Great Torrington Bluecoat C of E Primary School Workshops 27917
After flying high in the caves of France with some wonderful fellow artists, it was back to the ‘day job’ running a series of painting with eARTh workshops for 8-9 year olds at a local school in North Devon. The school was studying the ‘Stone Age’ and invited me in to share how people would have made paint in the long distant past and learning a bit about local geology.
After getting through the space age security system, face recognition cameras and all, deemed necessary at schools these days, I was, to my surprise, confronted by a school (teachers too) dressed as stone-age people! Whether bad hair, bad teeth and an abundance of nylon leopard-print was apparent in the caves of our ancestors (or whether the people of Great Torrington always dress like this) I would not like to say, but we all had a fantastic day making paint and painting (and messing up the carpet). Sadly, the teachers were surprised by how the children handled paint, art activities being totally side-lined in our present education system for more ‘vocational studies’ (at 8-9 years old ???!!!). However, it was great to offer the opportunity to do some thing environmental and creative. I asked the children to paint pictures of local wildlife – the prevalence of mammoths and sabre-toothed tigers was again a bit of a shock!? I will have to be more careful when walking on Torrington Common in the future.
The results were fantastic – thank you to the children for working so hard and teaching me so much…
© P Ward 2017
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!…:-))
more new paintings (and thoughts about my practice), summer 2017
“I am no longer sure of what I am doing. But then, quite simply, I am painting. I am putting together objects from materials that I gather locally, here in North Devon. Materials that are significant to me. That have stories to tell. That connect me to this place and to my being. The objects created are celebrations of this life. They are explorations. Simple, intuitive journeys of making in the here and now…” (Artist statement, summer 2017)
At the tender age of fifty I am finding it harder to define exactly what my artwork is about. In the past I might talk about the power of art as an agent of change but no longer feel this is my main inspiration. Its power is now subtler both within my life and in the world. No longer do I work obsessively, searching for meaning and understanding – indeed my life does not allow it – but see it as a means to share my sense of wonder with the world, through both the materials I use and the approach I take to making. It is a space for myself, to come to terms with life, to find balance and peace. For whatever reason art and making has become a central aspect of my being, like a good friend. Whether this has a positive value to society as a whole I am not sure but in society, art is always there, in whatever form, quietly infiltrating the rigid constructs of our existence.
However comfortable I may personally feel with my artistic practice I still feel a need (and this is where an issue/dilemma arises) to verbally justify and explain it to others, both for the sake of art historical context and as an aesthetic anchor within the art market – people seem to like to know what they’re buying into. To say that I enjoy mystery or the process seems simply not enough. Intuition is very important to me – to make, to work with the materials, until a piece ‘feels’ ‘right’ is essential to the process.
To approach work not necessarily from any literal or narrative starting point, beyond the constraints of my chosen materials, but simply as an act of trust or sense of belief in the creative process and in my simple intent – to share my sense of wonder and beauty in existence. I have been slowly building my own language of marks and forms in response to the process of gathering and making paint with earth pigments. As such I feel the work is a celebration of our connection to place, and the physical matter of place, and our evolving relationship with them.
The titles I enjoy as a poetic response to the work, often with reference to personal experience, and as a means for others to access the work.
Politically and spiritually the work I do is significant through its lack of ‘control’, through its trust in simple processes and its respectful empathy with natural materials – it is made in mindful contradiction of the current worldview of human superiority, of ‘power over’, in denial of our supposed ability to know what is the right thing to do – we have already endangered existence through our arrogance, maybe it is time to step back a little before we create more problems. To live simply, in peace with ourselves, with others and all of existence is maybe all we can do…
Infiltration is the process by which water on the ground surface enters the soil. Infiltration rate in soil science is a measure of the rate at which soil is able to absorb rainfall or irrigation. It is measured in inches per hour or millimetres per hour.[i]
© P Ward 2017
sense to non-sense: new paintings 2017
A friend was recently horrified when her painting sold at a gallery before she could “say goodbye to it”!? Of course, she was pleased that someone (a complete stranger) liked her work and could see themselves enjoying it for a while to come (enough to pay a decent amount of money for it) but the fact that we become attached to our creations is hard to deny. We may often feel that our work isn’t finished or good enough, and even wonder why anyone else would see any value or sense in what we do. But is this simply a manifestation of our own lack of self worth or the influence of the present societal disregard for the value of art and culture to our spiritual wellbeing? Fortunately I seem to not suffer too much from any of the above ‘ailments’ and cannot rightly understand why my works of pure creative genius and beauty are not snapped up the minute they leave the easel??!! I am more often overwhelmed with wonder at the shear scope, skill and diversity shown in my humble paintings and offered at such a reasonable price too!
