Saturday, February 27, 2010

Grass Flower Doodles

Grass Flower Doodles, originally uploaded by ...escher....

I'm hoping that the arrival of spring will kick start my ability to be inspired. Land art hasn't been all that I have wanted to do recently when it was that way for all of last year. I've been able to work from home quite a lot over the last few months and I wonder if being away from an office environment has reduced my craving to seek the solace of the outdoors which drove my need to create.

This has left me in a bit of a quandry. I've not been driven to go out and make something, in a way I could take it or leave it but this has left me feeling that I want to have that drive, once again, to make something. There is safety in being driven, as the need to do something is all you require to get out there and do it. But when you have to choose and there are many different things you like doing it makes you question why you should do it at all. I feel my land art has become part of my person and defines me as a person too. So where am I left if I don't want to do any?

I normally start by just opening my eyes and seeing what inspires me - a leaf, a rock, a place - but the sparks are few and far between. I am intrigued to discover whether the season of new growth, which is nearly upon us, will once again ignite ideas in my mind.

I guess it is not surprising after such an intense and prolific year of creating, that I find myself where I am today on the cusp of another spring ready to begin anew. Will I have to try harder to make new discoveries or will a year of peeling back the layers of nature mean that I can start from where I left off? I don't know the answer but art is nothing if it isn't a voyage of discovery. Sometimes you are in control and sometimes you are a passenger. At the moment Mother Nature is at the helm and I long to see what she can show me.

This morning I thought I ought to go out and do something even if I come back empty handed. So I headed off towards the Trough of Bowland to balance some rocks. All I took with me was my camera, I hadn't brought lunch, any thorns or suitable footwear. Lacking in passion means I set off disorganised.

As I headed towards the hills I was surprised to find how much overnight snow had fallen. Clougha had a hat of white and the sky was blue and bright. Despite the wintry coat, the light definitely felt spring like.

As I dropped over the saddle into the valley the surrounding hills were all snowy and it was the first time I had seen such extensive snow up there, it was beautiful and breathtaking but was soon to thaw. A bird dashed out of the hedgerow and flew at bonnet height only a metre in front of the headlights. The wingshape was unmistakably falcon, the wingspan small and compact, it had to be a Merlin. It soon glided away from the road and into the adjacent field. Close up encounters with wildlife always leave me excited and this week has been a good one. Mid week we were treated to a pair of boxing Hares who, completely oblivious to our presence so wrapped up in their fighting as they were, ran right in front of us at Cockersands rewarding us with a magnificent display of typical behaviour.

As I drove into the Trough it got snowier and snowier and the road became slushier and more slippery. As I wasn't expecting snow I turned around from my original destination thinking that a crash into a stone wall would ruin my day and headed back to have a look around the banks next to the river Wyre.

In the field opposite several people were exercising fox hounds. All I could hear was excited barking and a hunters horn being repeatedly blasted. I am not sure why it was necessary to make quite such a racket but I did chuckle when all the hounds disappeared off for an hour and no amount of tooting and calling brought them back to heel. They came back when they were ready and that meant there was more peace and quiet to be had.

The North West Air Ambulance flew over several times, very low and they seemed to be searching for something. I hope that there had not been an accident and they were just looking for landmarks to follow.

I was having difficulty concentrating and choppers and canines weren't helping. My unsuitable footwear was sodden, the snow quickly thawing and my brain was full of nothing so I started just doodling to see what would happen, thinking that one idea might lead to another.

First I made a little symbol, like the equilibrium stack and I thought it looked like a calling card and I imagined what it would be like to leave a version of this next to anything I had made, like a signature if you will.

Some weird tendril like branches hung from a fir tree. I liked the bulges and nodules that adorned it so I took some and wove them into a circle. I placed a sycamore leaf within and immediately thought of the Canadian flag which must have seeped into my unconcious what with the Winter Olympics and all.

Next the endless knot came to me once again and I wondered how I could make one. The round grass all around there would be suitable but how would I shape it without thorns? I checked in my camera bag and found a leaf with three thorns attached to it. I normally have and use loads so I would need to be clever how I used them.
flowers is made from a single piece of grass and one thorn holding it together. I like the simplicity of the result and the challenge of having limited materials to construct with and that process has left me with new ideas.

