Sunday, July 31, 2011

Rainbow Grass Turns

Something I often wonder about is do you make your own luck? Indeed, what is luck exactly?

I seem to always have luck with spotting wildlife. Whenever I'm out somewhere, and not just when making land art, wandering, walking, cycling I always seem to see something or other. And particularly when I'm not trying to spot anything.

The other day my chain popped off on a hill and as I waited by the side of the road I saw a juvenile woodpecker attacking a rotten log on the ground. Ok, that isn't that remarkable but wherever I find myself there's always something. Stoats, brown hares, lizards, rodents, bats, birds of prey, foxes, dolphins, seals, crocodiles, great white sharks, polar bears, albatrosses and hump back whales. No really. Well half that list anyway.

Where I used to live I had a badger run through my garden, in both senses of the phrase, a badger did run through my garden and there also was a regularly used badger run, that ran through my garden. Sometimes in the summer I would hear them charging around in a loop, with the path by my house and the garden forming half the circuit, galloping and grunting. I think it was badger fruitiness in action. After work once I came down the path to be confronted by a fruity badger in full flight. You'd think that he would have turned round and scarpered. But he stood his ground and waited for me to move out of the way so he could resume his grunting gallop.

The other week I saw six kestrels in flight together, calling loudly to each other. My guess is they were four recently fledged youngsters and their parents. It was quite an astounding sight and I can remember many hundreds more interesting events I have been very fortunate to see.

Perhaps any of these encounters are unremarkable when taken on their own but they feel more remarkable when you add them all together.

So what's going on exactly?

I do believe that you make your own luck and much of it is a subconscious process. If you are open to things then you are much more likely to encounter them, if your mind is closed you wouldn't notice it if it was right in front of you in any case. But, perhaps, even more importantly luck is a frame of mind. If you feel fortunate and blessed and appreciate as much as you can in life then you are, indeed, fortunate and blessed, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Bad luck is also a self fulfilling prophecy too in many cases. Often you get what your unconcsous mind thinks you deserve as you outwardly act to make those things happen, most of the time not being aware of it at all.

Of course, s**t happens too and not everything is down to good or bad luck. But lots of things are and much of our lives are within the control of our unconcsious minds.

However, that's where I consider my understanding to end. The power of the unconsious is astounding, and even if you cannot pin it down, it is acting on your behalf anyway, not always in a beneficial way but it is there behind you, steering you where it thinks you need to go.

I find, through my art, that I sometimes witness the results of my unconcsious mind without actually being aware of how it did whatever it did. I find this fascinating as there aren't any other things in my life where I've ever been aware of this.

A while back all my stories were filled with humour and that's because funny things always seem to happen whenever I was making something. Often the light would be in exactly the right place, at exactly the right time for a photograph or the materials I needed seemed to have been laid about the place ready for me to find them.

It happened again yesterday when I made this sculpture. For a couple of months I've been pondering how to capture the essence of high summer and that feeling you get when you while away a dreamy, warm afternoon, cooled by a light breeze, sitting in a meadow of gently waving grasses and wild flowers.

Last week I sat in such a place and studied the grasses and marvelled at their beauty, diversity and life force. The life force of nature in high summer is surely something to behold, and be part of and amongst.

I tried to use those grasses but did not have the skills with which to complete the task. So I went back again yesterday and tried again.

This time my unconcsious was ready and with what felt like no volition the scultpure started to make itself. I took some Horse Chestnut stalks and poked a hole in the end with a thorn. I threaded the first piece of grass into the hole and begun winding it around the stem, following the same process with each next piece and so on until I had three.

I showed Julia and she said "I like them, but I'm jealous, you always go the extra mile."

I disagreed and said "it's not like that, I just start and see what happens."

And so it was. The stalks were perfect for this application and the technique I devised was the first one I though of and it just worked. I didn't search for different materials, or try several different techniques. It just worked out this way first go, as though I'd practiced and practiced to come up with the best way to advance.

So often it feels like I'm not responsible, I try something, it works and I think "cool, how did that happen?"

I'm beginning to wonder if it happens because I've always loved nature and spent so much of my time out exploring somewhere on my own, even when I was really small. By opening my mind to the natural world I am afforded little extra glimpses of what's there and this plays out in making sculptures too.

And above all I feel tremendously lucky in so many aspects of my life and if I was to do the opposite of over analysing and sum up all the above in one sentence, I would say:-

"Take some time to sit in a summer meadow and watch the wild grasses wave to and fro, and you will feel like the luckiest person alive."

