ESRC Festival of Social Science, 10th November 2018
I met Dr Joanie Willett at a ‘Melting Pot’ event at Exeter University’s Environmental Sustainability Institute at Penryn Campus in Falmouth, Cornwall. The purpose of the event was to provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaborations. Dr Willett was fascinated by aspects of the geology behind earth pigments, particularly of those connected with mining waste, and of the potential for public engagement that my workshops provided. I was intrigued by Dr Willett’s studies around Parish Councils and how to promote public engagement in the political process, reminding me of conversations I had in Australia around the ecological basis of Aboriginal tribal councils.
After a further meeting, held as a walk along the ‘Tin Coast’ in West Penwith between Pendeen and Botallack, we decided to organize a public workshop exploring these principles. Funding was obtained from the Economic and Social Research Council and Exeter University as part of the Festival of Social Science, a national event making Social research accessible to the general public.
where the personal becomes POLITICAL: the idea
Our personal experiences, knowledge and perceptions of the places we live are all valid contributory factors to the cultural truth of a place. In Western democracies the starting point for policy decisions are ideally based in such cultural truths. Parish councils, of which there are some 10,000 in the UK, are the gathering places for the diverse cultural perception of our local communities. Beyond this such cultural perceptions are strongly influenced, if not determined, by the geographical identity, the physical ecology and resources, of a place.
painting a parish future offers a creative space to cultivate and share personal experience, knowledge and future visions of the places that we live.
It is hoped that the creation of such a space within a working Parish may encourage a spirit of commonality and cooperation within groups that may too easily become competitive and detached from the truth of a regions imminent ecology, in respect of all its inhabitants.
painting a parish futureis a collaborative research project led by politics lecturer Dr Joanie Willett and ecological artist Peter Ward in association with Exeter University’s Environmental Sustainability Institute. The project will utilize a shared knowledge of local political process and creative environmental engagement.
An initial enquiry will gather local people, parish councilors and experts to walk and share experiences and knowledge in a reflective process in the Parish of St Just in west Cornwall. The daylong event will culminate in a communal painting using gathered materials to express a shared vision of the future. The painting and further documentation of the event will be exhibited at the ESI at Penryn Campus and at a local venue in St Just Parish.
painting a parish futurewill run alongside ongoing national and local initiatives ‘Going Wild’ with Cornwall Council and the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and the St Just and Pendeen Neighbourhood Development Plan.
The project will provide a model for further actions in local communities across the UK, international research with Indigenous communities in Australia and the basis for an academic paper in relation to such activities, as well as a real focus for community action in the place it is performed.
The event was advertised locally in the Parish ‘Outreach’ magazine, through flyers in local shops and on notice boards and through personal invitation to relevant experts. It was hoped that we would have a group of about 20 people for the event. In practice, we were fortunate that a County Councilor expressed her interest from an early stage, inviting a simple presentation at a Town Council meeting in St Just to further promote the event. On the day, 2 people who had signed up did not show leaving us with a group of 7, including Dr Willett and myself. While the response was a little disappointing, and indeed raised a very important discussion regarding public engagement, the small number did allow for more focused time and intimate space for discussion and sharing and better engagement with the process.
Part of my personal motivation for the event was to begin to learn more about the place that I live. Both my own background research about the area and the process of organizing the event provided interesting insights into the present social dynamic and historical roots of the parish. Another part was to establish contacts within the community and with relevant organizations for future projects.
Participants included an artist, a politics lecturer, an environmental educator and project manager, a childminder, County Councilor, Town Councilor and a geologist, providing the basis for lively, diverse and informed discussion throughout the day with many thoughts for positive action being shared.
The morning walk took us through the village of Pendeen to the recently restored leat (a community project initiated by a member of the group), through the historic mining community of Lower Boscaswell, to the medieval ‘holy’ well and then through remains of Geevor Tin Mine and ancient field networks down to the coast, before heading back to the Parish Hall for lunch. Conversation within the group flowed easily between the whole group and individuals and covered topics from local planning policy, local history and geology, the influence of the environment on agriculture, national environmental and political attitudes, interspersed with a shared appreciation of the natural world, and in particular the local environment. Lunch was a homemade vegetable soup, made using exclusively local produce from the community farm, along with local cheese and bread and a splendid array of cake.
