Land, Sea and Light completed

It was the coldest, bleakest part of this last winter. That was when my right arm was gripped with such intense pain that I had to stop working with the clay. I was not happy! The medical advice was to take a break for a month, but what was I going to do?  It turned out that this was an opportunity to completely rethink my making process. 

All my forms up to this point had been made by honing them into shape using a metal scraper held in my right hand, and it was the tension in doing that that had led to the pain. I loved that process, and I felt that the gradual refinement of the firms over many days was part of what people perceived in them. I thought that, in some way, it was the source of their calmness and what they communicated. So to be deprived of access to that process was a challenge to what I had come to believe the work was about.

But my commitment is not to the outcome of the making process, it is to the process itself – to try to find a rightness in the making process and see what that quality leads to in the finished pieces. Clearly the scraping that I enjoyed was not right for my arm, so could there be a new way of making that would involve less tension and more balance in my body? 

For some reason I had also been reflecting on my early days of recording wildlife sounds which eventually led to my first career in natural history radio. Thinking back to the child who stuck a microphone out of his bedroom window to record the garden bird song I realised how long I have had a fascination with recording the natural world in one way or another. I was thinking how clay also keeps a record of everything that happens to it until it is fired, at which point the story of its making is locked into its form and surface. Maybe thinking of the clay as a recording medium could lead to a new way of working.  And so it did. 

Created during my years spent living and working as a furniture maker on the coast of the St Davids Peninsula, Pembrokeshire, land, sea and light explores the essence of that wild Welsh landscape. It takes the form of a collection of wall-mounted cabinets whose white relief doors hang like landscape paintings, floating away from the wall on handmade carcasses of raw oak and oiled beech. I have always imagined that they would be places ot keep special things, maybe even treasures brought back from walks in other landscapes.

 I have used abstract simplifications of the key landscape forms as a starting point to create images in which I try to express the essence of place and the experience of being there. The idea to use layered reliefs in this way came from the layered and cracked surfaces of the sedimentary rocks of the peninsula, which seem to echo the forms of the wider landscape.  The reliefs, like the rocks, are built of layers, but waxed and painted white.  White to remove distraction. White to reveal pure form. White to express the pared down essence of place.

With funding from Cyngor Celfyddydau Cymru/Arts Council of Wales, and support from the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust (which let me explore the process by which the wonderful St Ives artist, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, developed her abstract images) the works were developed over many months of walking, watching, photographing and sketching the landscape.

On Monday nights I would go out rowing at sea with the local gig rowing club.  As well as providing a pretty visceral engagement with the waves it provided inspiration for 2 pieces related to our row out to the wonderful Ramsay Island and the final piece as we rowed into the base of one of the many sea caves at the base of the cliffs.

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