Earth Work is a collaboration between artist and place, between artist and those things born from the Earth in a specific location, but also a collaboration between artist and earth with a small ‘e’ - clay – that most basic of material.
Each piece began with a discovery, something found in the rewilded landscape that surrounds the exhibition; twisted branches, a seedpod, the colour and texture of lichen, the patterned bark of a eucalyptus tree, beechnuts, flintstone, the play of light and shadow over hills and valleys, birdsong. These starting points informed all that followed, the modelled clay elements that were inspired by and combined with found objects to create finished forms, the colour and character of glazes and the interplay of ridges, edges and hollows.
Stripping the bark from the branches that I brought back from the sculpture park to the studio exposed the sinuous nature of the wood beneath allowing my fingers to trace the history of their growth. Frequent changes of direction demonstrated a constant, inquisitive searching for sunlight, knots that bulged and twisted, and scars where sap had bled and hardened told a story of endurance. I felt a new intimacy with the trees that had until now been mere background and developed a fascination with the ingenious ways they adapt and respond to threats and opportunities. Trees dance, but in a time-scale far larger than ours. My ceramic additions are notes to accompany their epic performance.
The malleability of clay can lead one to believe that it is without character, and in the wrong hands it can indeed be rendered soulless and inert. But clays are combinations of many elements; elements that have been eroded from rocks over vast stretches of time, carried by rivers, laid down under great lakes, overlaid and buried then coloured by the seepage of oxides and minerals. To create forms that have movement and life you need to get to know your clay, to work with it, allowing it to express itself as well as your creative vision. In its raw state clay can seem to be no more than mud. But it is from mud that all life springs.
This collaboration between artist and place, between artist and the gifts of the Earth, reflects in a small way the far greater collaboration we as a species need to enter into with our planet, and the Earth Work we all need to do if we are to ensure our survival and the survival of all living organisms.
Devon Sculpture Park is set in Capability Brown designed gardens overlooking the Exe Estuary. The sculpture park is at the heart of a 150 acre rewilding project.
To visit, book online on the Sculpture Park website.