“If you lack the materials to work with, go to the beach and draw with a stick in the sand, draw on the dry earth with a line of piss, make a drawing of the song of the birds in the emptiness of space, the noise of the water and of the wheel of a cart, and the song of the insects. All of this may be swept away by the wind and the water, but have the conviction that all these pure realizations of my spirit will influence, by magic and miracle, the spirit of other men.” Joan Miro, 1940
Sometimes, when one’s creativity seems a little stifled or this art becomes a little too serious and responsibilities just too onerous to bare, it is enough to take oneself to the local beach, or a place of personal power, some woods or favourite walk, or even somewhere completely new, and just set to playing – exploring some different materials in a different environment, away from the studio with no pressure of outcome, finance or foe. Francesca and I are presently working together towards a number of exhibitions and open studios but often struggling with the demands of parenthood to find time to apply ourselves fully to our artistic endeavours. It was time for a change – a change in our expectations of ourselves, of our working practice both individually, and with each other, and maybe even a change in the form of our expression. Working together may often help such a process of re-evaluation and movement but it may just as easily hinder it. Whatever, it is always worth trying to get the juices flowing again, to unblock, to break the dam, to release and revive the mojo, so to speak.
Here’s what happened when we went to one of our favourite spots in North Devon – Crow Point, at the mouth of the Taw and Torridge rivers, where the rich estuarine waters flow into Barnstaple/Bideford Bay (wherever your more clandestine loyalties may lie), at the southern end of Braunton Burrows, centre of the UNESCO North Devon Biosphere Reserve, a place I had spent many happy childhood holiday times and one I will be continuing to share with our son Noah now and in the future.
- Transect – collecting objects that appeal from a line down the beach, recognizing arbitrary zones, changes in surface and ecology, bringing those things together as a simple expression of that system, process and place.
- Noah’s Ark at arm’s length – sitting and sorting the stones and sand to find as many seashells as one can within arm’s reach; drawing a line to mark that reach; placing all the shells together on a piece of rock or driftwood within the space; observing, perhaps identifying and counting and enjoying the diversity of life therein.
- Driftwood boardwalk for lizards and beetles – arranging a selection of sticks from one place to another.
- Flotsam and jetsam beach bundle – collect interesting things and tie them together in a bundle; photograph arrangement from a weird/artistic angle to capture a sense of moment and place.
- Rubbish sculpture, an ode to Mr Duchamp – a carefully juxtaposed re-appropriation of discarded toilet seat and plastic, sticks, rope, sand and shadows.
- 4 subtle stick crosses on driftwood with sand – most transient darling!?
- Line in the sand – drag a stick in the sand as you walk along the beach, enjoying this simple expression of movement and mark making.
- Pick things up and take them home – gather some more objects that particularly appeal to one’s artistic sensibilities at the time, tie them all together and cart them back to the car and consequently the studio where they may be arranged in pleasing and/or meaningful ways in the name of art…
As utterly committed contemporary (environmental) artists we, of course, spent time recording and documenting our ‘play’ for who knows just when our lighthearted, seemingly trivial investigative dalliances may trigger a new burst in creative output or inspired artistic flare and productivity. We also had a great time and hope that Noah did too!? From his shoulder-top vantage point who knows what he thought or what affects we may be catalyzing in his innocent and vulnerable being but from his smiling cheeky face chirruping away throughout the windy, sun filled walk, and the way he is chewing away on the table edge as I write this blog, I’m sure he’ll be just fine.
Thank you to Francesca and Noah for such a lovely walk, to Crow Point and North Devon in general for providing such creative and spiritual inspiration in abundance and such a beautiful place to bring up a small child, to this blog post for mainfesting yet another excuse to use one of my favourite quotes and to Mr Miro for writing it. We are now cracking back on with work in the studio in preparation to entertain and inspire you all again throughout the coming months and years…
© P Ward 2015
* and many thanks to Clare Thomas for priming the canvas with rabbit skin glue and linseed oil, and indeed for her inspiring residency at eARTh – I, for one, will be using more natural ingredients in my paint making from now on 🙂
expressions of an intimate ecology 1
whatever impression we make
whatever mark or intervention into the world
that we add or subtract from our immediate environment
in the grand scheme of things
it is merely a pin prick
a rudimentary breath of life, in and out,
a statement of our own nature
a purposeful manifestation of our own individual spirit
our essence in relation with all
we pick up matter along the way and cast it aside as we process it
as we use it, enjoy it, ingest, digest and excrete it
sometimes affecting us deeply
and other times hardly touching the sides
i was recently informed by a most learned colleague
referring to a prehistoric trace of worm movement in a sample of carboniferous mudstone
that all our actions may be divided into three basic categories:
and to escape
how true this is i have not yet had time to process
but it does beg me to wonder “so what is art?!”
