Sunday, December 26, 2010

Winter Solstice Sentinel - Moonrise

Here's the past week condensed. Just add water (preferably ice), leave to stand for a minute, stir and serve.

So the cold snap continues, although it is due to end in the next 24 hours and it has allowed me to do more with ice than I have before.

Apart from last year, the last ten winters have been mild with only a couple of cold ones in the previous twenty. Before that we supposedly had proper winters, those that we like to trot out whenever someone, who wasn't old enough to remember them, comments on how cold it is. "Cold? This isn't cold lad, I remember when winters were winters, and we only had one pair of shoes between the whole street. We had to break the ice in the loo when we needed the toilet. Etc etc etc."

Well, that deal is off. This winter is a proper one and seems to be breaking records all over this country and elsewhere too.

How I remember those winters, though, may not be entirely accurate. I remember the snow being deeper than we get now. And I remember the snow being around for months with no gaps. But then again I remember Christmas day taking 9 months, like a full gestation period of extreme tension to arrive, after breaking up from school for the holidays. And I guess the snow was deeper then as my wellies were only half the height of what I have today. It's the same with the mystery of the ever decreasing Wagon Wheel. Have they really got smaller? Or did they seem bigger thirty years ago because my head was smaller?

Winter Solstice Sentinel - Moonrise

So where am I going with all this? Boy, you do ask some difficult questions.

Our perceptions certainly change over time, as we get older, as we age, change and develop. Christmas now arrives at lightning speed, without the nailbitingly slow anticipation but then without much of the magic either. Although that lost magic has been replaced ten fold by everything I see around me outside in the world. Well not replaced exactly. Maintained from when I started to walk.

I've come to realise, and perhaps this is the same for us all, that the things I do for fun become anchor points for my life.

I have a pretty large record collection as I used to DJ at raves, clubs and parties in the '90's and just recently I've been recording my vinyl onto my computer and relistening to a whole load I've not listended to for twenty years. It's brought back many memories of when I first heard or played a particular record. Anchor points aplenty.

After my DJ'ing exploits I got into the outdoors: walking, exploring, trekking and climbing with lots of trips to mountain ranges the world over. There were many sublime, intense and unforgettable experiences. Yet more anchor points.

And now it is land art. When I think back to what I have created, I can remember each day, each sculpture, how the day felt, what I saw, experience and learnt. Anchor points amore.

And yet the stuff in between? The working, the snoozing, the watching TV. The driving from A to B, the time on the internet, the dreaming of being and doing something else. These all fade soon after the event. These things are not my life, not me, not remembered. And yet? They probably make up the majority of my time alive.

How many questions does this raise? So many, so many...

Can you experience those anchor points without the drudge in between? Can your whole life be anchors, or is it just too much hard work for every one of us who isn't a maverick or an extreme character. The trouble is real life is the thing that is happening while you try and work out these answers. There are no rehearsals.

Winter Solstice Sentinel - Sunrise

And so this past week I have been anchored.

I made this sculpture on the day before Christmas Eve and it took a week to prepare. Each night I created six ice discs and in the morning stacked them with layers of snow in between. I would leave each stack to freeze and begin on the next set of six discs. Over the next five nights I ended up with thirty discs made into five ice/snow stacks. One lunchtime I walked to a favourite spot of mine where I knew large icicles grew. In fact the place where I got the icicles for
this and this.

After this long cold snap, the icicles were more plentiful and larger than I have seen them before, so I took one of the longest, finest and most elegant and set about cementing it to a disc with slush for glue.

Each night that I was outside doing this, the air was cold and clear. The sky was a deep, navy blue with pin pricks of sparkling light, the planets and stars perfectly positioned as if never changing and from behind the bank of trees in front of me, the moon would rise turning the navy blue to royal.

I had in mind the Land Art Connections theme for December - Past, Present and Future, or, at least in hindsight I realised that what I was making spanned the winter solstice and how it connected this season to the next. As the shortest day is reached the days begin to lengthen once again and spring seems not so far away.

The more land art I do the more entranced and enchanted with change, cycles and the interconnectedness of all things, I become. Everything seems to be a wave. As daylight hits the bottom of the curve it bounces back up again to life and colour aplenty, until the top of the wave sends it back down again. These things can be seen everywhere in nature. This cold snap is to do with another cycle, a cycle of the movement of the air over the North Atlantic.

If it wasn't for this cold air and this regular cycle I couldn't have made this sculpture. It wouldn't have been below freezing all day and my discs would have melted. It wouldn't have been cold enough at night to completely freeze the discs and to stick ice to ice in time for the morning. If the cold snap wasn't consistent and long lasting I wouldn't have managed to make thirty discs and it wouldn't be as tall.

I've long wondered whether artists are aware of the concept they are trying to convey before they embark on creating something. I cannot speak for others but for me it comes out after the fact as though the simple act of creation opens the mind. I am fully prepared to learn something and have something deep within revealed, when I stand in front of another artist's work. That, to me, seems to be the formula:

- Artist comes up with idea
- Artist creates something with meaning
- Audience views art
- Mind is stimulated
- Meaning is revealed

But it seems it is much, much more complex than that.

Winter Solstice Sentinel - Sunrise

I am discovering that when I create something I am as much the audience as I am the artist. Only after I have created something do I look back and see what meaning is there, it is not with conscious effort that I put the meaning into it and yet I find it after the fact. Does that mean there is actually any meaning if I don't put it in with conscious effort? Gawd only knows, but it fascinates me nonetheless.

And there was more meaning in this to be discovered yet.

Winter Solstice Sentinel - Collapsed

I took the five barrels of snow and ice to a frozen tarn high up on a moor and stacked them up until it was about six foot tall. Lastly I place the final disc with its unicorn horn on top. The moon was once again rising, first very large and foreshortened as it breached the horizon, gradually lessening as it tracked across the sky. The sentinel stood tall and the sharp icicle pointed directly towards the moon as though connected to the heavenly body. I took pictures before pouring water over it, in the hope it might freeze more solidly overnight. I set off home and a Little Owl spooked from the road perhaps looking for moisture from the gritted road surface.

Before dawn I returned to witness the sunrise after the moonrise hours before. Like a series of interconnected lights, each disc lit up orange one by one as the first of the sun's rays pierced each disc in turn, until finally it was illuminated from top to bottom. It was quite a sight to see. It had developed a quirky lean, much like the tower of Pisa but still remained frozen in place. I was surprised but very pleased that I got to witness it again at sunrise. I left it again hoping to see it intact once more for the sunset.

With trepidation I returned at 3pm to find it had collapsed. The sun had melted its icy bonds and Pisa could lean no more. I stacked up what was left so that I could see the light play across the discs, as the sun dropped behind the horizon. I have to say the hastily erected sculpture, made from the remains, did not have an appealing look. I toyed with entitling it "Christmas Phallus" but I don't think I could avoid accusations of schoolboy humour, even if I pretended that I was trying to remark on both Christian and Pagan symbology!

Winter Solstice Sentinel - Sunset

Despite its collapse and the hope of seeing it properly for sunset, the most intense part was still to be experienced. As I stood and watched the sun sink down below the frosty horizon, I was overcome with a feeling of vertigo, of tipping backwards, spinning and falling. I know it is obvious to us all that the sun does not rise or set in reality but appears to, as our planet spins. But in this moment instead of knowing that truth, I felt it, deep within the whole of my body.

As the sun disappeared I felt the earth tipping backwards, turning away from the stationary sun. The overpowering vertigo made me feel the rotation of the earth so much more vividly than I have ever before. It was quite strange and intense.

