In early September I was fortunate to be among 22 international artists (from as far afield as South Korea, USA, India, New Zealand, Iran, Australia, Germany, Italy and France) warmly invited to Doué en Anjou in the Saumur Region of the Loire, France, to live and work amongst the plethora of caves that sit just beneath the surface. During the 10 day residency we were taken to troglodyte habitations, sarcophagus workshops, a zoo, a farm, a quarry, a woodland lake, art galleries, champagne cellars, vineyards and restaurants as well as sites along the Loire to create site-specific nature-based works. Final installations and video works were presented to an audience of 900 sponsors, local school children, press, dignitaries and the general public at Les Perrieres cave centre as part of the national Heritage celebrations. The residency, part of a series throughout Europe organized by YATOOi during 2017, was a wonderfully rich and playful cultural exchange supported by local generosity and inspiring an outstanding depth and variety of work reflecting the diverse backgrounds and environments shared.
Despite the difficulties of language good friendships were established through common acts of work and play, through the joyful sharing of cultural peculiarities and through shared experience, all helped by a plentiful supply of local wine and champagne – we were in France after all! The generosity and openness of the local people, businesses and sponsors to a group of unknown artists descending into the area was quite remarkable. All events within the residency – openings, introductions, public presentations and the final exhibition – were all well and enthusiastically attended. Much credit should of course be given to the residency organizers (Olivier Huet and Magrit) who brought such bounty to the group and facilitated the residency in a wonderfully warm, relaxed and friendly manner. As you can see from the program we were kept very busy during the residency adding an enjoyable intensity to proceedings.
The work, framed within the residency as ‘Nature’ or ‘Land’ Art, was created during short ’workshops’ (visits) to places of interest or relevance to the theme of ‘Art Underground’. It was hoped that through simple introductions to the history, ecology and geology of the places we would build up a sense of the extraordinary dual (underground/surface) character of the region. Throughout the first week we all developed a better relationship to and sense of the materials prevalent and formative to the area. This knowledge allowed us to slowly form ideas for a final piece to be installed or shown within or near the cave complex at Les Perrieres where we were so comfortably accommodated. The cave complex is a fantastic attraction in itself, catering for public and school groups, having employed artists to interpret and enrich the network of caves carved from the earth for building materials over the last 500 years. The experience of spending such a lot of time underground, to emerge intermittently into the ‘light’, was at once quite disorientating and somehow reassuring, and also hard to describe. (Returning home to a small house in the English countryside, with windows overlooking a valley, certainly felt very strange.)
As an artist (maybe overly) academically acquainted with the various forms and history of environmental art it was fantastically refreshing to simply make – to spend time with others in an environment, to explore new and familiar materials in a different context and to enjoy the varied processes employed by the other artists. The care and attention both in making, recording and documenting that was adopted by many was an inspiration. An amazing skill for choosing sites for installations where they may be viewed and documented best was also apparent, as was an enviable dexterity with digital editing and animation among the group.
The lack of academic analysis and critique, whether by design or through language difficulties, was simply refreshing. While Land Art or Nature Art may be acknowledged within an art historical context it is often totally dismissed (for which I have been guilty) as a relevant form or practice by more ecologically/socially engaged contemporary artists. For example, Richard Long is often criticized for simply taking formal and conceptual ideas out of the gallery or bringing ‘natural’ materials back in, while Andy Goldsworthy overly-aestheticizing Nature, without acknowledgement of any political issues relevant to subject, material or space, and Robert Smithson for the use of massively macho machinery to make vast changes to a landscape without consideration for ecological consequences. I now personally appreciate all as parallel and historical aspects to all work of and about the environment – Art does not always have to be so overtly political after all, working intrinsically and subliminally within culture as a whole.