Anyway, here is a selection of my latest work for exhibitions I will be participating in over the next few months and years…
drawing on obscurity II – yoga (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity III – fox running (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity IV – recline (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity V – the light over lundy (north devon earth pigments on board) © p ward 2017drawing on obscurity VI – i close my eyes (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity VII – moorland (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity VIII – marrakech (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017drawing on obscurity IX – a conversation between flowers (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017sequential II (earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2017jump! (earth pigments on canvas) © p ward 2017offcuts in an offcut frame – displacement (earth pigments on wood) © p ward 2017drawing on obscurity X – race (north devon earth pigments on board) © peter ward 2017The work on show at eARTh studio during Ilfracombe Art Trail 2017 © eARTh 2017
Peter Doig: “We don’t always have to know what our painting is about”[i]
A recent visitor to our studio asked me to explain my work. I said I didn’t actually know what I was doing. That there was no particular symbolism invloved! I am not telling stories. Simply making marks with and on the materials I use. (She was horrified and went on to tell how she only liked pictures of horses!!??) However, I am interested in making things with the materials I gather – natural materials or things we might otherwise throw away – learning about them and how we can put different things together through making. I enjoy nature, history, geology. I like not knowing how a work may turn out. I am inspired by the results and where they may lead me next.
May they fill you with awe and wonder too :-)…
© Peter Ward 2017
some things I have seen, done and made that have made me think, feel and smile over the last few months…
“Reading true literature [Nan Shepherd] reflected, ‘it’s as though you are standing experiencing and suddenly the work is there, bursting out of its own ripeness . . . life has exploded, sticky and rich and smelling oh so good. And . . . that makes the ordinary world magical – that reverberates/illuminates.’ ” taken from Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane.
drawing a line, coast to coast with skedge 13916 © eARTh 2016
with special thanks to francesca, noah, agnes, family and friends for your love, support and companionship 🙂
© p ward/eARTh 2016
water, air and earth
sticks and stones
and, somewhere, fire
as the year unfolds
to a new life
and you grow
and hold us rapt
in your emphatic personality
we deliberate upon Nature
and deafening response
there is red and black and grey and green
dirt to some
riches to others
what is left
we play together
The year began with family and friends in a rainswept County Clare, Ireland, my home for 10 years. Many of the places I wanted to revisit and share were beneath meters of water. Things, of course, had changed for better and worse but the spirit of the land still shone through.
Then more mountains and lakes, family and friends, as my brother’s path shifts to the Welsh borders, an area I have not visited before but will visit again. This time snow, ice, fog and sunshine accompanied my journey. Lake Vyrnwy reservoir submerged a Welsh village to supply England with water.
And at ‘home’ the winter lashes the coastline, reshaping and reforming. Ilfracombe was originally named after King Alfred and was gifted to two of his sons as a sheltered harbour on the western approaches to his kingdom. Before then an iron-age hill fort overlooked the natural harbour from, what is now, Hillsborough nature reserve. This part of the North Devon coast is formed predominantly from Devonian slates, sandstones and shales and boasts some of the highest sea cliffs in England. We have a new studio here that we hope will provide a base for our creative endeavours and space for others to enjoy.
In May, as part of the CCANW Soil Culture project, I led a walk and talk with the White Moose Gallery and supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to celebrate North Devon’s relationship with its earth resources. “Let’s Walk and Talk Dirt!” involved local potters, Harry Juniper and Roger Cockram, geologists Chris Cornford and Andrew Green, and soil scientist David Hogan to present some different perspectives about our local resources. Participants really enjoyed the interdisciplinary nature of the events but were frustrated by the lack of time to explore the subject matter in more depth. We are now working towards a ‘summer school’ to further explore North Devon’s potteries, pigments, rocks and soils.
The Thelma Hulbert Gallery, Honiton, East Devon invited me in May, to run painting with earth workshops to accompany their ongoing Soil Culture exhibitions. The first workshop introduced the ideas to a small group of partially sighted children from the WESC Foundation, providing a space for us to enjoy the more than visual experience of the process and materials. I was also excited to be exploring a new area of the country, encouraging me to find new pigments and learn about their geology and history. The second workshop, for artists, included an invigorating morning field trip to Jacob’s Ladder beach in Sidmouth to gather small quantities of the iron-rich red and green mudstones, and whatever else took our fancy, followed by an afternoon of furious experimentation grinding and binding a selection of pigments with a variety of mediums. It was great to meet some new faces in such a lively and friendly gallery.
Something that did surprise me was the presence of chalk in the landscape of East Devon. Having been raised in Portsmouth I am familiar with the chalk and flint of the South Downs and Isle of Wight but wasn’t aware of it so far west along the coast. The sedimentary Cretaceous beds at Beer, that I saw from Branscombe beach during a day of research, lie above Upper Greensand that then rests on the more familiar Mercian Triassic red mudstones of South Devon. Apparently there is an ‘unconformity’ here in that the interceding Jurassic layer is missing, the area being land during that era. The nodules of flint and chert present in the Chalk and Upper Greensand that make up the beaches are also apparent in the local architecture creating further similarities to the South Downs and other Chalk areas across Europe.
One such region, that I also feel an affinity with through my ancestry and boyhood cycling adventures, is the Wessex Downs. The ancient country of Wessex encompassed Hampshire, west to the Cornish borders, and Wiltshire, Dorset, Devon and Somerset. In more recent times its character and characters have formed the backdrop for the literary works of Thomas Hardy. I was recently contacted by a research fellow from Exeter University to collaborate in a project to explore the value to health and well being of arts-based environmental workshops. His previous research looked at the work of Thomas Hardy in relation to the Wessex landscape. We are now waiting to see if our initial funding application has been successful before embarking on a major AHRC project around a similar theme. It has been fascinating working with a complete stranger towards a shared goal.