Land art is all these things. It isn't just using nature's materials to create something. It uses natures's cycles and patterns and flows to cast its magic touch on whatever you try to create. Without a week of temperatures constantly below zero, it wouldn't have been possible. Made across the winter solstice, it connected one year of seasons with the next. Early evening moonrise meant that it had time to freeze before dawn so that its lean would not mean its demise, at least not until the sun had melted it slightly. And combination of all these things allowed me to feel something I already knew. As to feel something is so much more powerful than to know it.

And now I feel the rotation of the earth and how I am connected to it a little more than I did before.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Autumn Beech Leaf Curtain - After a Month

So it seems, even though our climate is warming we still have weather, and we are sure getting some in the UK at the moment. I saw a long term forecast in November and it said December would be colder than average, whilst January and February will be warmer. Unfortunately I am feeling pretty lazy at the mo' so I have not been making the most of the cold to get out and make something. Instead I'm enjoying getting out of bed late and spending all day eating mince pies. Nice work if you can get it.

Anyway back to the weather. It is normally quite mild where I live, as on the west coast we are warmed by the atlantic. It was the coldest I'd seen it here, a few weeks ago, at minus 6 celcius. Nothing in the great scheme of things but if it is that cold here then eleswhere it will be really, really cold. Today it's been -2 all day so far, and I've not seen that before here either.

So is it climate or is it simply weather? Apparently El Nina is having an affect and I wonder whether ash from the Icelandic volcano (I won't try and spell it) is cooling the temperatures over Europe? Even in my little brain there seem to be so many different variables when it comes to modelling our atmosphere and what it may drop upon us. It just brings it home to me even more, how something impossible to predict and understand could push it all out of sync and we might make this place uninhabitable for ourselves, let alone the polution and greed and waste we so palpably do understand and can predict and the affect that is having. I always scoff when I hear the phrase "save the planet." Let's face it if we weren't here at all, the planet would look after itself. We don't want to save the planet, we want to save ourselves.

All this cold weather is not seducing me away from the mince pies though, although I did spend an hour walking around a tree creating a giant spiral in the snow, it was perhaps 100m across, fun but not very photogenic so there's no permanent record after the snow has melted.

So I really should be making the most of the low temperatures. When I was on form making winter sculptures last year, I craved really low temperatures so I could get ice to stick to ice but it wasn't ever cold enough. I am trying to build up a head of steam though, but I do have the feeling once I get into first gear (I'm currently in neutral) that there may be a thaw.

Still the choice is mine and land art and how I try to live my life are the same. It's all about going with the flow. When I create something I use what I find, I am guided by the elements and the temperature, the light and location all play a part. You cannot force it to be something that it isn't. It is the same for each and every one of us. It is always best to follow the line of least resistance. To listen to how you feel inside and accept it as good advice. If you want to run around like a loon then do so! If you want to hibernate surrounded by a circular wall of mince pies then so be it!

So I don't mind feeling lazy, it is just the way it is. When will it change? Perhaps never!

Anyway it is pretty obvious that there isn't much snow and ice in this picture. This was taken before the winter properly arrived.

What the eagle eyed among you may realise is, this is actually this. I'd brought it home and left it in the garden and it had survived heavy rain, frost and gales for 27 days. It had blown around the garden quite a bit and I found it in a heap in one corner . All I wanted to do was recycle the thorns, that is why kept it and I was a bit taken aback to find it nearly intact. So I repaired it as best I could and went looking for a little, low winter sunshine.

I watched as a branch cast a shadow across the leaves, drifting across the whole thing as our planet spun on its axis, like a windscreen wiper in hyper-slow. Everything is a cycle. Some quick, some slow. Everything is interconnected. Snow events, laziness, mince pies, enthusiasm and autumn leaves faded to brown in winter. Where something ends, something begins. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Tornado Cairn

I watched a fascinating TV program, the other day, about illusions, the inner workings of the brain and perceptual psychology.

I've seen plenty of optical illusions before but presented here were also auditory and touch illusions too. There was even something about the development of wholy new senses.

Since I was small I've been fascinated by perception and would ponder to myself about riddles like "how do you know what colours others see?" We use language as a way of communicating an idea, thought or feeling from one person to another. But in order to do that you need to reach an agreement on what those words mean. Through education and reinforcement from the moment you are born everyone is telling you how the world is. We must start off as a relative open book but everyone we come in contact with teaches us the shared world view of our culture. This is a table, that is a chair, this is how to behave, that isn't acceptable and so on.

Whenever any of us encounter a baby we get eye contact and talk to them. First of all with simple language (cue silly baby voice) 'hello baby, hello baby!' - "you are a cute one, aren't you? Yes!" Every person an infant comes in contact with is reinforcing how the world is, taking a mass of jumbled, interconnected neurons and weaving them into a map that describes the world as we know it. It happens to us and now we do it to others, its how we keep our culture and community together.

So when I see red I have no idea whether you will see blue but call it red. Agreement was reached when you were young that the word red is used when you see a particular colour so that we can communicate and agree regardless of what you actually "see" in your mind. But then perhaps that is the crux of it. How much of what we believe, know and see is our culture that is taught to us and how much is actual reality? Well , we perceive a very narrow part of the electromagnetic spectrum and in quite a narrow way too. Blue or red light isn't actually blue or red, it is made up of photons travelling at extremely high speeds but our visual cortexes see red and blue and we have designed words for these perceptions so that we can agree on what they are. It is this agreement that is reality, it is all of us reinforcing what we agree and what we perceive, through talking and education and learning. That is what our reality actually is.

Some people think that babies actually have a much wider perception than we have and that through this constant reinforcing, that perception is gradually narrowed until they see the world as it has been described to you.

I read somewhere once, about the differences between western and eastern culture and how important language is. Western languages are very object based but Chinese, for instance, is much more about actions and events. This colours how we see the world. Westerners predominately understand the world as made up of things, whereas the Chinese see it as movements from one state to another.

I don't know how true that is, as I am a product of my western upbringing. I can't step out of my worldview to see how others see things but the concept is fascinating nonetheless.

So on this TV programme, I watched, there was this blind guy who loved riding his bike. He had been blind from birth and quite remarkably he had developed the ability to echo locate. He would use his tongue to send out a flurry of clicks and bounce them off things just like a bat or a dolphin. He had honed this skill so he could cycle around and not crash into anything. He said that his brain created a picture in his head and he could 'see' where he was going.

At a university they devised an experiment where they created a belt that would detect the direction of north and give you a little nudge in your midriff whereever it was pointing. After a few weeks of wearing the belt volunteers brains had adpated to use this information, without being aware of how it was happening, to navigate blindfold around a maze.

So it seems the brain can adapt to new types of sensory input, and it uses this information to create models of the world outside without us having to try.

A clip was shown where someone said the word "bah." After seeing him say this the moving image was replaced with the same person saying "fah" but the audio continued to be "bah" but whilst you are watching him speak it sounds like "fah", as soon as you close your eyes (and am not seeing him say "fah" anymore) then you hear "bah" again. It seems your eyes override what you hear with what you see. It is called the McGurk effect. Look it up on Youtube to see what I mean.

They asked the question "is seeing believing?" And the answer came back as "you don't believe what you see, in fact, you see what you believe."

Only 10% of what our brains receive through the eyes makes up what we see. The other 90% is made up of other parts of our brain which are creating a model of what we think the world to be. Illusions fool us because we are unable to get past What is in our heads, how we believe the world to be. The 10% of optical information that reaches us is just that, a small part of what we think we see. So an illusion cannot override what we believe the world to be. Even when we know how an illusion works we are still unable to stop seeing that illusion.

When we dream we can create fantastical worlds and universes full of life and colour and mythical creatures. Every bit as real to us, as our wakeful world, when we are in the midst of the dream. This is that 90% of our visual brain creating a world just for us. There is no light passing through our eyes and yet the world is as rich and as complex as when we are awake.

