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
The Soil Culture project led by CCANW and RANE will be drawing to a close soon with its final exhibition at Peninsula Arts in Plymouth from 16th January to 19th March 2016[i]. The project as has been documented in a 120-page publication with essays by prominent soil scientists and soil artists, along with illustrated accounts of residencies and other activities enjoyed during the 3-years.
My involvement in the project began when I met CCANW director Clive Adams in 2009. I presented him with six small glass pots of ground earth pigments from North Devon. He suggested I meet soil artist Dr Daro Montag at Falmouth University who was just starting an MA Art & Environment Course, which I subsequently attended.
I was invited to join the Soil Culture project development team in 2011. My contribution has also involved workshops, exhibitions and some of the imagery used to promote and support it. I was recently asked to write a short essay for the publication and retake a series of photographs of ground and raw earth pigments to be used for the cover and chapter/section headings…
The publication is available from http://www.ccanw.co.uk/ at a price of £15 per copy.
© p ward 2016
[i] Peninsula Arts Gallery, Roland Levinsky Building, Plymouth University, PL4 8AA. Open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm, Saturday 11am-4pm