The experience of GNAP France has given me a fresh perspective on my own prejudices, reiterating the value of personal tactile experience and expression within an environment, offering the opportunity to celebrate and share aspects of nature that may often go unobserved on both a minute and architectural scale, as well as space to develop a deeper sense of oneself within Nature. It is all a learning process. The residency offered such a space to the artists with little pressure to produce but simply to participate – to make contacts, to observe and to share within an international setting: something many of us seldom have the chance to enjoy. In the words of Italian artist, Valeria Codara, “It is only when we open ourselves to others that new ideas can emerge” (one of the few political sentiments expressed towards any of the work during the residency). Whether the individual works had ‘value’ in a social or ecological sense beyond the artists’ experience is always debatable, but it cannot be denied that the creation and participation in the whole experience was a rich and deeply transformative process.
The group of artists came from quite different creative backgrounds, culturally and professionally. We were also at various stages in our careers, the GNAP France residency offering differing possibilities for each of us. International networking, including the chance to really meet people we were otherwise only aware of online, was a key element as well as an international flavour to add to our profiles. Work-wise, while many of us approached each site afresh, many brought signature themes and forms to their responses. French artist Pierre Guilloteau brought along his deconstructed ‘wooden ball’ to reconstruct at various sites to great affect as part of his ongoing Longitude 0° project. Others created simple animations or filmed and produced performance pieces – quite a feat in such short periods of time. Some work was monumental in scale some definitely quite ethereal. Some worked with others, some alone. Thankfully there was a fair share of humour too.
Despite a renewed appreciation of the craft, delicacy and aesthetic appeal of some of the more ethereal sculptural pieces my own work remained closely linked to a sense of our contemporary global situation. I certainly played within the aesthetics of unfamiliar materials but feel my stronger works expressed Nature not as a pristine, balanced, elemental world but as a turbulent shifting ecology within which humankind plays an often provocative and sometimes frivolous role (if we are willing to get the joke!?). During the week I began to recognize patterns emerging in my practice. Ways in which I become attuned to a landscape, such as gathering sticks or forming balls from soil, from which the work would develop. There was often a sense of ritual to my process, acknowledging elemental forces within each installation. There was a sense of passing to the final pieces, suggestions of something that had happened to which others were witness, often tinged with sadness and destitution, sometimes with joy. I started to understand the importance of narrative within my work (thank you Sally).
For my own final piece, en passant par (passing through), I secured a large cave between two quarries. I was personally drawn to the combination of contemporary objects, surfaces and detritus as well as an abundance of usable natural materials in the space. My intention was to create an immersive experience using pigments, objects, imagery and ideas I had gathered throughout the residency. As an artist working with natural materials and pigments I am often forced to question or recognize the connection between cave art and graffiti. The space and residency offered an excellent opportunity to explore this more fully. I hoped to create a sense of the ‘artist’ passing through, a ‘nomad’, using the cave as a temporary habitation and workspace. Also to highlight the imaginative possibilities of the shapes, textures and structures already evident in the space through a minimal intervention of mark-making and objects. For me it was the largest and most ambitious project I have attempted to date. Thankfully it was well received by fellow artists and the public.
en passant par, cave installation (detail), objets trouvé and earth pigments, GNAP France © peter ward 2017en passant par, cave installation (detail), objets trouvé and earth pigments, GNAP France © peter ward 2017
GNAP France is certainly an event I will never forget: as a time of learning, living and working on many new levels and having loads of fun with some beautiful new friends, rejuvenating my confidence, ambition and motivation as an artist. I can only thank all those involved – artists, organizers and sponsors – for their generosity in creating such an incredible encounter.
Thank you all for welcoming me so wholeheartedly to the GNAP family.