So indeed, one idea does lead to another. I've always said that land art is about the doing, not the planning or the seeing. The inspiration comes from the making itself and so it is clear to me that I am lacking in ideas because I having been creating less. The two are intertwined and you need one to feed the other. Doing it gives you more drive to do more. But what seems like such a simple and obvious solution can often be the hardest to find, despite it being there right in front of you.

Something for the Winter Olympics

North West Air Ambulance, originally uploaded by ...escher....

Equilibrium Doodle

Equilibrium Doodle, originally uploaded by ...escher....

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Endless Knot

Endless Knot, originally uploaded by ...escher....

Everything about today was a struggle. If you don't want to know the result of today's battle - then look away now...

I have had in my mind a symbol, ever since I first visited the Himalaya. That symbol is the
endless knot, one of the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism. The others are Happy, Sleepy, Grumpy, Dozey, Dave, Mick and Titch.

You will find this symbol all around the Sherpa areas of Nepal, hanging in doorways and over them too, I have always admired its simplicity of design, yet rich symbolism.

I've been pondering its sybomlism even more, recently, how it describes the interconnectedness of all things and the continuous cycle of life, death and rebirth. How this fits in with land art and how in the coming spring I hope to begin a new cycle of inspiration and discovery.

I went out early this morning, desperate for time away from the computer; hypersensitive, especially to people, clumsy, out of sorts and irritable. I longed to be away from everything including myself. In the past ideas have come easily but today was to be a long drawn out battle with myself and my will to do anything constructive at all.

The warming sunshine and blue skies didn't lift my mood and I sat on a rock for a long while looking for inspiration.

I wanted to try and find ways of depicting the endless knot with natural materials so I thought if I achieved nothing else today that I would try to make something that may lead me down the path of finding a way to depict that symbol properly.

That path was littered with clumsiness and irritation and a desperate urge to give up, go home and hide. The leaves would rip over and over again, thorns would fall out and I had to remake it many times. All the time thinking there was no point.

As I neared completion I dropped and broke it and had to reconstruct large parts. A I hung it from the branch and adjusted its position I dropped it again and was close to shouting out 'why!'

Finally it was finished but the bright sunshine of earlier had gone and large menacing clouds blocked the sun. I paced and waited with numb fingers and soggy feet until the sun returned. But now the low arc of the winter sun meant that the sun only struck the ground behind it.

I moved it to a new position but then the sun disappeared again. And so I waited some more.

As I did so I begun to think about the symbology again. There is more to the endless knot symbol than the interconnectedness of all things. It also depicts the duality of existence - the light and dark, the passive and active and the struggle between the two. Buddhism seeks to join the two sides and to seek peace through doing so. This semmed to me to be exactly what I was feeling, that struggle between the light and dark with no reconcilliation between the two. Through my fight to resist the urge to give up I passed through it to the other side. It isn't the problems you have in life that are important it is how you tackle them.
When I've been thinking about the endless knot I've been thinking about the representation of cycles, of life and of land art, and ignoring its other key message. Today brought that meaning home to me.

Whether or not you agree with the tenets of Taoism and Buddhism, or steer clear from matters spiritual you would still be best advised to take a listen to what is inside yourself once in a while and try and follow the line of least resistance. It is easy to be one's own worst enemy and fight against what should come naturally. Giving yourself space to hear what is really there can eventually lead to some peace. But you need to be prepared to stop and invest that time.

So my day has come a full circle just as winter turns to spring and the first signs of new growth appear, with all this depicted in the endless knot as everything continues to flow around the never-ending cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

Endless Knot, originally uploaded by ...escher....

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Book: Transience

New Book: Transience, originally uploaded by ...escher....

This book making is addictive!

I've just had delivery of my latest book. I needed a large format book to use as my portfolio so this time I made one in large square format - 12 inches by 12 inches.