So where do we get our wakeful world from? Well I come back to my starting point, how that world is described to us by everyone we encounter whilst we are infants.

Belief is a very powerful thing. We are quite convinced that how we see the world is actually how the world is. But with the brain filling in so many of the gaps how can it be. And yet without our strong belief we would likely be insane, unable to piece together our perceptions into a world that it is possible to live in. This strong belief is something we all share, it is just the details of what we believe that leads us to differ.

Our belief feels so strong to us that we feel it is easily possible to get someone else to believe what we believe. "What I believe IS reality, so surely when I tell you about it you will see reality too?" But if what you believe is different to the person you are telling then there reality is different to yours and they think you are the one that has it wrong.

So much energy is expended in this world trying to convince others of the true reality of the world, whilst missing the fact that your reality is only what you believe. If we spent more time worrying about ourselves and not trying to put the world to rights then I think what we share would be a better place. The downfall of the human race is the "I am right" attitude, and the need to educate all others as to where they are going wrong.

Land art, for me, steps outside of all this. I simply sit down and make something without caring whether it is right or correct or is it how it should be. It just is.

Several times I have had it said to me, that a stack like this one is faked: stuck with glue, photoshopped or whatever. This says much more about the people that say that than it does about me. They are unable to believe something may be possible, their assumptions limit what they can achieve, they are held back by the limits they place around themselves. This is their reality, what they believe. Through this belief then that is what they see. A fake picture. But it strikes me that it is an issue of trust that colours everything they do, a sense of entitlement to attention from the world, leads them to assume that if someone achieves something then they must have cheated in some way. A sad way to be, I think. Isn't it much better to believe that anything may be possible? Even if that can't be the case, isn't life sweeter if you at least open your mind to the possibilities? How sad is your world if you have already decided what is and isn't possible before you have even tried? And yet this is the reality for many people.

I believe that everything that's worthwhile in the world should be about just being. Making something, taking a walk, tending to the garden or just watching clouds float by. If you put your energy into trying to convince the world that you have all the answers and if only they would listen a moment, then you could explain it to them and they would understand, then I think you are missing the point.

Which I guess is quite ironic, seeing as I am sitting here doing just that. But then I guess I am lucky that my upbringing allows me to try and see the magic in the world and not to believe that everyone is taking you for a ride and cheating you out of what you deserve. Or even more insiduously, not being a person who has already decided what is and isn't worthwhile to be spending your time doing without having even tried my hand at any of it.

Sword in the Stone Stack

Scales Stack

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

3 Ice Leaf Circles (3 Little Inuit in a Row)

I couldn't think of a decent title. But to me these look like three little Inuit, shoulders and heads sticking out of the snow. Faces peering from a fur-rimmed hood, protected from the icy elements.

What would you like to do on a fine winter's day?

Just recently (like the last few years) I've found it tough to get out of bed at anything like an early hour. I used to leave for work at six am and was always going out on some adventure or another at dawn. But these days the cosiness of my bed is hard to tear myself away from and now I have cotton wool between my ears. That probably was already the way, but the new batch is much fluffier and full of air than before.

So what's up? Laziness, age, hibernating tendencies, a phase or just enjoying my life? I have no idea. Will it pass? Perhaps, perhaps not. It seems we change throughout our lives and we never stay the same person. Maybe I'll be even more lazy in the future or start to get up at 4am every day.

The reason I am writing about this is because today was a good day. I've just had two mid-week days off and been very lazy. But I remarked to my partner earlier, that despite lazing about in bed all morning that we still got a lot done. She said that she had been thinking the same half an hour before. This was as we trudged back down the hill, rosey-cheeked and contented after a few hours skiing and sculpture making.

Yesterday we visited a place called Dallam Tower Park, walked though the snow, gazed across to the mountains plastered white with an arctic coat and watched the Fallow Deer shelter beneath the trees. Whilst children sledged the slopes, we fell silent as the meditation of a beautiful walk sunk through to our souls. It didn't matter that we didn't walk for too long, it felt timeless nonetheless and a bowl of tomato soup, bread and fresh basil was a fitting rejoinder.

Today we went back again and took skis, and leaf discs of ice. Whilst I carved circles from the snow, Julia zig-zagged down the slope with a big grin on her face.

When it began to snow quite heavily once again, skiied out and sculpture in the can, we headed home again for tea and chocolate biscuits (it is a hard life), happy and contented once again.

I guess the moral of this story is that I hate to waste a day doing nothing. But then again, I like doing nothing sometimes. But doing nowt, may leave you feeling guilty that you achieved nowt. So how enjoyable it is to get up late, have a leisurely breakfast, take your time and relax into the day. Only then to go out make a sculpture, ski the slopes and still return home early so that another relaxing evening can be squeezed in before work comes around once again.

Perhaps it's luck, perhaps the wintry conditions bring out my happy soul within, but when it feels right, having a lazy day where you achieve something just feels the best of all worlds. Now if only I could do that everyday. Now where did I put my lottery ticket?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Red Oak Ice Disc

Back out of my cave to see autumn touch winter.

We've had some really low temperatures (for around here) over the last week and the earliest, widespread snow since the mid-nineties. Quite a lot had been dumped on the east, but over here in the west it had only made it to the higher hills. I was hoping that the cold lasted until the weekend so that I could emerge from my cave and experience the changes associated with the freezing point of water. I was in luck but also, when I opened the curtains this morning, there was a dusting of snow on the ground here too.

I find it fascinating how we live in a thin sliver of conditions. On a blue planet clothed in the thinnest of atmospheres and neither too far nor too near to our warmth giving sun. We all need water to live and yet it must be at a temperature to be a liquid. We sit in the middle between our kettles and refrigerators, occupying a slender space where we neither boil nor freeze.

Water is such an interesting substance, with its very own unique properties. But even in a simple game of aesthetics, it too, has exquisite beauty. Clouds, glaciers, icebergs, rivers, oceans. What else can really be said.

And so when I began to think about ice sculptures last night it dawned on me how important the transience of nature (and perhaps everything) is to me and my art. I've still been making sculptures and writing stories at the same rate that I always have, but I haven't been publishing everything. But anything that I have held back to be published later loses its potency for me once the day has passed. The anticipation, the going, the doing, the photographing, the storytelling, the sharing. All those things go together to form my art and once the day I did it on has passed, I only look forward to the next sculpture.

All of this got me thinking, about what the attraction of ephemeral land art is. And ephemeral is the key word here.

I used to do a lot of climbing. I wasn't very good and I always was very scared but still I chased after some difficult challenges to see what I was capable of. Climbing is addictive and the reason is is how the whole of the rest of the world falls away when you are on the sharp end, trying to hold it together, as you make life or death decisions. Of course you take safety measures to ensure that you reduce the risk and everything is not really a life or death decision. But often that is exactly how it feels.

Many times I have been climbing something and I have reached a point where I can no longer go up, but also I couldn't down. With many other activities you could just give up, say I have had enough, and go home. But with climbing you are playing a game where that isn't always an option. Sometimes you have to have a word with yourself and do something that every sinew is telling you cannot. If you cannot then you just go to pieces which just lands you in even more trouble but with the stakes so high, you soon discover inner reserves and the will to use them.

This all might sound melodramatic but it is, in my opinion, the main reason why people go climbing. I often felt the presence of my imminent death on very easy climbs that others could climb with their hands in the pockets and wearing wellington boots. But to me it was the hardest thing in the world and how other people could tackle it didn't matter to me as I pondered what injuries I might receive if I were to fall off. But if you can keep it together in the midst of this fear, the corner you have backed yourself into will give you freedom, as you have no easy choices and if you did you'd always take the easy option. When the easy options are removed, life becomes more vibrant and clear and you feel like you are truly living.

