29th October 2014, 1000-1600
“To celebrate the Richard Long Exhibition at the Burton Art Gallery & Museum the Burton Youth Collective presents: Art in the Park. This is a free, drop-in event where skilled artists will help you discover environmental art. Mud, charcoal, Bideford Black and much more! @ Victoria Park, Bideford, Wednesday 29th October 10-4pm. Hope to see you there!”
(poster by Jum Fernanadez)
I was recently invited to contribute to this event in North Devon organized by the Burton Gallery Youth Collective for Tate Rooms to offer young people an opportunity to get involved in some environmental art. Five local artists whose work is inspired by the environment were asked to take part. The activities were to link with Richard Long’s work. The artists included a dancer, a performance artist, a willow worker, a sculptor and myself. On reflection it is interesting to see how different ‘environmental art’ has become since Long’s seminal pieces with walking and words. In fact many in the ecological art world do not consider Long’s work to have much relevance in terms of current environmental politics – it was generally all made some 40 years ago, a very different time – but more in line with the questions facing contemporary fine artists, questions of material and form. Personally I feel that any work that helps enrich or inform our relationship within the world is helping to heal the rift between ourselves and ‘Nature’, so Long’s work is as important as any dealing with environmental destruction head-on. (But I must admit I still don’t get the large crazy-paving gallery floor pieces!?)
Anyway, the day was well organized and funded and went along smoothly with a good number of children and parents enjoying the free activities on offer. The organizers hoped that the day would also offer the artists an opportunity to try out something new and I think we all got something useful out of the day. My own contribution was a painting with earth communal painting, ‘a line made by walking’ parallel to the Bideford Black seam that run’s close by and a get-your-hands-dirty activity involving a large bucket of Torridge river mud and a big dot of Bideford Black painted onto a 5x5foot piece of paper, akin to Long’s large wall pieces. It was exciting to see how the works evolved and how involved people got, smearing layer upon layer of unctuous smelling mud into the circle, and also how liberating the activities were for those who seldom get the chance to ‘paint big’.
Many thanks to the organizers for a great day and hopefully through our combined efforts a few more children, and adults, will think twice and linger a little longer on the wonderful life around them while they’re in this world.
© p ward 2014
five go to hawkridge woods 19813
As part of continuing research for the upcoming exhibition at White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple, I accompanied four other artists to Hawkridge Woods on the River Taw for a day of experimentation, conversation and play with the locally significant earth pigment Bideford Black. The woods lie at the easternmost end of seams of pigment and coal that run across the region, or at least the end of their known extent. Some time in the last 200 years the woods were the site of a mine extracting anthracite that runs alongside the paint seam, evidence of which may be seen by the adit, or drainage tunnel, near the river banks. Paths and banks in the woods reveal similar geology to that on the coast near the Greencliff paint seam but we have as yet to discover any pigment in the soil of the woods. We therefore took our own, along with other materials and used whatever was at hand to respond to both the materials and the environment. The images that follow show some of my own experiments with the group from the day.
Having made an exploratory visit to the site alongside the beautiful River Taw, which runs north from Dartmoor to its estuary mouth in Barnstaple Bay, and found the mine adit, I had determined to work with materials found along the paths that run through the woods. My actions have been greatly influenced by working with printmakers and by the incidental results of such processes. While initial experiments often didn’t quite work out they did lead onto other ideas contributing to group ideas. It is often simply having the confidence to act that leads to spontaneous creative work and the experience to appreciate and reflect upon the results that lead the way to further and more informed possibilities, so just do it and be ready to enjoy the process…
It has been a pleasure and privilege to work with such a diverse and accomplished group of artists, providing exciting and inspiring material and possibilities for future projects and collaborations, so many thanks to Merlyn Chesterman, Griz Luttman-Johnson, Sue Plummer and Judith Westcott. We are now looking forward to bringing our work together for the show. To accompany the exhibition I will be leading a public presentation and discussion about the project on Wednesday 11th September at the White Moose for North Devon Arts[i]. And many thanks to Stella and Julie at White Moose for their enthusiasm and support, and for providing a great space for the project and exhibition[ii].
P Ward 2013
bIDEFORD bLACK meets the cREMASTER cYCLE
Since creating the black wool balls with Bideford Black and locally gathered, seasonally molted sheep fleece[i], for some inexplicable reason I have had a strong urge to tie the wool to my head!? Its resemblance to a toupee or wig as it lay not-quite-passively upon the table was animatedly uncanny[ii]. So, having collected some white clay[iii], and following on from my recent facial investigations with Bideford Black[iv], it only seemed right to cover my head with the stuff and place the offending article of fashionable esteem quite reasonably on the top.