and further, for example, “what are politics and science and faith?!”
into what category may such cultural realizations, exploratory or not, fall?
may our fundamental actions be likened to that of a most simple invertebrate
or do we really embody, within our large brained bipedal opposing-thumb-ness, something more?
more power perhaps
more understanding or more rights to annihilate and create?
and do we really have it in us to make amends
to unravel and undo the complexity
of our previously, largely subconscious, peripheral interference in this earthly dynamic?
for one i fear not
so as i draw giddy circles in the sand
or piece one word against another word most joyfully
expressing myself within this intimate ecology that we share,
i may only ponder what my true intentions are…
am i prancing like a peacock, all full and feathery, to ultimately impress some mate or other?
or aiming to provide nutrition of some kind, putting bread upon the table for myself (or not)?
or am i more reasonably aiming to find another world beyond this everyday world
this world of miraculous mistakes?
P Ward 2013
I keep on practicing but just can’t seem to get it quite right!?
Alongside the ongoing ‘Story of Bideford Black’ project with the Burton Gallery in Bideford, and experimentation towards an upcoming show at the White Moose Gallery in Barnstaple, my personal practice and research has been somewhat treading water since finishing my MA last September. Having been encouraged to put aside my work with local pigments during the course and explore something new (with some very interesting results it must be said) I have once again been drawn back to the earth, both through the projects mentioned above and also involvement with Soil Culture (a programme of events, research, residencies and exhibitions initiated by CCANW for 2014-15). While I appreciate the deviation and diverse input the MA provided I am still struggling to see how the more academic and conceptual ideas developed may be integrated in a positively sustainable way.
Here are some of my more recent misadventures…
willow dome, broomhayes NAS (p ward & f owen, 2013)
Maybe in some ways just to keep playing with ideas is enough, to at least to be still doing some art, (and of course reflecting upon it). To scratch in the sand on my local beach while I watch the world turn and the seasons change, to maintain contact with the source of my inspiration – my interactions with the animate world – to make simple and gentle interventions, reinventing my work and exploring again its potential influence in the world and to myself. To make and to find space to work and to regain contact with the community around my home. No longer trying to ‘save the world’ but more to provide a nurturing experience for any who may come into contact with it. Maybe more meditation than performance, more transient than objective, investigation than statement – whatever way is simply a manifestation of my own artful intent.
P Ward 2013
i am of this earth
a participant in this bewildering process
not above or about
or at some anaesthetizing distance
i take. i give.
i temporarily tamper in this wondrous working
for better or worse or simply for a change
under no pretense that my actions will save us all – for it is not my place to do so.
but there are those of us who cast from more lofty places
sowing errant aspersions upon the actions of others, upon the doom and gloom of our failing ventures,
self-important interventions amid the mental chaos of some ideal future:
unlike the eagle who simply soars
and unlike the grass that simply grows
or the whale that swims so deep
or the spider that spins so intricately
for the fly who flies…
i am of this earth
a not-quite-really-knowing-co-conspirator in this heavenly firmament
un-carrying the weight of the world that is not mine to carry
nor bearing the brunt of those who choose to blame
i have stepped down from my own irksome pedestal
to taste the sea salty wind, to ascertain a distant gesture,
letting life be
out of my hands
P Ward 2013
within and without this proximity
this air and earth
this body and breath
in which we share
through touch and taste and sight and smell and sound
just what we are
and may become
in limitless community
exercising subtle calculations
towards possible mutability
and sense what sense
there might be here
these birds and beasts
and other entities
that befriend us
and listen and learn
to value all
to conjure magic and mystery
P Ward 2013
i am without time and without form with you
a friend from hereafter
this, my home
as often mentioned, the importance of connecting with the more-than-human, the land and fellow beings about my home, to just spend time here, to allow time to feel, to see and to heal and to be consequently open to inspiration, is an essential element of my arts practice, and arguably of any healthy participation in this miraculous existence. this short film and set of images documents one such circuit, one small journey, one mindful walk around my home – northam country park and westward ho! in north devon.