Now don't get me wrong. Land art isn't exactly about life and death. Well of course it is all about nature's cycles but it is rare I have had to face the consequences of death when choosing between an oak or beech leaf. Fortunately I only have to worry about ladybirds and rabbits and not grizzly bears.

But this train of thought is leading me back to the transience of nature and of experience in particular.

I don't produce land art images. No, I have experiences out in nature. Observing and experiencing what I find, discovering new things and wondering at what else is out there. A finished photo is just a byproduct like oxygen emerging from a photosythesising leaf.

I love ephemeral land art. I want to experience what I experience as I make something. And once that is done the experience is over and I am happy just to leave it to decay.

Someone once said to me "don't you feel like it is waste putting so much effort into something that may last only a few minutes?"

It is not a chore to put yourself wholeheartedly into something you enjoy, to feel connected with it, experience its intensity and have nothing but the memory left afterwards. We all do just that with many things we love every single day.

I take pictures to remind me of the experience just like a holiday snap of the family eating ice creams on the beach. But without the photo the ice cream was still lovely and the sun strong on your face, your shoulders and back.
Unless of course your beach holiday is in Britain, then your ice cream wil be full of sand and replace the word 'sun' with wind.

All of life is really about experience, the here and now, what you see, what you feel and learn. So as I pondered what to do with the ice last night, I came to realise that I am inspired when the anticipation of doing something new and interesting comes along. It isn't about thinking how to create a new style of image, but simply seeing a new colour, a new leaf or a new ice crystal spread across the water's surface. When something like that has me excited, then it seems it leads to a nice, new sculpture. But it doesn't matter what then happens as all I am doing is waiting for the next thing, that has me thinking 'well, just what can I make with that?'

I wanted to do a timelapse of it melting, but it was too cold and stayed frozen even in the sun. But still I liked how the light changed, you can see that below.

Rowan Ice Disc

Norweigan Maple Ice Disc

Friday, November 19, 2010

5 Sun Circles

Is there any other sort of visual art that requires such a combination of speed, timing and accuracy? And do those constraints change throughout the year, month to month and sometimes minute to minute?

This was originally going to be called Seventeen Sun Circles which sounds like a much cooler number than five.

But I started too late and the evenings are really drawing in fast and I started to run out of thorns. If I wanted to make seventeen circles then by the time I had finished it would be dark and I would have missed my chance.

Of course musicians and dancers have to be accurate, fast and timely. Perhaps painters have to apply their paint in a particular fashion so it does or doesn't dry. A stone sculptor must tap the chisel just right to reveal the shape within the rock, whilst the bronze must be at the right temperature for correct casting. All important technical skills for artists in a myriad of disciplines. But, as I have never followed these disciplines, their subtleties pass my by.

The materials I use come from nature and change and grow and decay all the time. Leaves rip, tear, dry out, shed fixing thorns, curl up and go brown. You need to be accurate so that you aren't fixing them over and over as they cannot take the punishment. Wood and sticks dry out and contract, will snap and not be moist enough to be pierced with thorns. Colours fade and everything becomes brittle so you need to be fast too if you want to bring your ideas into fruition.

I try to incorporate the elements themselves into what I create, the sun, the moisture in the air, the temperature all play a part and as you become more skilled with the materials, you reveal more and more about how they behave. You notice the subtle nuances in everything: the height of the stream, the angle of the sun, which new plants grow at different points throughout the year.

This may sound like I am bemoaning the variability of what I use but that couldn't be further from the truth. Does paint change throughout the year? Will a piece of music die off in autumn and return once again in spring? The more time I spend making land art the more gifts Mother Nature throws up for me to discover.

I may have set off to make seventeen circles but I had to adapt. Therein lies the essence of land art. I had to experience and feel the change in the movement of the sun, the drawing in of the evenings and the impending dark time I feel within.

Nothing ever stands still, everything is in constant flux and making natural art sculptures from anything I find around me opens a little window into the world of nature and all her wonderful and fascinating nuances.

By the way - I am still hibernating. I made this is in September. I'm off back to my cave...

Saturday, November 13, 2010


See you in spring...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Rowan Leaf Lightning

Rowan Leaf Lightning, originally uploaded by escher....

If you like your DVD extras then scroll down for the Making Of Film. It is short and sharp whereas the unpublished director's cut is hours long and has a pretty brutal ending.

I'm quite surprised I managed to make anything today. I normally have to get going early or I quickly run out of steam, or will power to start in the first place. I didn't even get to where I wanted to be until after midday but fortunately I felt inspired and had willpower to spare.

Last night my house became possessed by an evil demon. The sort of demon that preys on innocent, virginal (ahem) land artists, who are minding their own business trying to get their beauty sleep (believe me, it is important that I get some).

In the middle of the night there were unholy noises coming from upstairs (steady) and the curtains were moving in and out, as though something menacing and scary was drawing breath and sucking the air out of the room.

I couldn't possibly sleep through these spooky goings-on so I had to decamp to the sofa to catch some more zees. I promise you it had nothing to do with Haloween and definitely nothing to do with my girlfriend having a cold and being all bunged up.

The noise miraculously went away when my poorly girlfriend went to work so I slept in.

Once I was up I went out to search for Copper Beech leaves but as I approached my favourite trees I suddenly remembered the amazing Rowan I found yesterday.

For a couple of years I've been searching for a Rowan that has a full on colour explosion in autumn. Many of them in the hills go straight to brown and the others haven't had the full range of colours. The ones that I did find, fully on fire with autumn, were too high, in private gardens or simply impossible to get to.

Finally, yesterday, after lots of searching, I found an absolutely amazing one. I am not sure how I'd forgotten about it this morning. I'd promised myself that I would make something with its leaves today. Fortunately it wasn't very far from where I was so I trudged over to it and collected loads of leaves.

I dashed home to have some breakfast, collect my stuff together, make a packed lunch so I could go out and make something in the time I had left. I was in a rush but felt sure I had everything I required. Feeling sure is one thing. Actually remembering everything is quite another.

I only went home three times to get wellies, then camera, then my mp3 player so that's proof enough I have an outstanding memory.

The first job was to collect a couple of bucket fulls of mud and then find a suitable place to make the sculpture. I am sure my arms were two inches longer once I had. As is customary I couldn't just settle on a nice easy place to get to. I had to choose somewhere which required clambering across loads of greasy, mossed up rocks and ducking under twisted branches whilst slipping on roots. Still, I think the tree I found was pretty cool, so it was worth it.

Now, have you ever seen a woodlouse poo before? That's the verb not the noun. As I started to smear the mud onto the rock I noticed some woodlice scuttling across the surface. In one crack there was a perfectly sized woodlouse garage. One scuttled towards it and parked perfectly in a sideways stance. Another came along, obviously looking to park there too. It wasn't expecting to find another parkee and as it approached it felt with its feelers and felt very surprised. At its rear end a segment lifted up and out came a miniature louse poo! Never seen that before, I thought, how fascinating!

Anyway, there was no more pooing to be witnessed so I just carried on with the mud. It wasn't long before I was thirsty and hungry. But, although, I had four spare jumpers, half a tent, a gas canister, knee pads and a screwdriver in my pack, I seemed to have left behind my lovingly crafted sandwiches and my water bottle. And a morsel of woodlouse poo wasn't going to provide much sustenance.

As I said. Being sure and actual actuality are quite different things.

I'd remembered the leaves, fortunately, and they really were wonderfully coloured. I was trying to draw attention to both the colour of the Rowan and the power of the Oak tree next to which I placed them. Well something like that anyway.

Although I had walked through that place before today I hadn't really clocked how amazing the trees were. Twisted and primeval just like the demon who is possessing my house. Although nothing that a cup of hot lemon, laced with decongestant won't fix.

Rowan Leaf Lightning, originally uploaded by escher....

