today time returns
and darkness drags us home, amidst swirling russet leaves,
to its familiar solstice resting place
as another year quietly slips away.
losing their resemblance to matter
and we descend into that underworld
of ancestors and past deities,
to industry and wonder,
to miraculous machines
and steam and noise –
hell for some, power for others –
weaving what was once made by hand
beneath clear open skies lit by a million stars,
connecting us to all that has been
and will ever be.
and the Sisters still sit
sharing their charms,
weaving mystery and fate
beyond our control or simple understanding.
Last weekend I visited Dunster, a charming Medieval village in West Somerset with my family. We ‘watched’ stars inside an inflatable dome as part of Exmoor National Park’s Dark Skies program celebrating the unpolluted ‘darkness’ of the area and stayed at my brother’s cottage amongst the massive oaks and rich red soils of the Brendon Hills. On our way home we stopped off at Coldharbour Mill Museum in Uffculme, Devon, for one of their regular ‘Steam Up Days’. This restored working woollen mill is powered by water and steam engines (and electricity) and gives a fascinating insight into the ingenuity and industry involved in the production of wool and woven cloth over the last few centuries when Devon and Exmoor were one of the main centres for the wool trade in Britain. And all this on the days the clocks are turned back to solar time again and the Celtic New year begins – quite a brew for the imagination…
© P Ward 2017
a pleasant few days break in west somerset
after a week of hard work inside the studio.
despite a forecast of persistent heavy rain
and a recurrent mechanical inconvenience
there was sunshine
a chance to tidy the garden
to the sound of wind shaking the trees and familiar birdsong
inspiring peace of mind and a few life-art works
to celebrate the simplicity, beauty and creativity of nature
reflections of place and time and relationship
Waste and wastes implies unwanted or unusable materials. The term is often subjective (because waste to one person is not necessarily waste to another) and sometimes objectively inaccurate…[i]
In preparation for a local school’s artsweek I will be leading at the end of January I have been researching some very basic materials such as sticks and leaves and mud, and wheelbarrows… I have been invited, as an environmental artist, to develop a series of activities to engage 500 children between the ages of 4 and 12, and their teachers, with ideas of local ecology, its influence on the region’s historical development and our current relationship with it. 2015 being the UN International Year of Soils, and being one of my own specialisms, I have chosen the theme of SOIL. The activities will allow children and teachers to explore and hopefully learn something about the nature of soil and its importance in all our lives. The activities, designed to be starting points for creative journeys for teachers to explore with their classes, will also lead to an end of week environmental art exhibition including work made by every child in the school. The centrepiece will be a large earth pigment painting built up during the week by the children and finished by a group of ‘gifted and talented’ students who have shown a particular aptitude and interest in the arts. The painting will be left as a legacy for the school and acknowledgement of the hard work accomplished during the week. Hopefully the children and teachers will have an enjoyable and memorable time.
© p ward 2014
Many apologies for my recent lack of posts – I have been rather busy and somewhat otherwise engaged of late. Here are a few pictures and words to fill the gap. Many thanks for your continuing audience and support…
after the storms
after the spring has sprung
we may begin our gathering
of old and new
to make way for,
in preparation for
how different is this world
from one place to the next
from one day to another
holding hands with you…
with love to Francesca, Noah and all my family
P Ward 2014
a simple film about connecting with the earth – just walking barefoot along a muddy track in west somerset. the film was made with francesca owen as part of our ongoing collaboration and research towards the SOIL CULTURE project 2013-17 led by CCANW and RANE (http://artsandecology.info/pdf/Soil_culture_info_Oct2013.pdf). the images were captured on continuous shooting mode and edited using i-movie.