while I feel privileged to enjoy my time with nature – others are not so fortunate to live within easy reach of such obvious beauty – a classically grounded education in the arts has deeply enriched my everyday experience, helping me see more clearly, to observe more rigorously, to feel more deeply and to appreciate and enjoy the wonder of life as a whole. it may not be for everyone to paint or to become what has been traditionally known as an ‘artist’, but the skills, insights and experience that the arts give, combined with an informed respect for the natural world, will most often make us more contented and creative beings in every aspect of our lives. on days such as these when all I see and everything I do becomes a thing of immense beauty, an intricate part of this rich complex tapestry of life, I am more than grateful to be alive. my only desire is to share such joy with others, to enrich lives as mine has been enriched and to continue to do so…
P Ward 2013
how invisible may i become,
how virtual in my being,
how camouflaged among the foliage,
how indistinct from any others who purport to express the same,
how discredited, how disrespected, underrepresented and misunderstood,
how taken for granted, how unacknowledged, how comfortable in my nonentity?
if i were to sink back and back and breathe slowly and silently
or slip my head beneath the safety of the waves and dive down and down
or dig a hole deep and dark and bury myself in it,
would i be walked upon more than i am already
or swept aside and ignored more than i am now?
do i not shout loud enough or shine brightly enough
or whisper clearly enough or use enough clever words?
are they too long or too short or just put together incorrectly?
or do i not put myself in the right place at the right time
or know the right people or ask for what is rightfully mine?
am i simply missing something, not seeing what’s right in front of my eyes,
some logical conclusion or analogy to make my essence clear,
some distinctive nuance of purpose and worth
to allow others to share their fortune
to become valued in this world?
i am often told how gifted and talented i am when on show,
for which I am truly grateful and without which I would not know
how kind and capable, in word and deed,
how practical and sensitive to others in need, how skilled
and just how invisible i have become.
but then i am a lucky one –
i have a house and a home
i am loved and cared for
i am neither hungry or thirsty or cold or even ill,
i am simply disgusted at how so much talent can go to waste
how these precious resources are more often misused and abused,
how such potential may remain unharnessed, how so much love is lost.
now if i move inwards quickly enough, turn about and within this radiant form to leave an empty space,
maybe i can create a vacuum into which all the wars and stupidity will be pulled at once
and leave us all to wonder at just how invisible we have become?
P Ward 2013
what are we doing?
what are we doing right now?
what have we been doing?
what have we done?
what will we do?
what do we do?
what did we do before?
what have we undone?
what is this that we are doing?
what is it that we did do?
what is this that we shall be doing
when all is said and done?
what will we be doing
after it has happened?
what will we become
if everything is gone?
if there is no air
if there is no water
if there is no earth
if there is no food
or fire to keep us warm,
we may feel rather foolish,
we may feel absolutely nothing,
if there isn’t anything at all.
this i understand.
On offering the above poetic excursion to a respected friend to peruse it was accused of exhibiting a rather didactic nomenclature, being somewhat opinionated and hence possibly disallowing imaginative participation for many readers. But begging to differ, as is my want, I thereby suggest that any and all statements are contestable. Even perhaps those that are most edifying and offensive to the sensibilities of the liberally inclined deliver most provocatively just such cause for cataclysmic departure (albeit somewhat deterministically limited by dualistic tendencies within thought and discourse). While it may admittedly be declared that my linguistic deliverance is a little wanting within this acclaimed literary genre, it may just as easily be surmised that all statements, literally adroit or not have an equal capacity for creative response.
Thankfully healthy relationships are (most possibly rather than most definitely) based upon an easy acceptance and celebration of difference as well as similarity – difference creating a dynamic for organic and prolonged growth and evolution rather than a dissatisfied sense of compromise; opposition presenting worthy challenges in the face of stultifying stagnation when enjoyed within an attitude of good humoured trust and benign mutuality. Without such obstacles in our path how might we begin or continue to appreciate the many strengths and intelligences of our intrinsic limitations and beauty.