Rowan Leaf Lightning, originally uploaded by escher....

Making of Rowan Leaf Lightning

Saturday, October 30, 2010

7 Dogwood Colour Strips

7 Dogwood Colour Strips, originally uploaded by escher....

I spent most of the morning attempting to photograph maple seeds rotating to the ground like little helicopters. The image I had in my minds eye seemed so simple and yet I came nowhere near to achieving it. Not even close.

In fact out of several hundred shots I managed about three of a blurry object right at the top of the frame. But still I hadn't wasted my time. I learnt a huge amount about maple seeds and how they fly and how to throw them for the best flight. Individual seeds would often just plummet to the ground and yet, when a few were thrown together they would all fly. I wonder why that is? And I learnt myriads more about how dryness, flexibility and shape all affected how they would rotate. In fact so fascinated was I that I spent half an hour throwing single seeds into the air as far as I could whilst trying to catch each one as it came down. Who needs frisbees or footballs when mother nature provides her own version of a boomerang with which to play.

I had killed the battery on my camera so had to relent on spinning seeds, so while they recharged I set about something else I had noticed.

It seems that I am not getting bored of leaf colour studies just yet and the more I look the more I see. Dogwood twigs turn from green to purpley/red this time of year and so do their leaves. They turn such rich colours of lilac and purple, that with light shining through them they almost look unreal, such shades can't possibly exist in nature can they?

Quite aptly my constructions follow an organic path. I don't have a fixed idea of what I will make and often the materials are so fragile that I have to walk a tightrope path, getting away with only what keeps me balanced on the wire.

I first made a rectangular frame with grass and thorns and sorted the leaves into groups of five. I then stitched the first five squares together and pinned them to the top of the frame but it twisted and tore the leaves so I needed some triangles to stiffen the structure. These would be perfect, later on, to hang the whole structure. Not that I had planned it that way.

I made each of the following six strips and when I started to pin the last one on I realised I had not spaced them correctly. The leaves were too fragile to remove and replace so I had to leave them as they were as trying anything else would easily rip and tear them, meaning it would be all over before it had barely begun. So I chopped off the ends of the grass so the bottom was now unsupported. It was going to be even more fragile this way but I had no other choice.

As I said this is how it goes. I could redo what I had already done, and sometimes I do, but the result would be full of holes and tears and although things may be spaced more properly it would be a mess in plenty of other ways. Often it is a battle of what practical ideas I can come up with to keep the sculpture moving towards fruition, against what I learn anew about the materials as I work with them, all the while trying to adapt to the nuances I begin to see.

But I want you to understand this is not all serious, high brow 'work', like an artist destined to suffer for his art. No it isn't that at all. All the while I am thinking 'wow, look at those colours!', 'How cool are those colours!', 'Aren't leaves so vibrant and interesting, diverse and wonderful!'

I guess sometimes, that how other people do things apears to be to a set plan. How I go about my land art must seem to be me deciding it must be this way, that I must learn about this, make things in this fashion and so on. But it isn't that way at all, and I suspect it isn't like that for almost anyone despite how it might appear. No, instead I just follow my nose and see what happens. No plan, no idea of how it might turn out.

And then afterwards I play it back in my head, write it down and share it with you too and then I see how it was as I am explaining it and gain an insight into how I am just as you must do too. No more, no less. Despite how much we might want to change or grow we are still ourselves and we go about the things we do, the way we do them. There really isn't any other way.

I guess that makes me really grateful for my land art coming out the way it does. Because if I had started out two steps to the left everything may have been completely different.

The sun was lovely and low as I played with the seeds but now it had gone and only fleetingly reappeared. But now I needed it to illuminate my leaves. I set up camp at a likely spot and readied my camera in anticipation but I know how rapidly the sun moves through the thick woodland canopy so I would also need to be speedy in setting up the sculpture and capturing it in the sun.

While I waited three teenage lads turned up just behind me and started to throw sticks at each other. I didn't feel particularly happy with them so close by, not really sure whether they would come over and bother me so after ten minutes I picked up everything and decamped to another spot.

The sun was still hiding and the only spot I could find was right next to the entrance to the park. I waited and waited and waited and she didn't appear, unlike several boisterous dogs who bounded over to my sculpture just after I sprinted to protect it from their slobber.

In the end the sun didn't come out as I wanted it to and perhaps that was a really good thing. Sometimes my leaf and light pictures look unreal and I think they look heavily over-processed. That couldn't be farther from the truth as those high contrast images are almost exactly how they come out of the camera. And yet I doubt myself how real they are as they can look strange.

It has become a bit of a challenge, of always trying to better or equal what I have done before. Strong sunshine backlighting leaves is the pinnacle and perhaps I need to stop always chasing that. It always gives a certain look, but is it always appropriate? Perhaps capturing something more of the essence of the season would be better?

I think then that there is more autumn present in this picture than if I had grabbed that high contrast backlighting I was chasing. Instead I think I have framed the different hazy light of the autumn and so it plays a different tune.

But that all said, in chasing the sun I have learnt many things. A glance at a leaden sky will convince you that it is here to stay, just as you might with a blue one too. But a leaden sky can change to a blue one just as quick as that and vice versa too. The sky and light can change ever so quickly and back again too, so it is possible to miss the change altogether.

This all leaves me filled with awe. How the little things can expand to fill your mind, how the world is filled with an infinity of subtle nuances. And how most of the time we miss them completely. If only we can spend the time to concentrate a little on what is about us. What wonders might be revealed.

7 Dogwood Colour Strips, originally uploaded by escher....

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crab Apple Autumn Fire Colour Wheel Time Lapse

I've not shown you the original photos of this sculpture, I've been keeping some back for books and prints. But the day after I made and photographed this (it is bigger than you can see here, this is just the centre) I set it up to do a long time lapse.

The circles in the middle are all from the same Crab Apple tree as are the leaves surrounding. They had already started fading and were brighter yellow than this the day before.

This was going to take a couple of weeks so I couldn't use my SLR to do the time lapse, as I would need it to photograph anything else that I made, so instead I used my compact. It was quite limiting and I couldn't control it like I can my main camera.

It will only take 100 pictures in a batch and zooms and autofocusses for every shot. This meant many of the frames were out of focus, each batch of 100 were cropped differently and with several batches the camera had zoomed out completely. Along with this when I kicked off another set the camera would move a tiny amount making more frames misaligned.

This meant many, many hours of post processing attempting to crop the photos to the same size with the circle centred in the same place. It was incredibly difficult to do as I had to do each frame by eye. As you can see there is quite a lot of jerking about but this is the best I could do with the time I had. At least before my head exploded.

Also, sometimes, a batch would finish in the middle of the night or while I was out and so there would be big gaps between starting shooting again, meaning obvious jumps in the decay. Coupled with the blurry frames I had to take out I am surprised I managed to complete what I did.

And finally there is the funny, grey, blurry edge Flickr has added to the left hand side! Quite apt after all the trials and tribulations I've had with this, but seeing as you can't go back and correct the mistakes and each sculpture I make is a 100% one-off, then this is what it is.

The sculpture itself and all the things I had to do to make this film are what you see, it cannot be faked. What you see is what you get.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Autumn Beech Sun Curtain

Autumn Beech Sun Curtain, originally uploaded by escher....

My brain seems to be empty. Empty of anything useful and it certainly does not contain a story. So in the hope that one might materialise I've started to type just to see what might happen.

I watched "There Will be Blood" last night and thought it was quite interesting and thought provoking. It seemed to me to be a study in the search for wealth and how, perhaps to people on the outside, someone's search for wealth will eventually reach a line and when that line is crossed then they will have earnt enough. When you view it from afar it is easy to think "if I had that much wealth then that would be enough for me and I would be happy and stop seeking more." Except when it is you seeking that wealth the line keeps moving, like you are trying to reach the horizon but of course you can never get there.