Francesca kindly agreed to photograph me, and to add more paint. The attendant lively conversation rendered a gamut of imaginative eventualities and furtherences – Old Mother Riley[v] (my mother said), French clowns, transvestitism, eighteenth century courtly wigs, tribal face painting and regalia with references to Matthew Barney’s Cremaster Cycle, and then just plain daft! Again the process of obliterating my features with colour from the earth and its transformative inferences, both during painting, photographing and the resulting photo editing was invigorating and filled with power. When applying the clay in the mirror it is similar to painting a self-portrait but I am the canvas – thicker clay obliterating some features but highlighting others. There is definitely a physical as well as a metaphysical quality to the process. How much of this is due to the nature of the materials and the locale of their gathering, and how much due to the visual mutations and intensity of tactile and visual observation I am not sure, but it is an avenue I will continue to explore…
A selection of the resulting images and materials will be displayed in the forthcoming BIDEFORD BLACK exhibition at the white moose gallery[vi] in Barnstaple from September 6th. Many thanks again to Francesca for her patience, good humour and sensitivity[vii]. All materials have been gathered locally and responsibly in North Devon.
P Ward 2013
[v] Old Mother Riley was a music hall act which originally ran from about 1934 to 1954 played by Arthur Lucan, then from 1954 to 1977 by Roy Rolland. (Wikipedia)
At long last I got it together to visit the site of another local pigment and historically significant natural resource in North Devon – the ‘ball clay’ pits around Peters Marland and Petrockstowe. I had been told that the clay could be accessed via the Tarka Trail – a cycle way based on an old railway line that was originally built to transport the clay to Fremington Quay on the Taw Estuary (another of my pigment collecting sites close to the Fremington clay beds utilized by Brannam and Bideford Potteries). And so, having studied the map, with buckets and trowels in hand, we headed out. I was accompanied by my daughter Megan, who got thoroughly and messily involved, and my partner-in-art Francesca[i], whose work with natural dyeing techniques always adds a different dimension to this ongoing research.
The creamy kaolinitic sedimentary white clay, formed in the semi-tropical Tertiary and Eocene geological ages[ii], has been, and continues to be, dug for its use as a slip for ceramics and for the production of the locally distinctive hard ‘white’ bricks – the yellow staining coming from the leaching of iron oxides into the clay from the topsoil. I have been using a similar material as a paint, collected in small quantities from seams at Fremington, since my research into earth pigments began in 2007 but had never visited this other site of local historical, industrial and geological interest before. The clay is utterly smooth and surprisingly white. We carefully dug a small amount from the drainage ditches alongside the cycle way, enjoying both the white clay and the orange/iron stained clay that lay above.
Of course, I ended up smearing some on my face, but that’s another story…
P Ward 2013
Alongside my current projects with the historically significant North Devon earth pigment Bideford Black[i], I have also taken the opportunity to show some work locally. There is something comforting for me about the simplicity of making work and then showing it, of putting together and being part of a show, whether for commercial or artistic reasons or a combination of both, with no preconceptions or expectations of outcome beyond that – the pleasure of making and sharing. Thankfully I have moved beyond the desperate worries of acceptance (or not) – I make what I make, I do what I do, and am confident and happy about my process and conceptual motivation – and despite my youthfully optimistic but so far unfounded hopes that I may make a living by simply selling any carefully crafted objects I produce, there is still a great pleasure when one does (and for the more money the better of course – we can’t all happily live on the crumbs and scraps so often and gratefully tossed our way!)
Recently I have sold a few paintings through workshops, connections and presentations I have given about earth pigments and some have been sold for charity events[ii]. I am exhibiting locally in the studio of ethical jeweller April Doubleday[iii], as well as a small display (initially as part of the Bideford Bay Creatives ‘Culture Show’[iv]) in the window of internationally renowned eco architects Gale & Snowden[v] and also as part of the Westward Ho! & Bideford Art Society Summer Exhibition at the Burton Art Gallery in Bideford[vi].
While for some showing work within the acceptable, accepted and traditional arena of the art world might seriously diminish any political or conceptual integrity the work might hold, for me it is simply another opportunity to share, to show off and even to push the boundaries a little with work that I hope communicates the spirit and joy of being within this world. I am playing my part with the skills and aptitudes I have developed and been granted in this lifetime. I am empowering myself (and hopefully others) through action, through exhibiting not only my work but my passion and freedom to do so…
paddling in the surf (pen and pencil on handmade paper, 2010); storyteller 2 (earth pigments on canvas, 2009); 4 colours, river umber (earth pigments on paper, 2008); real geology, map reading – folds (folded paper, 2010) on show at wh!&bidarts summer exhibition, bideford 2013
P Ward 2013
[iii] http://www.aprildoubleday.com/ – April is a British, Ethical & Fairtrade Designer/Jeweller, making Contemporary Jewellery in her studio on the North Coast of Devon. She uses the coastline, rock formations and the sea as inspiration for her designs. Creating jewellery of beauty is just as important to her as her ethical standards. Her commitment to sourcing conflict free diamonds and Fairtrade gold is paramount. April’s work is modern and contemporary. Each piece of ethical jewellery is individual and unique and can be made bespoke for you, using certified 18ct & 24ct Fairtrade gold, recycled silver wherever possible and the added service of recycling your gold, the possibilities are endless.