Pendeen Parish Hall, photo courtesy J Willett
The process of painting (interesting for my part for the lack of ‘artists’ in the group) took participants a little out of their comfort zones but allowed us to ground our thoughts in a meaningful and enjoyable way. The pigments themselves offered further insights into the local environment, as well as paint making. The painting itself was structured through an approximation of the evolutionary process, starting with imagery around geology, then land use and flora and fauna and lastly human intervention. Despite the initial discomfort, participants recognized the value of the process, at whatever level individuals felt able to contribute, and enjoyed the end result.
painting a parish future – Pendeen in St Just, photos courtesy J Willett and M Ward
conclusion and further action
Despite the somewhat disappointing public response to the event, it was agreed that it had been a useful and inspiring day with everyone feeling they would use what they had learnt in some way. Some said they ‘had never participated in anything like it before’ and that it had revealed a new way of working in the public sphere. I was personally encouraged by how everyone got involved with the process and in particular how the act of painting with local pigments was enjoyed and valued.
As a facilitator, whenever I approach an event such as this I will necessarily fill my mind with any relevant information I wish to share and a structure I aim to run the day through. In practice, especially when working with adults, it is essential that such plans are held merely as guidelines and that the process and dynamic of the group are allowed to express themselves for a satisfactory outcome to be achieved. Indeed, it is inherent to the process that the day is allowed to progress organically within any practical limitations, such as time, space, numbers and sustenance, to be true to itself. What is exciting about such a process is exactly those surprises or unknowns that arise, leading us to new ideas and future actions.
Through contacts made at the Town Council presentation, it is hoped that the painting and research will be exhibited at St Just Library, while also being shared with the Town Council and Local Neighbourhood Development Plan as an example of public engagement. Discussion has already begun regarding further collaboration with Dr Willett with the possibility of developing the event in other areas. Business and public groups in the area have also approached me to run similar workshops for upcoming events.
painting a parish future– Pendeen in St Just, communal painting, earth pigments on board © p ward 2018
Thank you to everyone who participated in the event, for the support and interest of the local community and especially to Joanie for her contributions and collaborative insights.
© P Ward 2018
Pendeen, Cornwall 190818
a howling man dressed in black set fire to the hill (carn) behind Pendeen…
it has been a while since I have felt watched,
since I have felt the company of an-other.
the scent of burnt earth
forms distorted by fire
a thick sea mist blowing through the hilltop
© P Ward 2018
THIS TOXIC(?) BEAUTY
The 7 colours shown here have been gathered close to historic mining sites in west Cornwall. Some are waste products from tin and copper mining and may contain toxic minerals such as arsenic and cadmium, ironically both used historically in paint and pigment production. Despite being found alongside public rights of way until sufficient mineral analysis has been made of the samples I am unable to share them with the public.
However, I am comfortable enough to start using them myself (with care). Inspired by the milling process used to extract tin I have started to mix the raw materials with water before filtering with a fine sieve. This minimizes the grinding process and hence the possible inhalation of dust. So far I have only used PVA glue as a binder but enjoyed the difference in colour, provenance and nature of the pigments compared to the North Devon pigments I am more familiar with. As such the imagery has started to take on its own character relevant to the materials, the geographical space and my personal experience of Penwith and west Cornwall. I am currently working with Geevor Tin Mine Museum to develop educational workshops using the pigments. The mine itself and attendant museum is utterly fascinating allowing me to better understand the differences between pigments from natural landforms and those extracted from deep underground. In due time I will be able to better share my findings but for the time being here are some of my first paintings made using the wonderful, beautiful but maybe a little toxic Cornish pigments.
As yet the paintings are relatively small (up to 60x60cm) but I look forward to taking some of these ideas to a larger scale and context. If you are interested in any of the work shown here or would like to support or contribute to any further research please get in touch.
With thanks to the people and places of west Cornwall. In particular, the staff of Geevor Tin Mine, Fiona, Natasha and of course Francesca and family for your inspiration and support.
© P Ward 2018
february – march 2018
In February I was most fortunate to enjoy a holidayin southeastern Australia, although like all ‘holidays’ for artists it became an excellent and inescapable opportunity for some research. I travelled with my partner and two young children, adding a beautiful dimension to an already very special journey.