Daniel Day-Lewis' character in the film seemed to be chasing that horizon, always wanting more and never being happy with what he has. On the one hand wanting more can be seen as positive ambition, but on the other it may be seen as trying to fill an aching hole. The consumer society and the myth that happiness is found in needing and wanting more. Nirvana in shopping.

But is it just consumerism that is the problem? I go by the adage - be happy with what you have - but still it's ok to be ambitious? Perhaps not ambitious for a bigger car/house/ipod/iphone/camera but ambitious for better experiences, more knowledge, happier times.

I believe human beings have reached the top of the food chain because of our need to improve on what we do, how we are, how we live. A ceaseless restlessness to strive to do things better, more efficiently, to always improve on things. An urge to fight against creeping boredom by stimulating yourself to progress.

But I wonder whether these inner drives are not discerning and can be directed and applied to anything. When these urges are pointed towards possessions and then you start to try and improve yourself through the things that you buy. There must be a fundamental disconnect between that inner drive to improve and then satiating that desire by buying the latest gadget. The relief is only fleeting and then you are back to where you were. Needing to improve and yet all you have is a new whizzy phone or whatever. "Perhaps the next latest model will be the one that finally makes me enlightened? When can I get that one? I am already bored of this new one!"

At least if you learn a new skill, take a nice walk, make or create something then you as a person have developed a little more with something that you will keep with you forever. That new gadget simply satiates the desire to have one and once you do the hunger comes back anew so once again you want something new too (is there an Owl in here?). One step forward, one step back. "Why do I never seem to get closer to my destination?"

I noticed the Beech tree that I gathered these leaves from about a week ago. It grows on a steep slope next to an aqueduct crossing a ravine. Being a small tree its leaves were brighter and fresher and the colours more stark.

I wobbled down the slope and used a perfect hooked stick, I found nearby, to hold down a branch whilst I collected some leaves. I couldn't use just any tree so it was necessary to perform such a precarious maneouvre. It wasn't long before my concentration was instantly snapped from the branch I was grasping, to a sudden slip down the slippery slope. But fortunately after coming to stop at the bottom I realised I had enough leaves for my project and so I left my bottom, the tree and the treacherous slope to their own devices. Although, of course, my bottom followed on behind.

I knew that this morning there would be a frost and the hope of blue skies and sunshine. So I stitched together the leaves late on in the day yesterday so it would be ready to photograph at dawn amongst the sparkling crystals that Jack Frost had left behind.

I left it on the ground overnight and it frosted over but melted before I could capture it still frozen. Maybe that'll be a challenge for another day, frosted sculptures at dawn, approriate now I can look forward to winter.

So that's it, frost, sunshine and autumn beech leaves along with the contents of my mind over the last half an hour. Seems there was a little more in there that I thought! But then I can ramble on demand. As anyone who has been on the receiving end of any one of my one-way conversations can testify!

Autumn Beech Sun Curtain, originally uploaded by escher....

Beech Leaf Curtain, originally uploaded by escher....

Friday, October 22, 2010


Gravity, originally uploaded by escher....

This was the original stack collapse I photographed. These are the only ten frames I got and I think it came it pretty well.

I had no plan or idea how it would turn out. I simply threw a stone and pressed the shutter release and this was what I got. I've tried since and it has never come out as well.

Seems the first go at something can be the most successful, even if you didn't know what you were trying to do and it was all a bit of a fluke!

It got selected for a photo competition and exhibition. The large printed version looks cool and I saw people looking at it and it took them a little while to work out what was going on. It's the only time I've been a fly on the wall to see the reaction of someone to something I've made.

I've made some major updates to my website today, any feedback will be gratefully received!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Season Wheel Leaf Lantern

Season Wheel Leaf Lantern, originally uploaded by escher....

I've never made a pumpkin lantern before and I thought it was about time that I did!

So as soon as they hit the shops I was in like Flynn to get myself one with knife and spoon at the ready.

I made a season sun wheel complete with central square and then begun to hollow out my pumpkin. Which to be frank sounds like a euphemism but I assure you that I only had good intentions for the use of my spoon.

Although I was a pumpkin virgin I think I did pretty good!

I wanted to put it on some still water so that I could also capture its reflection so I set off for the lake at the University hoping that the wind was calm enough to give a clear duplicate image.

But as you well know it is never over until the fat pumpkin sings.

Have you ever been up to your knees in gloopy mud? I was wearing wellies of course and they seem to share a specific characteristic. As your feet sink down into the silt there comes a point when you need to turn around and go back the way you came. But the problem is that whilst you turn the whole of your body your feet carry on pointing in the same direction. Normally, at this point, I would expect to rotate my arms like windmills and fall into the water with a splat still with my feet pointing backwards. Fortunately this did not happen. But I did need to see how much I could push it.

So as I trudged out into the water to position the lantern all was fine and dandy. The mud was fairly solid and it took a while to get out far enough so I could position the pumpkin level with the surface of the water. While I did so my feet sank some and I turned into a near windmill and splat which surely would have deserved a 5.9.

I then performed the other compulsory maneouvre for this style of competitive dance which is the welly-pull-suck. Managing to half turn I then started to pull on the most stuck welly with the added bonus of my standing foot now sinking even lower than the first. And just as the suction lets go the momentum tips you over onto your weight bearing foot and this time you go for a one-legged splat with no twists. Fortunately I managed to stay dry this time too.

I went back to the bank and set up my camera but the pumpkin was not level so I had to head out into the black lagoon once again. It was quite dark by this point and I didn't have a torch. I was navigating by pumpkin light only.

The ducks and geese on this lake were not best pleased by my antics and they let me know by some extremely loud quacking. They obviously didn't appreciate the trouble I was having, or perhaps they did and thought it was funny.

I went back out to the lantern but this time the water seemed to be six inches deeper. In the dark I couldn't tell how close it was to the top of my wellies and I guess there was one obvious way I would find out and yet when I got nearer to the lantern it suddenly got quite deep and I had difficulty getting near enough. How did this happen? How did it get so churned up and deep?

I struggled on and despite all the quacking and my best efforts to score
6.0 I remained dry and returned to the bank after several more high scoring maneouvres.

I set up my tripod so it was close to ground in order to protect it as best I could from the breeze. As the exposures would need to be long I would want everything to be still as possible.

But there was a problem. There are a hell of a lot of ducks and geese on this lake, as well as coots and chickens (well there aren't chickens on the lake - who has ever heard of aquatic chickens - but they do live nearby) and when you get so many birds you get a lot of bird poo too. I needed to lay on the ground and peer through the viewfinder but the light of the candle was too far away and I just had to lie down and hope.

It seemed it added up to a full house. I managed to stay dry, free of bird poo and the pictures came out good and sharp. And while I was looking at the lantern on the lake I thought "I love that, it looks really cool!" And it is very nice for an idea to live up to what you imagined, or perhaps even exceed it and it is all the more a thrill when a new idea gives you fuel for many more!

I suspect that if anyone else wants to buy a pumpkin in the Lancaster area in the next few weeksthat you will be behind me in a very long queue!

Season Wheel Leaf Lantern, originally uploaded by escher....

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Scarlet Oak Leaf Fire Star

Scarlet Oak Leaf Fire Star, originally uploaded by escher....

I am coming towards the end of a long weekend. every day of which has had gloriously bright, autumn weather. Saturday I re-did my commission, Sunday we did the workshop. Yesterday we went to Manchester as my partner had a hospital appointment so we went to a gallery too and today I could finally get stuck into some land art for myself.