In a nutshell, I don't think there is anything else I need to know.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

I n t e r c o n n e c t e d

At last I got out today to make some 'proper' land art. It didn't really turn out any good but the end result is not what real land art is all about for me. I'm pretty fed up with working late every evening and having little energy for anything creative so today was an all round good day.

Find somewhere quiet and sit down and absorb the ambience. Watch the swallows put on a aerobatic display and the tall grasses bend and flex in the summer breeze. Take time to wind down and pretty soon you become part of the landscape. Real land art means making something for yourself, not for an exhibition or to put on the internet. Look around and see the beauty and diversity around you. Delve deep into these things and see colours and structures you had not seen before. Immerse yourself in studying these things and learn a little more about what you find. With knowledge of new materials must come new ideas in which to use them in a construction.

The inherent properties of a little understood material, will mean you will have to devise new techniques with which to construct something from them. Are they strong and robust? Will they dry and break and become brittle? As you learn about the properties and structures you must create in new and different ways. By moving away from the familiar, the formulaic and the easy path, there are opportunities to feel immersed, meditative and connected once more to nature. Sometimes the learning curve is steep and the final sculpture unsuccessful when presented in an image. But who cares when the point is the discovery, the fascination of seeing the world afresh, anew and with a child's eyes.

I will try again with what I learnt about today and hopefully will have more success with a sculpture and image. But the tougher it is, when you are fully absorbed, is as successful as I ever want it. That's why it's been a good day. Shame it's blody work again tomorrow, late evenings weekends and more drudge! I think I need a holiday!

This is indeed made from Birch Bark and I took a sheet of Paper Birch and carefully cut out the letters. That took many, many days of toil and as well as what you see before you I also ended up with a numb and calloused finger that is only now beginning to come back to life, several weeks after I'd finished it!

I've been researching the colours of Birch for quite a while now and all the hues you see here are from thin sheets of Erman's, Chinese Red, Himalayan and Paper Birch bark, backlit by the sun. I'm quite astounded by the selection of colours available and how radiant they seem in natural light.

I made this for my exhibition and took it into them yesterday. I've been searching for ways to make natural art sculptures, still only made from natural materials but that can be brought into the gallery space or be sold as original artworks. Although bringing land art indoors is missing the point somewhat, most people don't get to see ephemeral artworks in situ and even if they did do, they wouldn't catch them at the optimum moment, as I try to in my photographs.

However, one thing I did learn about this sculpture is that, normally the photography is all part of the process. My best images are a combination of the right sculpture, the right light and the right time. The best stories I right come from that too. They all need to happen on the same day, I need to be in the groove to be inspired in the right way, to make something cool, to get a cool picture and to feel enthused in the story I write. All those things seem to flow together, when I've go my head in the right place. Each thing leads to the next and are all important components of the whole.

What I found with this bark sculpture, that it was bloody hard to get a photo I liked. I've tried for weeks to get what I wanted but none (including these) turned out the way I wanted them too, I'm not happy with any of them at all. It seems, that without the inspiration and meditation that comes from being in a natural place, feeling it and making something based on what you find and feel there and then, leads you to perform better when it comes to the photography. Being more attuned to the elements, the movement of the sun and the best aspects of a place are only gained through that immersion. Making something over several weeks and then taking it out to photograph it just didn't seem to work for me.

But, in a way, I think that's a good think. That this sculpture looks better in real life. After all that's what it is for, whereas the outdoor ephemeral stuff is the other way around. It just seems funny that I can't get a good picture of it, however hard I've tried. But this failure in getting a good image, has given me new insight into the inner workings of my creative process.

So this was my first attempt to capture the magic of land art, the intensity of colour,the surprising variety of materials and the beauty of Mother Nature, encapsulated into a single art object, still without having to use anything artificial that I do not allow myself when working outside.

I might frame it between two pieces of glass, to protect it and enable it to be displayed, perhaps backlit to show off it's colours. Whether I've been successful in creating an original land art object that someone may want to acquire I'm not so sure but if not, at the very least, it's put me onto the path where I might be able to do that in the future.

I have more ideas for ephemeral land art that can be brought into the gallery, in a way that I've never seen before. I just need the opportunity for more gallery space to give me the kick up the bum to give them a try.

I think I'm rambling so I'll sign off for now, I'm weary if you couldn't already tell. It's hard work sitting in the sun watching the swallows and listening to the rustling grass, I obviously need to be back at work for a rest!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


Progression by escher is still alive
Progression, a photo by escher is still alive on Flickr.

I learnt an important life lesson today. 'Does a bell make a sound if no-one is there to hear it?' Well the riddle is unravelled...

