 2017

offcut composition, wood © p ward 2017

3 is better than 2 (apparently), Lynmouth, North Devon © p ward 2017

brick, Lynmouth North Devon © p ward 2017

Contisbury Head, from Lynmouth © p ward 2017

driftwood arrangement, Lynmouth, North Devon © p ward 2017

finding a temporary equilibrium, Lynmouth, North Devon © p ward 2017

with many thanks to family and friends, new and old…

© P Ward 2017


* http://www.majidziaee.com/index.php/en/

** 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.


real time Sisters

(Samhain) 311017

.

today time returns

and darkness drags us home, amidst swirling russet leaves,

to its familiar solstice resting place

as another year quietly slips away.

 .

shadows lengthen

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.

 

tall chimney, Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017

engine houses, bobbins and spinning machines , Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017

skein maker, Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017

threading the loom, Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017

water wheel, Coldharbour Woollen Mill, Uffculme, Devon © p ward 2017


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…

dunster, west somerset © p ward 2017

nettlecombe, west somerset © p ward 2017

© P Ward 2017