I started off with high ideas. I was going to make a disco-dancing-ultra-flashing-multi-coloured-mega-leaf-lantern-in-space but in the end I just couldn't be bothered. Like the Duracell bunny's inferiorly powered cousin I started to fade into slow motion. I was just enjoying taking it slooooowwww far too much.

I am sure when I have a new set of batteries put in I will wish that I'd made use of the still weather to go all mega-leaf-lantern on you all but there you go. When you want to kick back then why not?

I still had to make something though just something far less ambitious. I really liked the Holly Star I made back in April and it seemed quite apt to abut the two seasons that bookend summer with green for spring and now red for autumn. I also liked the Holly Star sculpture as I seem to get quite a few hits from people searching for the name. It certainly isn't anyone looking for my artwork however as there is what is commonly termed a 'news-hottie' called Holly Starr who works in Kansas City reporting on the local news. She is described as an actress/model/presenter and isn't afraid to pose in bikinis. I have tried that approach to further my own career but it seemed it back fired. Apparently you have to look nice in a bikini not just be prepared to wear one for anyone that asks. (Now they tell me).

The name Holly Starr struck me as one suitable for a porn actress (no disrespect intended) so in an attempt to drum up more hits I thought about naming this sculpture (children please look away now) "Big ***** and ***** love getting *** ****** **** from the guy next door whilst bent over ******* at the **** ******". or something. Do you think it would be a good idea to name my sculptures in such a way? It'd be sure to get me up the google rankings.

I am sure someone will see some deep artistic symbolism in the phrase
"Big Terry and Nigel love getting car fixing tips from the guy next door whilst bent over looking at the car's engine." So perhaps there is more to this idea that at first glance. A new direction for my art?

No but seriously. I'll go for 'Scarlet Oak Fire Star' it seems more appropriate and if you are starting out in the porn industry then feel free to use the moniker for your name.

One of the exhibits at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, that we visited yesterday, was about outsider art. I thought it was very interesting and I shared some of my thoughts on my blog. But what I forgot to mention there was another exhibit by Olafur Eliasson who I had not encountered before.

His installation consisted of miniature trees from floor to ceiling, made from cut branches stripped of their leaves. A path meandered through the sculpture which was set in a dark room. As you walked through the lights got dimmer until it was nearly dark and it brought forward thoughts of being a child, fairytales and being lost in a dark wood. The smell of the wood and the lighting was very evocative but it did make me wonder what the point was of trying to bring a natural outdoor experience inside and whether you could better achieve the feeling the artist was trying to evoke outside the gallery setting. It is something I've been pondering a lot recently on how it may be possible to bring authentic land art inside a gallery space, and indeed whether you should really try at all.

At one point I became part of the installation. As I meandered through, it was getting darker and darker and two ladies approached from the opposite direction. The path through the wood was not wide enough for us all so I propped myself up in a corner so that they could get past. Instead of walking past me though they stopped and one peered closely into my face.

"There's a statue here" she said.

"No, I'm just trying to let you get through" I replied.

She leapt in the air like a scalded cat and let out a piercing scream. It seemed the dark wood of fairy tales was having quite a strong affect on this lady.

I gathered these Scarlet Oak leaves, and many others, from a tree I had noticed by the side of the road. On the way we passed many others and I was amazed that I had not noticed them before. Last year when I made this ball I managed to find six trees to collect leaves from after searching and searching. And yet this year I keep tripping over them everywhere.

Just like when you buy a new car you suddenly notice that make and model everywhere and it seems it is so with everything else in life. How much passes us by because we simply take no notice? Even if we are convinced of the contrary.

I never fail to be amazed at what new and interesting things I constantly find and how I missed so much before despite how hard I was looking. Land art and mother nature are the gifts that keep on giving all that is required is to open your eyes and mind.

Scarlet Oak Leaf Fire Star, originally uploaded by escher....

Monday, October 11, 2010

Outsider Art Comes of Age

Painting by Albert Louden

I went to the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester today, I didn't know what they were exhibiting but was looking for stimulation and inspiration.

And I found it!

These days I find contemporary art more stimulating than classical art, although I do very much enjoy the latter. So the first exhibition about landscapes left me a little cold despite getting to view some stunning paintings by Turner, Constable and many others.

What really grabbed me was the exhibition about outsider art. I hadn't really heard the term before and find the phrase filled with irony.

Outsider art is the art made by anyone and everyone who just feels the need to create. But what is the difference between this and insider art? Quality? Or simply acceptance by the mainstream?

To become an 'insider' artist your art must be selected by the art cogniscenti to be included in their special club. But is this a guarantee of quality? Do you need to go to art school, have a degree and be part of the establishment to be any good? Could you argue that arbitary selection for inclusion in the club may actually devalue what you are doing.

I watched a short film about a painter called Albert Louden. His work plays with scale, perspective, colour and form and to my eye is reminiscent of Picasso. I liked it a lot and could see why it was popular. Before becoming successful he was a part time lorry driver who lived with his mum, had no artistic training but just did it for himself. Once he was discovered he has very much moved from the outside to the in but he is a perfect example of an outsider artist at the time.

I watched another film where Jarvis Cocker went to meet eccentric characters who had created amazing homes with every inch covered in mosaics or stone carvings. Each one a labour of love done only for themselves. Yet more outsider art.

The rest of the gallery space was filled with diverse creations by many outsider artists in many forms. Some I didn't like, some grabbed me by the scruff of the neck. It brought home to me that the creative spirit is within us all.

The irony of having an exhibition in a mainstream gallery of outsider art to make it acceptable was not lost on me though!

Despite Goldsworthy's success it is said that he has not received much critical acclaim from the cogniscenti. Perhaps this is a symptom of land art and its inability to be brought indoors successfully. Despite it being possible to create natural art installation indoors that are still enthralling something is inevitably lost. Can land art ever be insider art?

It seems to me that the age of the outsider artist has come. With the birth of the internet and social networking many an artists gallery is now online, instantly accessible and with feedback be being provided from art critics all over the world.

Successful art (visual, music, acting etc) is an industry just like any other but with a subtle difference. Of course the vast majority of successful artists are deservedly so but then there are others who are chosen by one of a few influential individuals and then they are made for their whole career but not necessarily to universal acclaim. Do you believe that the cream always rises to the top? Of perhaps that for every successful, famous artist there are a hundred more equally skilled but always destined to remain on the outside as they just didn't get the right break at the right time?

Just as music is being claimed back from the big music companies and now bands can become well known on the internet and sell out an album without ever signing a deal. Artists can show their work to a worldwide audience instantly online and whatever is good will be emailed and tweeted and 'liked' by whoever sees it.

I know I have been amazed by the endless creativity of everyone I encounter on Flickr and the blogosphere. So much inspiration, imagination and diversity in the creations that I find. Warhol famously said that in the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes. With such diverse talent out there, Youtube, Farcebook, Flickr and everything else then this is coming true right now.

So is this the age of the outsider artist?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

101010 - Land Art Workshop - Giant Spiral

101010 - Land Art Workshop - Giant Spiral

This is what I did on 10/10/10, ran a land art workshop with Julia for a group of kids and adults on behalf of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

We were tasked with helping create awareness of the beautiful places around here and the diverse flora and fauna.

The weather was great and we all had a fine old day making cool sculpures.

I'd be hard pressed to say whether the adults (I can't call them grown-ups) or the kids had more fun.

Once we'd finished this spiral it was so big it could be seen from space. Honest!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Commission - Tendril Spiral

Commission - Tendril Spiral, originally uploaded by escher....

The trouble with attempting to espouse 'wisdom' is appearing to be 'holier than thou.'

BTW if you have neither the time nor the inclination to trawl through my ramblings but would like to hear about the commission and the meaning of what I created then go and look # here.

And if you want to see the 'making of', click on this photo to be taken to Flickr where there are more photos in the comments.