Meanwhile, closer to home again we have been working with the local community towards re-landscaping an unsightly patch of ground behind the bus shelter in our village. It was good to be invited, to meet some more of our neighbours, to learn about the history of the village and to think how to we might alter such a space to celebrate the area. It was recently discovered that the area is owned (rather than it being public space) which has put the project back somewhat!?
And back in the studio I have been enjoying putting together some new work (see previous post) using old offcuts of wood, old pots of paint and some new pigments. After 9 months I finally feel like I am settling in, enjoying the space and making something new, as well as finding time for my other interests and beautiful family. With a new arrival imminent we’ll be working hard to keep it up…
© P Ward 2016
My latest work combines using leftover bits of wood, a love of simple woodworking and an interest in the more everyday applications of paint. While, as artists, it is easy to focus on painting as an intellectually aesthetic discipline or as a means to test and enjoy our powers of observation, manipulation of materials and hand-eye coordination the majority of paints and pigments have been, and still are, used for decorating and protecting surfaces around the house and industrially.
For example, Bideford Black, a North Devon pigment that I have spent time researching[i], was used primarily in the shipbuilding industry as an anti-foul, as a household paint (Zats Black), to paint tank camouflage in WWII, for dyeing rubber and cement and even for making mascara, but I am yet to find evidence of it being commercially processed as an artist’s pigment. Despite recent local and national artistic interest it is, in my experience, a rather gritty, difficult and dull black material that is prone to sapping the life out of all the other colours it comes close to. So while Reeves of London may have considered another North Devon pigment, Berrynarbour Umber, ‘essential for any paint box’ I cannot see Leonardo sending for some Bideford Black (as he may have for yellow from Naples or green from Verona)! But then it has its very own nature and one that as artists and/or paint makers we can choose to embrace or at least take into account if using it.
Every pigment I have used has its own quality and spirit, and recognizing and working with this understanding is one of the primary and most exciting lessons I have learnt from gathering and processing pigments. They are all an expression of a place, of a geological process and may carry with them a provenance rooted in nature and social history, as well as qualities that lend themselves to one purpose or another. Similarly, while the colours I often use for display and educational purposes are quite bold (to impress and surprise people with the richness of colour under our feet) the subtlety and range of colours of soils, clays and rocks associated with any site is utterly sublime. This may often be seen when studying the colours of materials and paints used in architecture from region to region and the sense of place this inspires.
Another area of interest to me, through my alter ego as a painter and decorator, has been the fashion (albeit necessary) for ‘environmentally friendly’ household paint. While industry searches for new products to replace traditionally oil-based paints we are happy to accept (inferior) low-odour acrylic substitutes. I am not sure exactly how household paints are manufactured or what they are made from but do know that acrylics have an equally dubious environmental impact.
From my experience, traditional oil based paints work – they stay on the surface for a good while whereas contemporary substitutes tend to scratch off easily and attract dirt more readily, sometimes removing more of the paint when wiped! To my knowledge oil based paints have been made using plant resins and oils and cleaned and thinned with turpentine – another plant based product. The issue of pollution often occurs in production, cleaning brushes, in disposal and from fumes given off when applying. Whereas modern ‘plastic’ paints, while addressing many of the H&S issues of traditional paints, may stop plaster and stone from ‘breathing’ causing problems with damp and water retention[ii]. This is not to say that there is nothing wrong with good old traditional paint – that we should just ‘get a grip’ over a bit of casual solvent abuse and some dead fish – but that there is obviously still a lot of work to be done to reach a satisfactory conclusion both in terms of environmental impact, health and safety, and durability.
Maybe it is more our attitudes towards and understanding of such matters that need addressing!? Whatever, every circumstance and application is individual as are the solutions…
Rants and ramblings aside, it has been fascinating cobbling together old bits and pieces of wood to make new surfaces to paint on and seeing how the hand made paint works with the different surfaces. The pieces have taken on a more sculptural feel, playing the illusional 3D qualities achieved by painting off against the shallow relief of the structured surface. Thankfully some of the pieces have already been sold, the buyer commenting on the ‘Wabi Sabi’ quality of the work – a Japanese world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection[iii], the principle of repair, making new from old, celebrating the beauty of decay and repurpose. While this was not necessarily my intention, I do like the association.
© P Ward 2016
(Note: Apologies for the slightly distorted imagery – the frames are actually square. I have temporarily lost use of my photo editing programme due to a systems upgrade. If anyone knows of a good free photo editing suite that allows you to rotate by degrees and adjust camera distortion, please let me know :-))
[ii] However, to the contrary, we have recently been experimenting with organic binders, such as rabbit skin glue and gum Arabic, and found that in certain environmental conditions, such as damp and cold, or through errors in preparation, they are prone to rapid disintegration – to mould and flaking. A factor not conducive to good business practice in the production and commercial distribution of fine objets d’art!