And oh boy how good does it look!. With all I've learnt from making my previous books, this one really has turned out perfectly. The large photos are tack sharp and oozing with detail, I really couldn't be more pleased with it. I haven't seen very many of my photos actually printed so it is real treat for me to see them like this, showing off the depth that is never visible on screen and only in print. Many people complain when making books about too dark printing but I think I have cracked it as far as getting the right brightness. Each shot looks superb.

Anyway I am rambling now which is totally out of character for me! ;-)

This book is a retrospective 'best of' of my work right up to date including many of the snow and ice sculptures I made this winter, there are 165 full colour photographs across 158 pages, all printed on premium paper. It includes the best work from my first two books plus quite a few previously unpublished photos, including that first rock balance collapse picture I mentioned over the weekend.

Unfortunately the larger format books are expensive but they really are so impressive looking that I will do my next book in two sizes so that everyone can choose the size and price point that they prefer. Most of the cost goes to Blurb, there is very little markup added.

As I said this book is a 'best of' portfolio but it very much stands up on its own and is available on Blurb right now, my profile has details to take you there. My other books are more a chronology of my work, my thoughts and stories and the follow up to 'Wheel of Life' will continue in that vein with everything that I have made since that book was published and will be available in large and medium formats. So if you are looking for a glossy coffee table book with only the very best of what I have done and don't mind the price, then this might be right up your street!

Inside Transience

Inside Transience, originally uploaded by ...escher....

You can see more over at Blurb, including a preview, although there is nothing quite like seeing the real thing! ;-)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Pagoda Stack

Pagoda Stack, originally uploaded by ...escher....

If you wish to read about the rock sculptures then go here for the writeup about what I made today. If you want to read mad ramblings then stay right here as you'll find plenty... :-)

There is something that my art gives to me that I find quite hard to explain. It gives me little insights into the world and into myself but they happen without me knowing I am looking for them. Often after I create something I learn something that I was not searching for or expected to reveal. I suppose many artists have questions they want to answer and they use their art to search for resolutions. But with mine I regularly find out that there are things being revealed by accident. It is almost like my subconcious mind is opened and things come out that I did not expect nor was looking for. It is only now that I have realised that art allows you to learn about oneself. I only found this out by practicing art and I had no idea that that is the way it would be.

Recently I have been taking a break. I have been reading lots of art history and looking at symbology from around the world to try and open my mind to more wider influences. Doing these things has given me some space to think about my own art and as this new year begins and spring approaches I feel like I have consolidated what I have learnt over the past year and feel that I am ready to begin again and learn much more.

I am trying to peel back a new layer by starting to investigate how the seasons affect me personally. Of course my art reflects the seasons, the colours and materials available are my pallete with which to express but it is starting to become clear to me that the changes in season actually affect me physiologically and this is also expressed through what I make. How exactly, I don't know but I want to learn more about that this year.

I came to this conclusion as I have entered the doldrums on two occasions in the past year, whilst being quite prolific the rest of the time. As summer turned to spring and since the turn of the year I have felt unable to muster any inspiration but as the nights draw back and spring draws nearer I feel the passion returning and I am convinced that this is more than just one-of-those-things and it is tied in with the change of the seasons. After all we are creatures of this world and under its influence just the same as anything else that lives along with us.

Anyway - normal coverage has been resumed. And if you have made it this far, and managed to get through these mid-winter musings then I have something important to share with you.

I am attracted by colours and my art nearly always involves spotting something I like that grabs my attention and then making something with it. Today it was grouse poo.

Well no not really. But there was a lot of it on the fell today and in a world of brown and grey, brightly coloured grouse poo did seem attractive. I noticed that depending on its age the colours changed and I was so very tempted to create a colour fade with it. I am a little worried that I am becoming a little obsessed and when that happens I just have to make whatever is in my mind for fear of going insane. I can envisage a whole series of poo land art with such broad scope for different ideas. And through the study I can learn about what all the different creatures eat and bring a whole new dimension to it through the sense of smell. And before you know it a whole new field of land art will be born. And that field may have cows, sheep or chickens in it. And of course poo...

Now I expect you want to know about these rock stacks? Well they are just stacked bits of rock! There is nothing new to learn here not while there is grouse poo to collect...

