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”!…
white moose gallery, trinity street, barnstaple, north devon – 6th September – 5th October 2013
merlyn chesterman . griz luttman-johnson . sue plummer . pete ward . judith westcott
The individual and group responses of five North Devon artists to the locally significant earth pigment Bideford Black are presently being shown at the new contemporary art gallery White Moose in Barnstaple until the 5th October. The gallery is open 11-7 Monday – Saturday, entry is free. A specially designed book to accompany the exhibition is available from the gallery for £10 and will soon be available from the White Moose website[i]. After six months of enjoyable experimentation and sharing the show was put up with ease displaying a diversity and quality of work rarely seen in the area. The exhibition was introduced by a very well attended private view (80 people) and an again very well attended (60 people) presentation about the history, geology and art of Bideford Black by myself, hosted by North Devon Arts[ii] and White Moose.
What has excited me most about this project and the ensuing exhibition, apart from the opportunity to work with 4 other well-established and accomplished artists, has been the relevance and hence interest to the local community. The material itself, Bideford Black, is of local significance, the work produced has been diverse and has catered for a variety of tastes and created by local artists in response to their personal experience of North Devon, and therefore engagement with the audience has matched and been amplified by the process. In a time when the importance of returning to local knowledge and understanding of the ecology within which we live is becoming tantamount to our survival, or at least a more healthy relationship within the natural world, such work and exhibitions as part of the cultural emergence of a region may well start to increase. Hopefully the arts may then be more often seen as an important and integral part of any sustainable development program and respected as such.
Many thanks again to the White Moose for supporting and encouraging such groundbreaking and essential work, to those who continue to work towards a more healthy environmental dialogue and to those who understand the importance of the arts for just what they are…
P Ward 2013
all work © the artists 2013