© Francesca Owen & Peter Ward 2014
Doniford, West Somerset 291113
This day, I was sent two disturbing articles relating to the research I am presently doing about soil. One, posted by the Soil Association on Facebook from the Ecologist magazine, stated how the majority of meat sold and consumed in the UK is now fed with Genetically Modified products, which has led to sickness in the animals and in turn is passing such illness onto humans who (choose to) eat the products[i]. The other, published in the Telegraph was sent by a fellow artist, and expressed the realization by American soil scientists that the biological life and energy in a great deal of US soil may have been irreversibly degraded by continued intensive farming methods similar to those employed in the UK[ii]. The articles unfortunately did not surprise or shock me, but both left me feeling, yet again, utterly helpless and frustrated in the face of such odds. What, as an artist or otherwise, can I do to change or shift human attitudes and behaviour? Why do big companies, governments and the majority of the population continue to adopt, support and employ technologies that have been proven without doubt to be for the good of no one, let alone the few? Just where is the sense in a world motivated solely by power over, by profit and material gain? Is it small wonder that many of us chose to bury our heads in the sand, or to numb our senses to the facts? Just how can we expect to cope not only with the constant barrage of distressing information but also the even more distressing reality?
More recently, with the immanent prospect of my second child, such information leaves me utterly terrified at what the future may hold. While I may personally accept, with much difficulty, the debilitating truth of this present ecocidal reality in which we live, I still have not fully realized the power or belief within myself to confront or even challenge it. Over the last few years my previous optimism and enthusiasm has been sorely tested by the constant exposure through social media and the internet to the cumulative implications of our self-imposed abuse. Can my own chosen vocation as an artist really affect the world, as I once believed, beyond simple and crude awareness-raising? Can it truly reach people who really don’t want to hear? And even if it can, how can I financially sustain my work as an artist? In the current political climate many aspects of the cultural sector, including education, seem to have been deemed such a threat to the status quo that artists are finding it harder and harder to find support for our work beyond the stultifying and questionable confines of academia or, if we are ‘lucky’, the morally spurious world of commerce. How in such a time can we find the strength to pick up our pens, our brushes or our cameras, to stretch and flex our aesthetic and intuitive muscles, to squeeze more paint from the tube, so to speak? What drives us on and inspires us to arrange, compose and juxtapose; to experiment, investigate and perform our plethora of creative maneuvers and how can we not respond to the situation in which we find ourselves wholly immersed?
My own interest in art and my resulting practice as an artist was born out of a desire and an aptitude to observe, manipulate and record the processes and materials of the world – in other words to enjoy and share the process of making things. Alongside this I have had a lifelong fascination and sense of wonder with the other creatures and life forms that share this world. At some point these interests (and every other aspect of my life) merged to create the art practice that I share today. At no point did I consciously decide to make my work political. By Nature it simply is. To make good and affective art, to interact fully and with energy in the world I must allow myself to become utterly absorbed in the processes of creativity and the materials and subject matter that fascinate me. To do this, artists must be fully supported in their role. I find it difficult to tailor my work in response to ecological crisis or to any economic or intellectual climate. My tendency, based most likely in mental and physical self-preservation, is to turn away from suffering and trauma and to make things that bring myself and hopefully others joy – to celebrate the privilege of being alive. This is not to say that I am not willing to accept the facts or implications of the present ecological crisis, nor that I cannot deal with the sorrow and grieving that such suffering entails. It is more that to celebrate existence, to engage with it in all its gory detail – its birth, its life, its destruction and decomposition, its ignorance, helplessness and despair, its beauty and magnificence – is my way of responding. This may not be obvious or directly related to the more empirical evidence that science relies upon as proof; it is more simply an act of defiance! My way of saying my energy will not be subdued! I am not ready to roll over and die just yet…
tribute to ana medieta 1, doniford, west somerset (p ward + f owen 2013)[iii]
Art by its very nature is transformative. Our actions as artists do not need to be directed at any particular issue or thing, we must simply do! And the more we allow ourselves to do, the more we allow ourselves and are allowed to become emotionally, intellectually, physically and spiritually in the work that gives us joy then the more power and resonance that work may hold and convey. This is true of all things.