Should you find yourself cycling up a long and steep hill, lycra-clad, lobster-pink and not a little sweaty, then you really are going to look like a total plank if you reach the top of that slope to be greeted by two young ladies (when I say greeted, what I really mean is gawped at with disdain), to then find yourself accidentally ringing your bell, rather than changing gear. Honestly, the two levers are right next to each other!

It highlights quite clearly how one thing can be interpreted in vastly different ways: on the one hand "who does he think he is? Riding up that hill and announcing what a stellar athlete he is with a 'bing'! What a fat, sweaty, idiot!" and the other "gah, why did I ring my bell, right then? What a fat, sweaty idiot!" Oh hang on, those are actually quite similar...

I've also learnt that my cat has no idea what work is, of course she's not particularly employable (unless there's a vacancy for someone who likes lying around on a cushion having their tummy tickled, whilst being fed scraps of smoked salmon) but she also has no idea about my work either. I work from home sometimes and she believes that this is for her benefit. I regularly take part in important conference calls and she thinks it's quite apt to leap up and miaow into the mouth piece, quite suddenly and before I can activate the mute button. My colleagues already consider me eccentric but mewing and animal noises, perhaps go beyond that simple description. She also thinks there's enough room on my lap for a lapcat and a laptop. There really isn't.

I've been struggling for ages to pin down what art is, what its whys and whens actually are, or at least what its direction of travel actually takes you towards.

I then saw a quote, new to me but surely well-known and famous: 'Art is not a handicraft, it is the transmission of feeling the artist has experienced.' -Leo Tolstoy

Like a flea jumping about all over the place and suddenly pinned down with a thumb, this phrase had it all, like walking full-force into a door.

It seems like we are all on a quest to connect things together, to see the joins that were not visible before. Art is simply one expression of that journey we all share.

In anything we do, we want to do it better and more succintly, to use that momentum to drive us to understand, whatever it is, just that little bit more each time that we try.

So surely art is no different from simply being alive and travelling in a forwards direction, it is nothing more than a way to describe that journey, like a simple page in a diary or a snap of a happy day on the beach.

As we live life we make connections between seemingly disparate things, and discover they were actually joined together all along. And now I think that good, great and exceptional art helps you make those connections in your head, as the artist reveals all those links they discovered within themselves and distilled them into blobs of paint or whatever medium is their choice of expression.

Or perhaps:-

"Dog sculptor, how do you sculpt this enormous block of stone?"

"I just take away all the bits that aren't dog."

Because of these things I aspire to paint. I've probably mentioned it before. Great painting, for me, seems to distill so much more than any other medium I've witnessed.

Emotion, narrative, sorrow, symbolism, joy and so much more condensed into something that does not require a plaque to tell you what to think. Line, form and colour, skillfully applied, to convey so much depth and description. I don't know if that is at all possible with other mediums, and especially not with mine.

That doesn't mean I am not going to try, as I mature and learn and grow, my art comes along with me and I want to strive forward to reach a point when my art begins to draw together much more, will make you think, ponder and contemplate. After all these are the things that make me tick, make me feel alive, drive me to learn and develop and evolve. And just like great painting I want my art to grow strong and not need a written description, it should explain whatever it needs to, to whoever wants to look at it and let each person take away whatever they wish.

Perhaps it is a confidence thing. To have enough of it to let it speak for itself. Perhaps that will come with maturity and the time to make more connections between whatever disparate things I find.

What is life without drive and fascination and a journey with which to set yourself on? Whether I ever reach there, who knows, but it is assured you never will, if you put don't put one foot in front of the other.

I made this for my exhibition and it's been there for a few weeks now. I haven't seen it since but my partner said they've dried, cracked and grown a little mould. She added they looked pretty good too :-). Drop into the gallery if you are passing by and let me know how they are changing.

My self-confidence doesn't allow me to keep quiet (ahem, as if you hadn't noticed) but perhaps it will one day soon. But I believe there's a few layers to see here and I'll stop and leave it at that. Except to say that I put them in with no conscious effort and it was revealed gradually afterwards.

Despite not planning their inclusion, I still believe they are manifestly there and I am beginning to learn the power of intuition and, too, of the unconscious mind.

A few years ago I was unaware of those things but maybe they are all a fundamental part of the whole maturing process.

So that one day I may find the confidence, to speak without any words.

Progression by escher is still alive
Progression, a photo by escher is still alive on Flickr.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Sycamore Seed Sun

I want to post something but need to write something to go with it. I normally write about my thoughts when I created the sculpture, or something that's preoccupying me or maybe something amusing that's just happened.