From childhood I have had a fascination with Aboriginal culture and part of our visit was to meet up with friend and elder Noel Butler of the Budawang people from the Yuin Nation (http://nuragunyu.com.au). Noel generously welcomed us to his land and shared some memorable, and not always comfortable, insights into native and contemporary culture that strongly influenced my sense of Australia during my visit. Spending time with Noel, in his own land, also inspired much creative ecological experience and thought that I aim to explore more deeply over the coming years.
Being the furthest I have ever travelled I was not sure what to expect. I am quite new to international travel, spending my life so far enjoying and celebrating the wealth of experience and life present closer to home. I carried with me a glut of preconceptions of Australia that didn’t take too long to be completely pulled apart. Having spent a few days exploring (and recovering from Jetlag) in Sydney – on first impressions a fascinating, vibrant and multicultural city – we set off in a small, and somewhat temperamental, hired camper van.
Even before leaving the city the wealth and diversity of unfamiliar flora and fauna had sent my senses reeling. What struck me first was that I did not see one species of bird that I may have seen in Europe and as we travelled this became more and more apparent. Added to the wonderful heat and climate the flora cloaking the immense Pacific coast landscape brought me to realise how different this place was. The sun was in the North!? The wind was coming from the ‘wrong’ direction. The weather patterns were beyond my comprehension…
From Sydney we headed south along the Pacific coast as far as Bateman’s Bay before heading inland to Australia’s new and strange administrative capital, Canberra. From there we drove further south and up into the Kosiosko Mountain range where temperatures dropped to as low as 6C (in contrast to a pleasant 32C in the city). Staying with friends and family and then becoming familiar with the ‘free’ camping grounds in the country’s National Parks our travel was relatively inexpensive. It was so refreshing to be in a place that actively encouraged outdoor experience, with excellent facilities such as gas barbecues and compost toilets provided in the most remote places, although the road surfaces often shook us to our very cores.
To fully articulate or describe the depth and insights of the whole experience would need a book, with a great many pictures, even more than I have shared here, so I will spare you that for now. However, I know that over the coming years such experience will become evident in my work both in terms of further travel, sensitivity to my own cultural and ecological identity, and participation in Australian culture and the understanding communicated through it. I have already been invited back to explore local pigments and art with Noel and hope to take up that offer as soon as I am able.
With many thanks to Martin for making the journey possible and to Francesca, Noah and Agnes, Sally and Miles, Noel and Trish and Alex for making it such a rich and beautiful experience.
© P Ward 2018
discovering colour in west cornwall
moving home is always an exciting (if not somewhat stressful) time for discovery, for exploration, for new knowledge and for refreshment of life paths. I have recently moved with my family from North Devon to West Cornwall, as far south and west as one can go in the British Isles (apart from the Isles of Scilly, of course). The move was made to connect with the flourishing and historic arts scene in the area – Newlyn and St Ives on the Penwith peninsula being significant places in British art history over the last few centuries. The area is also remarkable for the globally significant tin and copper mining industries that flourished during the nineteenth century providing a wealth of metal ores and new technologies that contributed to mining knowledge around the world. The industry has now all but died out, due to cheaper sources elsewhere, but has left its mark ecologically and architecturally to this rugged, wet and windy section of Atlantic coast.
having spent the last ten years intensively researching the geology, history and uses of earth pigments found in North Devon, and establishing an international reputation through it, it is quite nerve wracking to up sticks and start again. Added to this sense of newness, is that of the unfamiliar. North Devon is my mother’s family home and a region I have known all my life. While the wild and austere beauty of West Penwith is visually and culturally inspiring it will be a while before I feel it as my home, despite feeling very comfortable here, nestled in a cosy old granite cottage close to the north coast. However, the process of taking root has begun and exploration to reveal the individual peculiarities of my new home, and especially those qualities that appeal to my own nature, have gripped my thoughts and actions.
