Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Rhubarb & Custard Tree

The Rhubarb & Custard Tree, originally uploaded by ...escher....

Autumn days such as these are a feast for the senses: the percussive rustle and crunch of the underfoot leaves, the rainbow hues of those still on the trees and the damp odour of rotting wood as the cycle of life once again returns to hibernation.
And you are dead wrong in thinking that this sculpture is named after a successful chain of gastro-pubs. Indeed if anyone wants to name their new restaurant after my sculpture then I will want royalties paying.
I have two modes for making land art. If I am in a wild, natural place then I will only gather materials there and then from nearby. But if I go to the park, cemetery, university campus or somewhere in the suburbs then I will gather from any or all of these places and construct something from the much wider range of trees and plants present in those locations. More a reflection, if you will, of Victorian plant hunting and our love of gardening. But I don't do that in wild places for several reasons. I don't want to bring in plants alien to that environment and especially not seeds but mainly I want to experience the plants and trees of that place and learn more about it by making sculptures out of what is there. There is more scope for diversity on the outskirts of the urban connurbation but I still think it is true to the essence of my land art to collect more widely as it still reflects the plants and trees that most of us live with everyday, many of them not native but have been grown here for a hundred years or more.
And so that is how I begun my day. It took a long time to get into the groove today and I went collecting and wandering in several different places.
There is a cherry tree a few doors down that has gone stright from green to deep burgundy-red and set against the sunshine and blue sky it looks spectacular. There are several I have now seen along with sumach that are displaying amazing autumn colours but alas they are all in someones garden. On my travels I noticed a row of the same cherries outside the front of the hospital so I went there first and filled up a bag. I didn't look up much from my gathering but I am sure I was getting some funny looks. Then I went to the park to the other cherries I know and these were all green save for a few yellow and orange leaves. Lastly I visited the cherries in the cemetery and found that nearly all their leaves had dropped. It seems that the cherry trees around here are at many different stages, why I do not know.
By the way, if this story ends without a conclusion then it will be clear that dying cherry leaves do indeed contain cyanide! I took what I had gathered and strolled over to the university campus to look for a quiet spot in which to spend a few hours. Large as the campus may be this was not an easy task. With students comes a whole array of life, even during the day! Four hobbits, an orc, two goblins and a barbarian walked past me - must be the LARP society. Live Action Role Play seems to involve dressing up as your favourite Lord of the Rings characters and then beating each other over the head with plastic swords shouting "I will smite thee!" Probably fun to do but really very funny to watch and you think I'm weird! Another group played cricket, yet another football and then someone in a very bright yellow jacket galloped past on a very large horse. I was having trouble concentrating.
I disappeared into the undergrowth looking for inspiration and found only empty beer cans, discarded crisp packets and used disposable barbecues that had indeed been used but not disposed of. I never quite get the habit of going to a nice quiet and often beautiful spot, getting ****-faced and then leaving all your rubbish behind. They obviously have the wherewithall to recognise a beautiful place but then they lose it by making it an eyesore when they've finished.
Now all of this, added to the pooey smell emanating from a hidden drain somewhere was not leaving me very inspired. For a moment I wished that I had gone somewhere else but I persevered.
The most striking of the cherry leaves I had collected were the deep red and the rich yellow. The two colours next to each other set off particularly well so I tore them in half and stitched them together to show the best of autumn cherry. But what to do with them? The idea to pin them to a branch popped into my head and so I began to make several rhubarb and custard leaves.
Once I had made several I set about attaching them to the branch I had found and yet the thorns would not pierce the wood. Hmm, mother nature plays her hand again in constructing each sculpture and so another thought popped into my head.
Earlier in the week a friend had remarked on the technological themes in my art: boxes, squares, wheels and my graphical style and so I thought I would construct my own angular branch from soft wood and attach the leaves to that.
And so with the sculpture finished I was still only half done. The sun came out for only a few short minutes and while I tweaked the sculpture and reset thorns it went in behind a cloud and didn't return for more than an hour. By the time it did the light breeze had played havoc and I had to remake several leaves and pin the whole thing back together. Once it did return it had moved enough to change the aspect of the shot completely so I had to move it all and begin again. Time seemed to pass ever so slowly, not least because I was thinking about lunch, but with my senses attuned each subtle change in the light or wind made me feel more immersed than normal.
Whilst collecting materials you become more aware of what is there, your surroundings, the colours and what there is to find. As you start constructing the sculpture you learn even more, like how the yellow leaves are longer then the red leaves and you have to look through many to find ones the same size. As you set up the sculpture to be photographed you become aware of the changes in the wind, how the sun moves and the little shifts in the level of light. And finally as you get the photo you want, gather up your stuff and head home you find that your head is cleared of the hum-drum and your mind is open to the ways of the world. And it is on those wanders home that I come up with these words that you are reading. I can't do it any other time, it has to be written in that space after the sculpture is completed, the next day is too late.
Land art has many gifts to give and lessons for you to learn. Many more than you might think if you never tried it. So you should try it - if only once.

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