So everyday I continue to act in this world. To walk and observe, to interact with and explore the wonder that it continues to express through its very existence, and to share my own sense of wonder with it all. And this day – a dull grey day in late November – I visited a what-may-seem rather unimpressive stretch of coast along the Bristol Channel in West Somerset. I am presently reflecting upon how my work with earth pigments may engage audiences with contemporary issues relating to soil as part of the CCANW/RANE Soil Culture project[iv]. While there is an obvious relationship between what lies beneath the soil, the rocks and geological structures and their mineral content, and hence its ability to support flora and fauna specific to a particular geomorphological region and then whatever agri-industrial-cultural manifestation that may become evident, how may creative and intellectual engagement with such materials raise awareness about contemporary soil issues? So to follow my own lead, I must simply do and invite others to do the same. Stop the overly analytical head and partake in those things that give joy, that bring peace, and share with others. Maybe that way we will find a way…
© P Ward 2013
Despite my familiarity and frequency of visit to this tranquil rural area of West Somerset over the last 18 years I had never done this walk before, so close to my brother’s cottage. From the back garden gate, across a country lane and a simple stile into a field of rich terracotta earth, we follow the crystal clear meandering stream, flanked by mature oak, maple, beech and holly, amongst others, holding stories from long before the motor car. As we immerse ourselves in the birdsong of buzzards, green woodpeckers, long-tailed tits and blackbirds, time’s influence loses its grasp. Returning along high-hedged lanes to a simple lunch and an afternoon spent pottering in the garden – raking leaves, weeding and chopping wood for the evening fire – until it was too dark to see what we were doing properly. A whole day busy outside, without driving, was enough to leave me somewhat lightheaded but deeply refreshed through nature…
My own tendency, for whatever reason, is to seek comfort and depth in relationship to my environment through familiarity, through retracing my steps again and again to seek more and more subtle variation and diversity over time. But every so often it is necessary to change those sensible and safe patterns, to experience the world anew, to refresh our senses to other perspectives and possibilities. Blessed be boredom. Blessed be routine and blessed be temptation, inquisitiveness and bravery…
And many thanks again to Francesca for leading me astray!?!
© P Ward 2013
birdhill, west somerset, 81113
at this time of day,
at this time of year,
as sun sinks – loosing strength and warmth;
nighttime fills shadow with shifting mutable presence
the rich autumnal rainbow of wet slippery leaves glow upwards,
permeating the visual with resonant fungal scents,
silver light pervading, filling all with luminescence;
even the dead and decaying give their own light,
dark forms shifting as we walk
catching eye and ear and all between,
bark from black to mossy green to grey
it is often said that we may commune more readily with other realms at this time,
with spirits of the dead and intelligences seldom seen;
it is easy to see why.
But how to capture, beyond personal memory, such total experience within which we do immerse?
My camera, despite its advanced technology, struggles.
Yet, whatever impression it does record, accidental or not,
whether ‘correct’ or ‘accurate’ or ‘technically proficient’,
may still find a way to communicate and convey a sense of elemental moment.
Not just through abstract digital process, as clever as this may be,
but through consensual associative creative and imaginal interaction with life itself –
we fill in the gaps with whatever meaning we need…
© P Ward 2013
Red is the colour of my home –
It is the rocks and soil that support me,
It is blood coursing through my veins,
Sap rising in the tree from the rich moist earth,
The colour of iron and oxygen mixed.
Red is the colour of my life –
My hands as they dig,
My feet as I walk,
My lips as I smile,
My tongue as I taste the sunset.
Red is the colour of warmth –
It is joy and love around me,
It is generosity and anger at injustice,
It is the feeling inside my eyes as I dream,
The pulsing heartbeat within your flesh…
Red is the colour of my life.
Many thanks again to Mark for the use of his beautiful cottage in West Somerset and to Francesca for some delicious hot chocolate…
P Ward 2013
west somerset 713
A few months back Francesca[i] and I took a break in West Somerset, to spend a bit of time concentrating on our own work. Badger Cottage in Woodford had been my brother’s home for 17 years until recently, so somewhere I am lucky enough to know fairly well. He had been working at Nettlecombe Court; a Field Studies Council[ii] residential Centre situated on the Exmoor border just south of the historic port of Watchet. The nearby coast clearly displays numerous transitions between Permian, Triassic and Jurassic geological ages, a story spanning some 150 million years, while inland the fertile soils are predominated by the rich red stain of iron oxide that was historically mined in the area. For me I am always blown away by the wealth of specimen trees dating back some 300 years that dot the hills and fields and by the array of flowering plants that make up the hedgerows. How much the underlying bedrock and the resulting soil affect the ambience, culture and more specifically colour of a place is a question I continue to ask. The images that follow represent our time looking and some of my artistic responses that resulted…
with many thanks to Mark for the use of his beautiful cottage
and Francesca for her splendid and insightful company
P Ward 2013