an artists' view

an artists' view

Friday, 18 February 2011

David Nash @ YSP

On Wednesday I went to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, mainly to see the exhibition of David Nash sculptures, which closes at the end of February. I'd not seen the work up at the Longside Gallery, so got the mini-bus up there immediately on arrival.
When I walked into the Longside Gallery, I was struck by the 'jumble' of the sculptures. My initial feeling was that of 'Oh!', and disappointment.
Information was given on laminated cards, which you had to carry round with you; and I wanted to write my impressions, and keep my hands free, so I hadn't chosen to pick up the cards. The result of this meant I had no idea what the titles of the sculptures were. Usually I like to get my bearings with artworks by knowing what they are called; but I didn't have that security this time.
I had to negotiate my own way around Nash's work; had to use my own eyes and senses to make sense of it. Which is always the most rewarding journey around galleries.
I peered at the cracks in wood, asking myself 'was this intentional or accident?'; was aware of the surface pattern brought about by Nash's controlled burning process; I asked myself, 'how does Nash know when to stop?'

One piece, a geometric carved shape, coloured black/grey of burnt wood, had lots of surface cracks, which despite the action of fire, which had softened and opened up the cracks, had maintained it's geometric integrity, but resulted in a less regular form. In this piece I could see geometry - cells - the building blocks of nature. By burning the carved shape, Nash has revealed the processes of nature (and ourselves, as part of nature) - the irregularities, mutations, and changes that occur at the cellular level. The burnt carving showed the microcosm and the macrocosm.

There were 'gateways' of wood; reminding me of whale bones planted upright in parks and municipal spaces.
One which was free-standing in the gallery space, had many cracks, as well as the marks made by carving. Cutting away the different layers of the wood, allowed Nash to create subtle bands of colour.
I was struck by the many colours in the wood/s. Reds, blacks, greys, almost orange in some parts. Pine which was almost yellow; striations that created contrasts between the layers in the wood.
The textures veered between 'rough' wood, which had almost no work done on it by Nash, to wood which had been 'worked', whether by carving, or burning. It was a language of wood; what does it speak to us?

Nash's drawings were exquisite; one 'Red and Black' from 1992, showed lumps of wood, the red ones almost molten wood, burning into charcoal. Obviously Nash uses charcoal to draw with; I love the idea of making your own charcoal from your own wood! Growing it, tending it, burning it, and ending the process by using the charcoal to create with!
Personally I'm not keen on using charcoal as a medium, though I love to see it used by other artists. But I felt very inspired to return to charcoal, and find myself drawn to using it again at some point.

Outside stood 2 sculptures, the only ones I could photograph. Both had been burned by Nash. This carved 'ball' (the one on the right hand side in the top photograph) has been stood out in the elements throughout the summer and recent winter. Mould is starting to grow in the nooks and crannies. Leaves and detritus are collecting in the folds. The process of decay is taking place; the wood is changing as we look at it.

A close-up of the tall sculpture on the left of the photograph at the top of this page. A column, with a cleft cut into it. Much less evidence of decay; the surface is much smoother, almost like skin, elephant skin! Unlike the 'ball' shape, there is little evidence of carving on its surface. Colour of silvery grey, not black as one would expect from burnt wood. This sculpture shows Nash's way of creating unexpected colour from a limited palette.

One of the pieces inside Longside Gallery was 'Table with Peat and Coal' from 1981. It was exactly as it said in the title; a table made from planks of pine, with Welsh peat and Barnsley coal placed upon it, a still-life.
As I've been doing some work looking at coal, carbon, geology, and mining, this piece caught my attention. Here were signs of the industrial revolution; geological processes providing our energy needs. Peat giving us heat (and giving us the compost to pot up our seedlings!) and food; coal, the energy source of the 2oth Century. Both carbon; both including molecules of decomposed plant and mineral remains. Both resulting from complex, millenia-long geological processes.
'Table with Peat and Coal' gives us a geological history lesson! I loved this!

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