[v] http://www.ecodesign.co.uk/ – Gale & Snowden Architects, based in Bideford and Exeter, are an internationally renowned company specializing in energy efficient design for private and public commissions. Their ecologically inspired, award winning work is founded in the principles of permaculture, employing appropriate technologies and locally sourced skills and materials wherever possible. Most appropriately for this exhibition this office sits almost directly above the seam of historically mined Bideford Black running through the town that I use in my paintings.
Continuing my research and experimentation with the North Devon earth pigment Bideford Black for both The Story of Bideford Black project[i] at the Burton Gallery and the forthcoming exhibition at the Whitemoose Gallery in Barnstaple[ii], I have felt inspired to paint my face (in keeping with my tendency to gain intimate knowledge of my subject matter[iii]); both as a response to its commercial use in the make-up industry (as the basis for mascara), and also through the local miners’ stories of being continually covered in this sticky sooty substance. During the 1950’s and ‘60’s the miners were given a bar of carbolic soap to wash themselves at the end of each day but it often took months after leaving the mines for the pigment to sweat out of their skin – their clothes, bed sheets and furniture constantly ingrained with the stuff!
The sensation of smearing the 350 million year old earth pigment into my face (albeit in a somewhat suburban setting) but more so seeing the images that such a primal action creates (for no other purpose than visual exploration) was pleasantly liberating, slightly unnerving in its transformative power and most enjoyable (to both myself and my long suffering and supportive family)! The process of washing it off was equally appealing and visually remarkable – a little like removing charcoal from paper, working back into a painting or washing a really dirty car. Thankfully it came off a lot easier for me than for the miners.
With special thanks to Francesca[iv] for taking such a wonderful selection of sensitive and intimate portraits for me to work with.
P Ward 2013
an intimate response to a local practice
In preparation for a forthcoming exhibition celebrating the unique earth pigment Bideford Black with four other North Devon artists at the white moose gallery in Barnstaple[i], I have been playing with an idea based on the recollection of a Bideford shopkeeper who used to sell bags of the pigment from his hardware store until as recently as 1996 – the pigment mines closed in 1969[ii]. According to the gentleman, who I met at a presentation I did about North Devon earth pigments for the Torridge U3A, the rich black pigment along with other locally sourced ochres were used by sheep farmers to paint on the bellies of rams at breeding time to mark any ewes they covered.
Inspired by his story, and its fertile connotations, I am collecting fleece naturally shed by sheep grazing on an area of common land near my home as the temperature rises for springtime[iii]. With the generous assistance of fellow artist and natural dye specialist Francesca Owen[iv] the fleece was washed gently in cold water to remove any dung and plant matter embroiled in its woolly mass but to retain its greasy and somewhat smelly lanolin coating. The discarded remnants of tangled fleece – dung, sticks and all (waste not want not!?) – were then soaked in a mixture of Bideford Black and sea water (sea water having a traditional use as a dye mordant) and used as a printing pad, rhythmically pressing and dragging and dripping the pungent spongy mass into a variety of papers and surfaces to produce abstract shapes and patterns, the pigment mixture providing a sensual depth of tone and texture, and finally leaving us with a ball of stiffly dyed wool – a splendid creative residue from the process akin to the symbolic signature felts of Joseph Beuys. We will be continuing our experimentation with a variety of other local pigments.
Not surprisingly, my obsessive foraging for ‘stuff’ has caused much amusement to local residents in this age of consumerism and science – politely enquiring if I would be using the filthy fleece for spinning, an obviously much respected craft; I reply, “No, it is for an art project exploring the possibilities of dyeing with earth pigments.” “Oh really!?…” they reply, looking somewhat blank and a little concerned, and moving away promptly. Maybe at least a little joy was shared, a small creative spark ignited and a rudiment of aboriginal connection recognised. In the words of playwright Bertoldt Brecht we must ‘make strange’ to ‘knock upon the imagination’ through our art. With each simple step I take may I enrich and inspire, fertilise and empower, and may I be amply supported on my journey…
P Ward 2013
[ii] There is presently a resurgence in interest about the pigment garnered by a project I am leading with the Burton Gallery, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Friends of the Burton, which is hoping to gather memories and artefacts about the industry before they fade forever for a permanent display for the Burton museum. For more information see www.bidefordblack.blogspot.co.uk.
