further material responses to existential emergence, crisis and change
I was reminded recently, while gazing fleetingly into the shimmering turquoise green blue ocean here in West Cornwall, of my early art training based in the classical understanding of colour. colour as light. a systematic mixing together of homogenous materials to represent the colours that we observe in Nature from a set of ‘primaries’: reds, blues and yellows. no black. white in moderation. of hue.
our perception of colour, of light and shade, and hence of depth, size, form and materiality, is sometimes explained as the processing and communication of visual information created by the reflection, refraction and absorption of light in relation to materials. working with earth pigments has revealed ‘colour’ as more than just a visual ‘scientific’ process of perception. it is more a holistic appreciation of material presence which encompasses not just colour but texture, smell and a provenance of time and place, of formation and decay, of ecology, history and Nature itself.
we may often associate earth colours with a range of browns, reds and yellows. with this latest set of paintings I have been enjoying a more subtle selection of greys, greens, mauves and whites that I have found, gathered and mixed near my home.
I could say that the stories they tell are unique expressions of their own experience that I have been privileged to bring into contemporary form, but maybe that is for you to decide…
like chopping onions in a northwesterly gale (Cornish earth pigments on board; 56x38cm) © p ward 2019stones that stand in fields with swans and cows and geese: penwith (Cornish earth pigments on board; 70x68cm) © p ward 2019
© P Ward 2019
new paintings from Cornwall – early 2019
For many years I have exclusively used colours from the earth in my paintings, gathering and processing all the pigments myself. Each location offers a unique palette and quality of colour to work with as well as a deeper understanding of that place.
To some it may seem as if creativity is being limited. “How can I paint the sky or the trees?” are frequent questions when running workshops. Working with earth pigments has changed the way I work and my understanding of painting in many ways. It has enriched my perception of colour and the ‘material’ of colour. Black is no longer “an absence of light”. For me it allows a specific expression of place orientated, of course, by my own relationship to being there.
The paintings here respond to the nature of earth colours and experiences in West Cornwall…
© P Ward 2019
I was recently asked to paint some dog portraits for friends and family – something a bit different. It was a good reminder of my own skills as an illustrator and draftsman and an affirmation of the suitability of the pigments for a series of wildlife images I hope to produce sometime soon. I used a combination of Cornish and North Devon earth pigments for the paintings and really enjoyed the results…
© P Ward 2019
despite the wind
despite the weather
despite the winter
despite the sense of vulnerability
this raw and new found exposure
despite the twisting and turmoil of our times
despite it all
this earth still shines
Before I embark on a new phase of experimentation, combining different binders with the Cornish pigments, I would like to share a few paintings that I have made in my new home – a caravan on a dairy farm in the coastal hills of west Penwith, Cornwall.
Here, I am surrounded by the historic land markings of the ancient peoples who populated this extremity of the British Isles. Stone walls, reportedly demarcating some of the oldest working field networks in the world, built 5000 years ago. Iron age hill forts, burial mounds, settlements and wells set in the denuded coastal wasteland of heath and moor. It is at times bleak. After the rain and wind that lashes fresh from the vast Atlantic ocean, the colours of autumn shine. The constantly changing hues of the blue and grey and turquoise sea. Rainbows sitting in our laps. The sky heavy and clear and dark and brooding. Salt water permeating. The animals are exposed by their hunt for food, by the lack of cover afforded by the stripped land. It is a place of spirit and history and life, right now.
I am slowly learning to listen to the language of the colours here. The earth pigments, their qualities, their sources are unfamiliar. New to me. They are similar in colour to those of North Devon, that I have been using for a long time but very different in other ways. Their formation. Their nature. They have not been part of my own story, until now. The marks and stories they suggest are gradually revealing themselves. Their relationships unfolding. Their dynamic. And despite my attempts at integrity to their provenance and the spirit of this place in which I find myself, it is the freedom of my children’s paintings and drawings that are inspiring me…
Professionally, I am working on an Arts Council National Lottery Project Fund proposal in association with Geevor Tin Mine to research the creative and educational potential of the pigments. Through recent projects and contact with the staff at the Mine I have started to appreciate and become really excited by the rich historical, geological, chemical and social provenance that the colours carry. After the far-reaching and ongoing success that Painting with Earth – North Devon has brought, let’s hope I will get some real financial support to enable the continuation of this rich seam of work ;-).
© P Ward 2018
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
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
(a new leaf did turn)
paintings after GNAP France 2017
My time in France as part of the GNAP residency has left me inspired in many ways – through the people I met and energy exchanged, the places visited and the scale and scope of work achieved.
Only just more than a fortnight has passed since my return and it has been quite a journey finding my way back to life ‘above the surface’, to ‘normal’ life. I have missed the people, the fun and sharing on such a multicultural, multilingual level, the singsong chatter, the banter, the partial misunderstandings and the poetry of ‘pigeon’ language. I have bemoaned the romance of life in another country and the space to create so utterly supported by the structure of the residency – we were very spoilt. My wings did truly spread. My hair did get utterly let down and shaken.
But what is the meaning of experience if it cannot be carried forward in life, if we do not learn from it or use it in some way? On a personal and professional level the residency allowed me the confidence to see myself fully as an artist again, capable of working in an international arena. It provided me with the confidence to travel and communicate with others beyond my own cultural ecology. Through contact with other artists, more experienced or simply with different approaches and goals, I began to understand principles and pathways within my own practice (and that of others) that will help my work evolve and grow.
I now aspire to make and show my work internationally as I begin to appreciate more fully the social and ecological significance of what I do, as well as the desire within myself to create and share my work as part of the global art network. The experience offered me new perspectives on my work in terms of materials, context and application, as well as a feast of new imagery, ideas and stories to share. Through language limitations I started to learn to describe my work more simply and universally.
Here is a selection of paintings completed since returning home inspired by my time on GNAP France 2017. I have included titles in four European languages (via Google Translate) to acknowledge and celebrate my geographical and shared cultural identity.
sorriso dentro/innen lächeln/sourire à l’intérieur/smile inside, reclaimed wood and rock © p ward 2017; una capra in turbolenza/eine Ziege in Aufruhr/une chèvre dans la tourmente/a goat in turmoil, earth pigments on board © p ward 2017
Thank you again to everyone involved. I hope that the friendships and professional relationships created will enable many new adventures in the future.
© P Ward 2017