Pagoda Stack Collapse

Pagoda Stack Collapse, originally uploaded by ...escher....

A few days after I made this stack I received an email from Lancaster University asking me if I would enter something for their 'Experimentality' exhibition. They had asked me several weeks before that but I couldn't think of anything that would fit the theme and so I put it to the back of my mind.

This latest email came within a couple of days of the closing date and when I thought about it I reckoned the stills from this video would fit the experimentality theme as I realised that I hadn't witnessed or tried to witness the demise or collapse of a sculpture in such a way before.

So I took the ten stills that make up this timelapse and made them into a single picture, entered it and was very pleased to be chosen. (I am saving the actual picture for an upcoming book as it looks quite cool).

Quite a bit of luck was involved in capturing the stills for that video. I had not planned it and just gave it a go not expecting very much at all. The results were quite good
and now the exhibition has finished, the gallery has given me the printed picture and I have spent some time looking at it. I like the sculptural quality of each shot as it moves from its equlibrium point and gradually collapses from frame to frame (although this all happens in less than a second).

And so this accident of discovery spurred me on to get out there today and try again. Another thing I often find with my art is my first go is the best and that is why I rarely repeat the same sculpture but move onto something new. My first try always looks more fresh to me and so it was with these new attempts at playing with gravity. The pebbles on top of the pagoda stack all balanced the first time quite easily. In that incarnation they also looked the most symmetrical and elegant. Yet when I tried to knock it over I only succeeded in knocking the top off (as shown in this timelapse) and had to rebuild the balanced pebbles at the top. And this took a frustrating age... You may notice that single shot of each sculpture is different to the timelapses or composites and that is because I got each one 'right' first time but had to rebuild them again to collapse them, but each rebuild did not have the form of the original.

Why does it come so easily the first time only for it to be painfully difficult the second? I have experienced this so many times but cannot write it off as coincidental.

I tried several more stacks and attempted to capture each demise. A couple of times the wind beat me to it but after learning how best to collapse and capture each stack it left me bemused how the collapse of the temple stack was so perfectly captured and yet I didn't know what I was after and didn't try to do anything in a particular way. I call it the art of slack or following the line of least resistance. When I try to achieve something I often fail, when I just do without expectation I am often much more successful. Why? I don't know, but it seems to work for me.

You might think the second frame is the same as the first, but if you look closely you will see that the shadow of the thrown stone is coming in from the left.

Pagoda Stack Collapse Timelapse

Sword in the Stone Stack

Sword in the Stone Stack, originally uploaded by ...escher....

Layer Stack Collapse

Layer Stack Collapse, originally uploaded by ...escher....

Diving Fish Stack

Diving Fish Stack, originally uploaded by ...escher....

Diving Fish Stack Collapse TimeLapse

Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Week in Ribblesdale Part 1

A Week in Ribblesdale Part 1, originally uploaded by ...escher....

You've already seen the stills of the snow sculptures I made over the new year period but here is some video. Each day the conditions were different: blue skies, a blizzard, fresh snow and old crusty snow. It meant that what I could make changed each day and also the way I could present it did too. Bright sunshine, clouds, light and the lack of it all played their parts on what I was able to do. That is what land art is all about.

It is grey, damp and overcast here and has been for a while. I don't find it very inspiring and yet the evenings are drawing back and I can feel spring coming...

You've not seen much of me here of late as I have been busy on a new project which I hope will fill up the whole year, although you might not get to see any of it as it may be for one person's eyes only. But rest assured I am still out there doing my thing.

Oh and my third book has gone to press...

A Week in Ribblesdale Part 2

A Week in Ribblesdale Part 2, originally uploaded by ...escher....

Here I am practicing for the Winter Olympics, I still think I have some way to go...

And next is the Maple Sun Windows on the day that I built it, no sunshine, spindrift and high winds...

A Week in Ribblesdale Part 3

A Week in Ribblesdale Part 3, originally uploaded by ...escher....

...but what a difference a day makes. The day before was fierce and cold and yet this day was as still and as wonderful as you could ever hope for in the midst of a winter wonderland.