© P Ward 2017
GNAP France 2017 was curated by Olivier Huet (association Cranberry) www.gnap-france.fr
List of artists: Isabelle Aubry (France), Marc Averly (France), Claudette Besnard (France), Donald Buglass (New Zealand), Karin Chopin (France), Valeria Codara (Italy), Pierre Guilloteau (France), Atefeh Khas (Iran), Sally Kidall (Australia), Kim Soon-im (South Korea), Lee Sun-ju (South Korea), Ahmad Nadalian (Iran), Pascale Planche (France), Joël Thépault (France), Roger Rigorth (Germany), Ute Ritschel (Germany), Cherie Sampson (USA), Patrick Tagoe-Turkson (Ghana), Gunjan Tyagi (India), Peter Ward (UK), Aarti Zaveri (India), Majid Ziaee (Iran).
sponsors, GNAP France 2017
(Images are from my own collection or made available to me by request or through Yatoo Gnab Facebook pages. All images and works retain copyright to the artist and Yatoo GNAP. I hope I have mentioned everybody? Apologies for so many pictures of my work but hey!…:-))
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
5 small earth paintings
Beaten by both the need for storage space for my work and, hopefully, a more commercially viable product I have resorted, and returned, to making a number of small earth pigment paintings on paper.
Originally I wanted to explore the layering and removal of water-based paint, similar to my past use of watercolour, using earth pigments. This worked well for one piece but I soon strayed back to the more recent pattern approach that working with earth pigments has inspired.
My method, as in the past, allows the pigments, the colours, textures and forms, to suggest and reveal the form of the finished piece. It can often take a while for the painting to evolve, employing a variety of accumulated intuitive, mark making and aesthetic decisions and skills to move forward. Working in this way is always fascinating, offering outcomes beyond my present understandings.
Each painting measures 21x21cm and is on 300gsm watercolour paper. The pigments, a selection of six hand ground, locally gathered colours from North Devon, have been simply mixed with water and then fixed with pastel fixative. I am now looking forward to making more simple paintings on paper of different sizes to develop this approach.
The original paintings are available for sale online or later in the year at our new studio space at Hele Corn Mill, near Ilfracombe in North Devon.
For more information please contact me at email@example.com
© P Ward 2016
NEWPORT COMMUNITY INFANT ACADEMY ARTSWEEK 2015 – Soil Culture*
I was recently invited to develop and lead environmental art activities for Newport Community School in Barnstaple, North Devon. The activities offered opportunities for staff and pupils to explore and celebrate our relationships with Nature, in particular soil and local earth pigments. The school has 500 pupils between 3 and 12 years old. A range of activities, including mud painting, making soil balls, bundles of sticks and leaf sorting, were presented to the teaching staff and then left for them to interpret. The communal artworks created were included in an exhibition for children and parents at the end of the week and a 6x1m earth pigment painting made by the whole school was left as legacy of the week’s hard work.
For me to develop such a large-scale event for so many was extremely daunting – how teachers do it day-in-day-out is amazing! It was incredible to see a painting evolve at the hands of 500 children, with only the most arbitrary guidelines, to become a vibrant expression of their experience and of North Devon itself. All participatory group paintings I have facilitated have somehow turned out well, but I have never tried it with 500 children before, and it is certainly a way of working I hope to pursue further in the future. The other simple activities, and reflection upon them, seemed to give children and staff space to try something new and also a space to learn through a different, more hands-on approach. The whole event has given me a great deal of satisfaction and confidence to tackle such events again in the future.
The exhibition was well attended by some most bemused but interested parents looking for their individual child’s work only to find it absorbed into the totality. The school, to their credit, thoroughly got behind both the educational and experiential value of art activities and also the contemporary conceptual nature of the final exhibition. Many thanks to Georgie Treanor for helping organize ARTSWEEK and to the children, teachers and staff for their patient and enthusiastic participation, and to Francesca for her support and help preparing the canvas.
soil . making paint . local history . geology . local resources . environment . culture
INTRODUCTION to TEACHERS PACK
“Art does not reproduce the visible, but makes visible” Paul Klee
Art is one way we learn about the world. The learning and creative processes are based on both sensory experience and reflection. The process and expression of such experience is what we know as Art. From the beginning of human history we have learnt about the world through experience of the materials that are available in our immediate surroundings. From this experience, and through trial and error, we have developed the technologies to enable us to survive. As communications and transport have become more versatile and far reaching we have often lost our knowledge and understanding of the local environment and the materials it provides.