So, long may we share our ego-fuelled individuality with love, integrity and joy, knowing that it is such enduring diversity that makes a whole world alive in animate becoming and without which any sense of peace might readily be known as death.
P Ward 2013
On a recent visit to my local beach I stuck a stick in the sand.
The various elemental forces in play instantly transfixed me, filling me with a sense of exhilaration – the wind, the weight of the stick, its texture, form and flexibility, the tentative support of the sand and shingle creating a viable tension and suggesting a living, breathing entity through which I might relate to my place within the world.
I have since been playing with this idea using a variety of sticks of different weights, lengths and thicknesses and in different weather conditions. This short film documents some of my initial experimentation…
For me the installation brought to mind David Abram’s analogies of air as the living elemental entity within which our collective thoughts reside, …
“Finally, and most profoundly, this invisible medium, in which we are bodily immersed, is what provides us with the capacity for conscious thought.” from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram
… and of fire, being a product of the other elements, as well as the animate nature of all being, a belief in which gives faith and understanding to indigenous cultures around the world …
“With everything having life, with everything having speech, with everything having the power to breathe, with everything having the power to teach and guide, with that in blessing we live.” from the Navajo Blessingway ceremony, recorded by Gary Witherspoon, also from The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram[i].
(Coincidentally, I am also presently enjoying a course of acupuncture!?[ii])
P Ward 2013
[i] David Abram, The Spell of The Sensuous (New York; VINTAGE; 1997)
[ii] The principles of acupuncture and holistic healing within the context of art and ecology are presently being explored by American ecoartist Aviva Rahmani in her Trigger Point Theory, whereby interdisciplinary actions are defined and implemented through a range of analytical tools within specific ecologies to catalyze an effect. To find out more visit http://www.avivarahmani.com/. I have also previously written about such ideas on this site https://intim8ecology.wordpress.com/2012/04/02/art-as-flux/…
further meditations on implied feelingness
one day or another, recently walking the pebble ridge, my massive evolving animate friend, that is familiar to me as part of my home – a place of spiritual and meditative value, a place of communal sensitivity to myself at least – I spied a large knot of rope on the strand line – human in scale, discarded as useless and bothersome from some passing boat, at some time or another, its specific age or place of origin being fairly indeterminate to me, despite the initial stages of algal growth within its mass and the various frayings and breakings in its length. I tossed it thoughtfully out of the ocean’s reach – subtracting it superficially from the mass of other tanglings threatening some forms of sea life (while also providing homes for others) and left it on the ridge for further contemplation at another time…
I have taken most recently to relating to objects and processes within my everyday environment as metaphors and actions for meditative and therapeutic repair[i]. To spend an hour or so unraveling a tangle of rope being as relevant to ecological threat and purpose as it is to my psychological make-up and understanding. To gather sticks and bind them may be seen as a ritual of thought process as much as a sculptural activity, as a process of gathering fuel for a home and maybe equally powerful in intent and outcome…
and eventually, after some weeks of passing upon my regular wonderings, I was drawn to retrieve this particular tangle of rope, untouched it seemed by any other human hand, not thrown back to the ocean or cast into a landfill. Grey and frayed, exuding a gentle odour of rotting seaweed – it somehow matched my frame of mind – confused and a little useless, not to mention grey and shot through with a heavy strand of vibrant turquoise!?! Balancing from cobble to cobble as I was, dancing along the stones as I have a tendency to do, to balance myself and bring strength to my lumbar core (or so I’m informed) – I placed the mass upon my hat and carried it thus like some sea salted Rastafarian, or a monster with its brain messily exposed, for half a mile or so until I reached a site to perform my intended operation – to attempt to unravel and to order this metaphorical complication that I had mindfully acquired…
I did lope along the strand line
rescuing my tangled self
altering perspective through intimate investigation oddity and unravelled mindfulness…
this art is helpful on a number of levels
whether it is useful beyond its immediate interference is a matter for some other further debate…
[i] Much gratitude and worthy acknowledgements to Clare Thomas for her MA Art & Environment research culminating in similar and shared aspirations and actions. Clare’s practice may be further explored and enjoyed at www.cleaningbeaches.wordpress.com with a more specifically related article at http://cleaningbeaches.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/small-acts-of-repair/