within six weeks we have found four excellent and bold earth colours locally, associated with historic mining activities. We have revealed a dolmen in our living room as well as starting to visit the plethora of ancient megalithic sites in the area. The sea, the mist, the rocks and wind are ever present on this extreme peninsula, the most exposed place I have ever lived. Having studied for my MA in Falmouth and consequently visited the county on numerous occasions, I am vaguely familiar with the area and some of the sites of interest, but was unaware of the incredible natural and cultural richness it provides. The county of Cornwall is one of the few Celtic strongholds on the British Isles, with its own language and a pride in its unique history, both ancient and modern. This is evident in so many ways – its folklore, place names, wildlife, art and its connection to the sea and land. I am very excited to see how this feeds my own creative output.
the pigments we have gathered so far include red and purple ‘clays’, residues from the slag heaps at Levant Tin Mine, apparently deposited alongside, and hence coloured by oxides within, the seams of black tin (casserite) found in cracks in the 340 million year old granite mass that forms the majority of landmass here. The huge forces, pressures and temperatures experienced as the molten granite forced its way through weaknesses in the overlying Devonian sediment created a wealth of opportunities for metallic minerals ores to form alongside metamorphic rocks. According to one source the area has some of the most varied and mineral rich geologies in the world! We have collected a yellow ochre-like residue from mine waste heaps further northeast at Tywarnhayle Mine, Porthtowan. The yellow deposit also contains fragments of ‘green’ rock that will be interesting to separate and hopefully use. The oldest China Clay pits, formed in lakes as eroded granite deposits, can also be found near St Just in Penwith with a wealth of local history and national significance. We have been given access to this beautiful smooth white clay by the present landowner, whose father spent some time working in the drying kilns on site during his youth. We are experimenting with different approaches to processing the raw pigments, relying on water extraction, sieving and drying, similar to historic methods of extracting ore, rather than the more physical drying and grinding that we employed with the very different pigments in North Devon. This is partly due to the different nature of the raw pigments but also as a safeguard against inhaling potentially dangerous bi-products of the mining residues, such as arsenic! We are presently seeking geologists to aid in our research.
As you can see, it’s all really exciting stuff. However, as yet, we are still to find a suitable workspace, tubs of pigment being stored and worked on convenient window ledges and in the cramped garden shed. But time will work its magic and the right space will reveal itself. We have already been made aware of a possible arts space development in old buildings at the entrance to the mining museum at Geevor mine in our village, as well as studio spaces associated with the established art schools of St Ives and Newlyn. Work still continues elsewhere too with talks and workshops coming up in North Devon and further afield in East Sussex, so all is good with the world. And all this while juggling childcare priorities and other homemaking eventualities. So, thank you to family and friends for your support during our transition and also to the warm welcome and help we have received from the local community. I am certainly looking forward to seeing how everything unfolds…
© P Ward 2018
at times of loss and grief
we may turn to Nature for solace,
to water, wind, fire and earth
to rocks, soil, fungi and trees
to insects, animals and birds
we may immerse ourselves
in the mundane, in the everyday
in routine and simplicity
not to avoid the pain
but to live with it
to feel it without distraction
we may assimilate our feelings and thoughts
through our work
through creative activity
through cathartic acts
I sit in the flowing river
the cool water moves around my stationary working form
touching my legs, ankles and hips, hands and forearms,
I feel connected to life
or through physical activity
where the rhythm of movement,
of muscles and breath and heart working in time,
lift us to an alternate state
to see our situation anew
in a different light
not with mind
but with body
and in fantasy and dreams
the world becomes larger
not illusionary but more real
past present future revealed
through our actions we may sense
the wonder of each passing moment
of being alive with our pain
of feeling at all
and with thanks
we can move forward
and in love
© 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!…:-))
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
i really do not get Art
its place in my life
or the wider world around me
seemingly superfluous pedantic intellectual bickering
over aesthetic form and function
for some fashion or other
in the face of pressing global issues
not quite big enough
or loud enough
specific or far reaching enough
to make a difference
(although every whisper counts, I know)
without it (some will argue)
life would be just an incessant instinctive struggle and movement
towards food, shelter and a mate
for nurture within our own nature
to survive within this wildness
for everybody else
this is quite enough
our innate beauty
our diverse evolving nature
our ecologically defined behaviour
in such abundant splendour
and complex contradiction
humbly seeking our place
within the heave and flow
of ever shifting forces
I do not get art
but thank it once again
for bringing me to these conclusions
© p ward 2016