In North Devon, as elsewhere, our culture and identity as a region has been based on the natural resources available. For many centuries the chief industries were mining, for iron and copper, and sheep farming wool on the steep hills and valleys. The soils have promoted a rich and varied agriculture from dairy and beef cattle to crops. Bideford and Barnstaple both had large potteries supplied by clay pits in Fremington and Peters Marland. The potteries have unfortunately closed now but the white ball clay pits at Peters Marland and Meeth still quarry and export clay for use in brick- and paper-making. And, of course, Bideford has a black earth pigment named after it that was mined until 1969. Bideford Black was used in the boat industry, to paint tanks in WW2 and by Max Factor to make mascara.
By learning about the materials in our local environment and appreciating their importance to our lives it is hoped that we may also learn to respect them a little more.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself” Zen Proverb
- THE SOUND OF CHILDREN LISTENING – we have quietly listened to the wind and trees and birds and the sounds of Newport. We have felt the sun and wind and rain on our faces and the earth beneath our feet.
- CIRCLES MADE BY WALKING – we have been walking in big circles on the playing field, making big muddy drawings with our feet.
- 500 children – communal painting on canvas by all members of the school using North Devon Earth Pigments. We have learnt about where paint comes from, how the rocks it is made from are formed, where they can be found in North Devon and how to make paint before adding our mark to the big painting.
- Soil Balls – we have been investigating soil brought in by teachers from around North Devon to see what it is made of and what creatures live in it and then forming it into balls with our hands.
- LEAF COLLAGES – we have been collecting leaves and sorting them to see how many different plants, shapes and colours there are.
- CHARCOAL DRAWINGS – we have been looking very closely at leaves and drawing them using charcoal.
- BUNDLES OF STICKS – we have been gathering sticks from the playing field and tying them together. This simple activity has led to discussions about fuel, building materials and ways of tying things.
- DIRTY HANDS – we have been getting our hands ‘dirty’, covering them and some paper with mud.
- CORDYLINE STRUCTURES – we have been using cordyline leaves to explore natural fibres and making all sorts of things from them.
- WORD WALL – we have been writing down words that the ARTSWEEK activities have inspired.
- SLIDE SHOW – here are some pictures of us exploring, creating and enjoying the activities this ARTSWEEK.
© p ward 2015
To see more of the work visit http://www.newportprimary.devon.sch.uk/artsweek-19th-23rd-january-2015/
* Soil Culture is a project by the Centre for Contemporary Arts & the Natural World to raise awareness about soil through the arts (www.ccanw.co.uk)
eARTh MIDWINTER OPEN STUDIO 6-13 DECEMBER
To celebrate the opening of our new workshop and art space in Ilfracombe – eARTh – we (Pete Ward and Francesca Owen) will be holding an open studio from 6-13th December, 11am – 5pm daily. Pete and Francesca’s work explores their relationship with nature, and more specifically North Devon’s rich and diverse ecology, through contemporary painting, installation and workshops. Come and meet the artists in a relaxed informal atmosphere, find out how you might get involved, enjoy their work and maybe take some away with you…
For further information visit www.earthnorthdevon.wix.com/arts or contact Pete (07876 733720) or Francesca (07828 703353). eARTh is at 15 Greenclose Road, Ilfracombe, North Devon, EX34 8BT.
© P Ward 2014
in preparation for our first event at eARTh – a meeting of COMBEbusiness group to share ideas around how the arts are and can contribute to sustainable economic development in the ilfracombe, woolacombe and combe martin area of north devon on the 5th november[i] – we have been getting busy making new work, refamiliarizing ourselves with painting and enjoying the possibilities of the space to share and exhibit work (as well as juggling babysitting of our 7 month old baby). we have published a new website about the space and our work together – http://www.earthnorthdevon.wix.com/arts.