It's something I find annoying when I am on on the receiving end and one thing I have learnt is that what you find annoying in others is often something that you do yourself but are not completely aware of. So I feel duty bound to point out that anything that I bang on about are things I most definitely aspire to but, probably, very rarely actually achieve. I'd say self-awareness is a good thing to aim for as you really can't improve yourself unless you are honest about what you are like.

I don't particularly want to be lectured about the rain forest or world poverty by pop stars or green issues by people with influence but who are not leading by example. So if you find this annoying too then you can listen to me about land art but I'd change channel if I were you if I start banging on about animal rights or self improvement. After all there is nothing quite like a hamburger or the philosophy I find at the bottom of a wine glass. I will start to find myself annoying if this starts to turn into land art sermon hour every time I make something new.

However I am always surprised at human being's capacity for self delusion and it is quite easy to spot it in others. But does this mean that I am just as bad? What am I managing to hide from myself.

To demonstrate how enlightened I am I'll tell you about one of my favourite hobbies. You know I like making things and going for a walk but this other activity keeps me very busy too. As I live just south of the Lake District I get many chances to practice the craft.

And what is it? Shouting at people towing caravans.

Especially if they commit the heinous crime of one caravan overtaking another on a dual carriageway.

You've probably noticed that maybe this isn't really a hobby but a character flaw that makes me angry. It's not big or clever to shout at people in caravans but nevertheless I feel obsessed enough to do it everytime and I feel entitled to do it as I will NEVER own one. But now there is a problem. I have a dream of downsizing and making art all day and to LIVE IN A CARAVAN.

(That's in capitals as I was shouting at myself).

I expect if I ever do live in one I will deserve everyone else to shout at me and it will be quite a fitting punishment. Perhaps doing exactly that will be the final piece of the puzzle towards enlightment. Living in a caravan that is not being an artist. Either that or it'll be the death of me as I implode into a trap of self pity whilst I gradually die of self imposed embarrassment.

I am sure there is some sort of buddhist lesson about taking on your nemesis by accepting it whole heartedly. It seems mine is a caravan and my destiny is to live in one but I am not sure that it will ever make it into the 'Little book of Meditations.'

- Simplify your life and live in a caravan, grasshopper

- But why master?

- Because they are really annoying buggers on the motorway and always get in the way pootling along on minor roads. Isn't that obvious?

Has a nice ring to it don't you think?

I went to Grasmere again today to redo the commissioned sculpture. The first one was in a pile at the bottom of the slab as torrential rain has washed it away soon after I had created. Fortunately the client saw it at its best but I still needed to go along and recreate it.

Nearly always I try and make something new. Very rarely have I made the same thing twice. I like to be lead by nature and what I find and I need to be inspired by new ideas to find the drive to make and complete something. So it was interesting experience to make something for a second time.

It's done me a lot of good having the pressure of being commissioned. It has meant that I have had a different focus from my normal mode of keeping everything together long enough to get its photograph and to let the elements do whatever they want afterwards. Sometimes things last months and I am always very surprised. But less so when the wind destroys something in seconds.

I had to think a lot about how to make it more permanent, consider the techniques I am using and how to improve them. It is something I need right now as I feel I need to up my game and work out how to construct things in a better way. Use what I have learnt already and take it to the next level.

So although it kind of felt like work today I felt like I needed it, a whole new perspective.

This is the original sculpture and I went about it like I always do. Create it like I normally do, make it is neat as I can and then hope that it will last long enough but without really knowing if it will.

This is the first time I've had the opportunity to reconsider that approach with the same sculpture and do it again but better. I still don't know whether it will endure any longer but I tried to make it so. And as I only have myself to learn from I cannot do much more than that.

I was less bothered by the caravans on the way home as I felt a little more chilled. Helped on by the wonderful autumn sunshine we've had today and the wonderland of golden trees. There's nothing quite like a bright and warm autumn day.

We are doing another workshop tomorrow, fingers crossed that this weather continues!

Making the Tendril Spiral

Making the Tendril Spiral, originally uploaded by escher....

This is the blurb that goes with the sculpture. I made it for Kevin Roberts who is the worldwide CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi (you can see why I nearly fell off my chair when his PA first contacted me about the commission). He has a residence in Grasmere in the Lake District. But his main home is in New Zealand and he asked me to create something that connected with Maori culture.

Tendril Spiral – by Richard Shilling

'The Maori koru is a spiral shape based on the unfurling of a silver fern frond and symbolizes new life, growth, strength and peace. The circular shape conveys the idea of perpetual movement, the cycle of life, whilst the inner coil suggests a return to the point of origin. Nature is an endless cycle of birth, growth, procreation and death. What decays becomes the food for new life as the cycle repeats itself forever.

The symbolism of the koru matches up exactly with themes I regularly depict in my art. I use different symbols to depict these themes so in this sculpture I have drawn together both the Maori and my own symbols to express the cycle of life. I hope that in some way this links your home in Grasmere to your home in New Zealand by bringing together my ideas about nature and those in Maori culture as they are universal themes shared by all humans.

I find the seasonal changes when autumn fades into winter and spring fades into summer are barely noticeable but when summer turns to autumn and winter turns to spring then I feel those times within my core. I believe we are hard-wired to feel these changes as we either prepare for the long dark winter or the season of growth and plenty. It is something in the air, the quality of the light, a feeling that is unmistakeable and it is this week that I have been feeling it and I expect you do too as you encounter the coolness of the mornings and the colour in the trees. The southern hemisphere must also be feeling a similar change as winter turns to spring. It is an auspicious time deeply entwined in what it means to be human. And as you have travelled from one hemisphere to another you have linked these two changes just as I have attempted to with the sculpture.

I have depicted the change in seasons with a circle in the centre, something I call a 'season wheel.' Four sections of coloured leaves brought together into a circle. Brown for winter, green for spring, yellow for summer and red for autumn and the circle depicts the endless cycle. The dark mud I have used as a canvas is the rotted leaf litter of the forest floor. What dies and rots on the ground, as the leaves fall during autumn and the damp and cold of winter reduce to thick mud, becomes the food, rich with nutrients for the new shoots of life that begin to unfurl during spring.

The materials I have used bring together what is beautiful about the North West of England. The slate slab was quarried at Kirkstone pass, just over the hill from Grasmere. This piece of stone is very resonant and when I had it on wooden rollers it rang like a glockenspiel when struck, unfortunately the stones holding it in place have deadened this but it is a fine piece of stone aptly telling the story of the geology of the Lake District. The silver birch bark was collected from Grizedale woods near Lancaster, dense and beautiful woodland. The mud was gathered from a central point in the Forest of Bowland. Rich, dark and moist, it is the perfect soil for the myriad of plants and trees that grow there. And lastly the leaves. A yellow and green rhododendron leaf picked from different shrubs in Fenham Carr next to Standen and Williamson Park in Lancaster. A red Pieris Japonica leaf picked from the garden in Grasmere and a brown rhododendron leaf found on the ground. Four materials from Lancaster and the surrounding area and three from the Lake District.

And finally the sculpture has begun a new life itself. All my sculptures are ephemeral and are subject to the whims of the weather and elements. Each mud sculpture I create is different and the wind, sun and rain (as well as slugs, snails and worms) all have a different effect. The last one I made was complete just before a two week period of hot weather, followed by strong winds and then heavy rain. This meant that the sun and wind dried and cracked the mud before the rain washed it away. Before that it rained for ages and my mud sculptures also endured as the dampness kept them intact. Their life and decay is dictated by the conditions it encounters. What will happen with this? Will it be damp and last for months? Will the sun be strong and dry it and crack it?

It is my hope that this sculpture brings together all of these things. I hope that it lives up to your expectations and that you enjoy it. Thanks for the opportunity. It has been a very enjoyable experience for me.'