Well, I didn't make this today and can't remember much of what I was thinking when I did. Actually that's not strictly true. I remember quite clearly trying to get a photo of it all day. I knew it would be better to wait until the sun was lower but I tried anyway when the sun was high in the sky. It was very windy too and kept falling out of the tree I first put it into, shedding seeds as it did.

I knew that the dogwood ring would begin to dry out and contract, and as it did the thorns would fall out. So I needed to get a photo quick but the wind and sun weren't playing ball. Probably I was expecting too much, the wind might drop but I haven't developed omniscience, recently, with which to control the sun. If I had I expect my land art would be absolutely brilliant but I guess (un)godly powers might be considered cheating.

Eventually I gave up and returned later on, when the wind had dropped and dappled light lit up the undergrowth. Now everything was perfect or at least it would seem so. The light was magical and the breeze light and warming but the dogwood ring had lost some moisture and the thorns decided to drop out like needles on a Christmas tree on January 6th.

So I spent many minutes pushing them back in, cursing and pricking myself. This eventually worked and I had the seeds arranged nicely again. I expect you'd have less success using this technique if you were trying to stop your Christmas tree from going bald.

Once positioned and backlit all that was left was to click the shutter.

As for anything funny happening, that would be depend on your point of view. Some may see it as an opportunity, or perhaps something threatening, but in hindsight I definitely thought it was funny.

I've recently acquired a camper van of the Mazda Bongo variety, complete with elevating roof and electric blinds. We like to go out in it somewhere and brew up a cup of tea, simply because we can.

We went on a trip down south and arrived after midnight near to where we wanted to be. We found a little back road, in a forest where it seemed quiet. Pulled up into a layby, elevated the roof and got ready to sleep until dawn.

It's the great thing about owning a camper, you can just roll up and sleep wherever you like. However not worrying about where you are exactly might have unexpected consequences.

This tiny little lane, supposedly in the middle of nowhere, suddenly turned into a highway. Car after car came past, each one slowing down as they approached our spot. "Just what are they gawping at?" We exasperately exclaimed! "Leave us alone, we just want to sleep!"

When we got home I typed the words 'dogging' and "Devon" into Google and retrieved the answer I was looking for. It seemed some local swingers thought we might be up for some action. We had rolled up to one such particular spot, apparently very popular with those inclined in looking for late night action. The moral of the story is to be careful where you park up for the night, you might get more than you bargained for. Quiet remote spots are popular late at night with people other than just impromptu campers.

For those of a sensitive disposition or anyone who is quite happy with the lack of broadness of their mind, I suggest you don't Google those words, and certainly not look at Google Images. You will definitely get more than you bargained for, you have been warned!

As for ponderings I don't think there is much profundity present. Perturbing me this week would be the News of the World scandal, the sudden addictiveness of Twitter (don't do it unless you can handle it), and whether someone really can eat too many crisps.

But what of email etiquette? I regularly receive emails from different people interested in land art and I always take the time to reply. I know if I had written to someone that I would be upset if I just got ignored. Often it takes time to write the replies, I go into detail about what they have asked about, answer questions or help students with projects and dissertations. It's nice that people are interested enough to write to me and I enjoy writing back to them too. But here's the rub!

If it were me I would thank someone for taking the time to answer my questions but very rarely does this ever happen. I often respond to requests for help 'with sure what do you want to know' and never hear anything again, or write a long answer to posed questions and again hear nothing from them either. It is rare, but gratefully received, when they do reply but really that's only happened a handful of times. Am I too sensitive, is my email etiquette calibrated incorrectly? It all seems a bit strange to me.

Over recent months I've written and emailed a number of (well known, famous and less so) UK based natural artists to express my sincere gratitude to them for the inspiration they've given me, and expressed how my life has been profoundly affected. In addition I wanted to reach out and make contact with likeminded individuals, with the hope that we could perhaps collaborate in the future. Disappointingly I haven't received a single reply.

Perhaps they receive a great deal of mail, of the unsolicited and fan variety, and it has become a burden to reply to it all. But I feel that everyone is an individual and deserves that simple courtesy no matter how busy you are.

I am tempted to compromise my principles when I answer questions and seldom get a reply but perhaps it is really a test of character. If I feel sad when my communications remain unanswered then I expect someone writing to me will too. It's important to resist feeling jaded as without empathy most of us are nowhere.

I really need to get out and make some proper land art soon and when work and time allows. The words come best when making something as do funny encounters and pieces of insight. My interim ponderings are more on the morose side without the solace of creativity. Normal service should be resumed soon!

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Cycle Leaf

Cycle Leaf by escher is still alive
Cycle Leaf, a photo by escher is still alive on Flickr.

The End joins onto the Beginning...