[iii] Northam Burrows Country Park maintains a policy of free livestock grazing for local residents
i am without time and without form with you
a friend from hereafter
this, my home
as often mentioned, the importance of connecting with the more-than-human, the land and fellow beings about my home, to just spend time here, to allow time to feel, to see and to heal and to be consequently open to inspiration, is an essential element of my arts practice, and arguably of any healthy participation in this miraculous existence. this short film and set of images documents one such circuit, one small journey, one mindful walk around my home – northam country park and westward ho! in north devon.
while I feel privileged to enjoy my time with nature – others are not so fortunate to live within easy reach of such obvious beauty – a classically grounded education in the arts has deeply enriched my everyday experience, helping me see more clearly, to observe more rigorously, to feel more deeply and to appreciate and enjoy the wonder of life as a whole. it may not be for everyone to paint or to become what has been traditionally known as an ‘artist’, but the skills, insights and experience that the arts give, combined with an informed respect for the natural world, will most often make us more contented and creative beings in every aspect of our lives. on days such as these when all I see and everything I do becomes a thing of immense beauty, an intricate part of this rich complex tapestry of life, I am more than grateful to be alive. my only desire is to share such joy with others, to enrich lives as mine has been enriched and to continue to do so…
P Ward 2013
after some years of research into other dimensions of my art practice, i have given myself a small space to paint again. while a greater part of my work promotes an understanding and connection of the places we live through gathering, geological interpretation and creative uses of earth pigments through workshops and presentations, i rarely give myself the chance to explore them myself. for the last 20 years painting has performed a number of functions within my practice, not least an opportunity to connect to the subconscious, bringing forth images and symbols locked within myself, often in response to the materials and landscape i inhabit.
a quiet and meditative afternoon spent in the company of the 350 million year old seam of ‘bideford black’ (about which i am presently leading a project with a local public gallery – www.bidefordblackblog.blogspot.co.uk) prompted the collection of a range of colours and a time to feel deeper emotions. a pair of peregrines flew overhead, announcing their courtship and their power. the sun appeared and reappeared from behind a cloud as we sat in its growing warmth sheltered from the unseasonal icy wind. full moon waves gently rolling the pebbles below us at the base of the ridge…
“Aesthetic appreciation of the natural environment is not simply a matter of looking at objects or ‘views’ from a specific point. Rather, it is being ‘in the midst’ of them, moving in regard to them, looking at them from any and every point and distance and, of course, not only looking, but also smelling, hearing, touching, feeling. It is being in the environment, being a part of the environment, and reacting to it as a part of it. It is such active, involved aesthetic appreciation, rather than the formal mode of appreciation nurtured by the scenery cult and encouraged by photographs, that is appropriate to the natural environment.” Allen Carlson, 2009
If you would like to see more of my earlier work and earth pigment paintings please visit www.peterward-artist-illustrator.co.uk …
P Ward 2013
what are we doing?
what are we doing right now?
what have we been doing?
what have we done?
what will we do?
what do we do?
what did we do before?
what have we undone?
what is this that we are doing?
what is it that we did do?
what is this that we shall be doing
when all is said and done?
what will we be doing
after it has happened?
what will we become
if everything is gone?
if there is no air
if there is no water
if there is no earth
if there is no food
or fire to keep us warm,
we may feel rather foolish,
we may feel absolutely nothing,
if there isn’t anything at all.
this i understand.
On offering the above poetic excursion to a respected friend to peruse it was accused of exhibiting a rather didactic nomenclature, being somewhat opinionated and hence possibly disallowing imaginative participation for many readers. But begging to differ, as is my want, I thereby suggest that any and all statements are contestable. Even perhaps those that are most edifying and offensive to the sensibilities of the liberally inclined deliver most provocatively just such cause for cataclysmic departure (albeit somewhat deterministically limited by dualistic tendencies within thought and discourse). While it may admittedly be declared that my linguistic deliverance is a little wanting within this acclaimed literary genre, it may just as easily be surmised that all statements, literally adroit or not have an equal capacity for creative response.
Thankfully healthy relationships are (most possibly rather than most definitely) based upon an easy acceptance and celebration of difference as well as similarity – difference creating a dynamic for organic and prolonged growth and evolution rather than a dissatisfied sense of compromise; opposition presenting worthy challenges in the face of stultifying stagnation when enjoyed within an attitude of good humoured trust and benign mutuality. Without such obstacles in our path how might we begin or continue to appreciate the many strengths and intelligences of our intrinsic limitations and beauty.
So, long may we share our ego-fuelled individuality with love, integrity and joy, knowing that it is such enduring diversity that makes a whole world alive in animate becoming and without which any sense of peace might readily be known as death.
P Ward 2013