here is some of the work in progress…
my own work has principally been inspired by reusing and repainting some over and into some old canvases, allowing me to nudge gently back into the painting process. while this has raised a few old nagging questions about the purpose and validity of painting in the 21st century, and left me to ponder where to keep them all while they’re waiting to find homes, I have thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in a practice that I have been working with for quite a long time. it has been pleasantly surprising how quickly one can confidently slip back into the ‘zone’ of aesthetic contemplation and creativity. after a most productive and revealing break from painting onto canvas (or board), while exploring the more conceptual dimensions of my work on the MA art & environment at falmouth university, I have come to see and consciously place my work within a more global and historical context. this has similarly given me more confidence in my approach and hopefully a more realistic and effective position.
i was recently contacted by an artist in residence at the florence paintmakers arts centre in egremont, cumbria[ii], enquiring about the development of learning programmes about earth pigments. the arts centre and enterprise has been based on the site of an old haematite pigment mine. the pigment was originally used extensively in more industrial applications – iron oxide paint – but is now being developed as a range of artists colours along with a selection of other earth colours from the area. as a result of our exchange I was sent a very finely ground sample of ‘egremont red’ which I have used as a background in the above painting. when mixed simply with water and pva it initially has a rich warmth that when dries gives a soft metallic sheen – very satisfying and quite unlike any iron-based pigments I have used from devon. many thanks to lorna and jenni in egremont – I look forward to seeing what you make of north devon’s pigmentsand to visiting your project some time in the future.
eARTh’s mission statement…
ART, as an interdisciplinary and interactive process of investigation, is essential and intrinsic to our understanding of the world we inhabit both for the enrichment of our own experience and the development of sensitive and responsible relationships within it.
eARTh aims to provide a space for such investigation in the outstanding and unique environment of north devon utilizing contmporary artistic skills and experience, developed itself over many years through such investigation.
alongside their own evolving work as environmental artists peter ward and francesca owen are asking how the arts may be utilised to stimulate ecological awareness and influence the policies that are shaping the world. they are more than happy to share this work with any organisation or party committed to such research.
but first and foremost eARTh hopes to celebrate the wonder and beauty that is this world…
we are now planning our next event – an open studio for a week during december to share our latest work with a broader audience – watch this space. many thanks and lots of love to francesca[iii] for her determination to get the studio up and running, her patience and beauty with noah’s constant demands and to noah for his patience with his arty parents 🙂
© p ward 2014
not strictly environmental art but…
the wonder and beauty of nature, its diversity and resonance, is evident in all things.
take these mass produced (made in china), solar-powered dancing plastic monkeys I found in my local toy shop (price £2.50 each or 5 for £10). I saw one and simply fell in love with the charm of its cheeky little face and seductively hypnotic movement – it’s hard to walk past one without a smile and an attempt to emulate that hip action!?! despite the hideous process and materials of its production, packaging and transportation, the fantastic little fellows meet many of the criteria for environmental and ecological art, animated as they are by the sun and drawing us to interact and participate bodily with them, offering health, wellbeing and joy through their simplicity, as well as an opportunity to share. and despite the seemingly identical mechanical process of their manufacture and materiality each monkey also displays a subtle individuality of form, detail and movement, reminding us of those qualities within the ‘natural’ world*.
while it is easy to judge and criticize this evidently crazy ecocidal world in which we sadly and unavoidably participate on a daily basis, it is most heartening to observe the presence of Nature – of birth, life and decay, of joy, sadness and monotony – in even the most inanimate and overly manufactured products of contemporary life. our lives, the technologies that we rely upon and the products we so wastefully create, and even the political systems and civilizations that we uphold and tear down, are all intrinsically and thankfully founded in Nature and subject to its laws.
so, please take a moment to dance with me a little, secure in the truth and beauty of Nature…
serving suggestion: accompany with music of your own choice (i particularly liked sinnerman by nina simone) or just watch it as it is. enjoy!
© P Ward 2013
* or is it merely our perceptions that are shifting from moment to moment, our relationships that are altering as our experience evolves? maybe that’s a question for another day. whatever, let us not forget a sense of humour in our work, however great or small, however humble or potentially far reaching. as the well known saying goes “just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”!…