I was asked to keep a diary by Broomhill Sculpture Gardens when Akin was selected for the National Sculpture Prize. I wanted to share what I wrote on my own blog now that Akin is installed and the public vote open HERE.
Part One: An Introduction
Growing up and living most of my life in London it would be easy to imagine that urban streets and cityscapes would feature in my work. Instead I always hunted out the green spaces in the city, on its borders, or even long train rides away as I searched of inspiration. Last summer I decided to leave London for Devon, following the call of the woods, moors, cliff tops and beaches, and of my latest project Mapping in an Ever Moving Now.
Mapping explores the idea that while conventional maps can point the way, or depict geography and geology, the artists map can do much more. It can embody emotions, experiences, questions, histories, scientific research, and so on. In Mapping I am acting as an alternative cartographer, playing with the multiplicities of maps, and how they might connect to our movements through time, seasons and place. In Mapping I aim to create collections of work that express or “map” journeys through specific areas. The first chapter of the project focuses on the South West Coast Path, and will be created during a yearlong residency with the Marine Institute at Plymouth University.
Hiking along the South West Coast Path through the woods, along cliff tops, estuaries and beaches I began to notice patterns. The shapes worn into the surface of the rocks and cliffs, and those formed by bark, are remarkably similar. These similarities, these patterns, became the inspiration for Akin, the second sculpture created Mapping in an Ever Moving Now. Akin draws together the vastly different natural elements of rock and wood within the one sculpture, creating something that is both familiar, and different in its hybridity. Akin will rise above visitors reflecting the size and scale of trees and cliffs that have inspired the sculpture.
I have since my late teens supported Greenpeace, the World Wildlife Fund and the Born Free Foundation. A love of land and water, and a drive to protect it are the issues that sit closest to my heart, and drive Mapping as a project. Using my art to express my personal experiences of our land, along with its current fragility are of the highest priority in my art. These inspirations are reflected in Akin, which will be created using moulds made directly from cliffs and bark, and cast in an eco friendly material.
I look forward to sharing the progress of Akin with you all as I head back out onto the South West Coast Path to find the perfect rocks, cliffs and bark to start creating…
Part Two: A site visit and a delivery
There is a wolf outside the door to Broomhill Hotel. In the right light it looks real. Wolves have followed me, guided me, my entire life. Arriving at Broomhill on Monday to look at the site (and to revel in the gorgeous sculptures) only to be greeted by a wolf seems just about perfect. I have been to Broomhill once before, to celebrate my 30th birthday. Returning this week was a surreal and exciting adventure. There is a sense of peace in the very air of the hotel and the gardens, a peace made all the greater by the beauty that is to be found everywhere one looks. Meeting with Rinus to discuss Akin, to walk the meadow and find the perfect spot was the best way to begin this journey. Akin comes from nature and knowing where it is going, the river and trees and hills that will surround it, is sure to inspire my every step.
The drive home across Dartmoor was a misty one, with the road disappearing a few feet in front of the car, and the Moor all but invisible on either side. Nature is a beguiling thing, always unexpected, always fresh and new. I will be taking moulds directly from bark and stone to make Akin, much as I did to create the maquette. Today the first parcels arrived, ready for me to start work, to start creating, to start taking the moulds. The sun is forecast to be shining down on South Devon next week. All I can say is bring it on!
Part Three: Artist in the Wild
The idea for Akin came from walking through local woods and across beaches. The maquette was made using a rubber silicone mould taken one of the fallen trees that triggered the idea. When it came to working out how to make Akin again, this time large, using the same technique seemed the logical starting point.
The question was where to create my moulds? Which of the many trees and cliffs and rock formations I love should I use? Which stretches of landscape did I want to become part of my sculpture? Luckily the month’s of studying the surfaces everywhere I walked meant the only difficulty was in narrowing my abundant choices down to a select few. Choices eventually made I worked out how to carry my materials out to the first locations so I could start work. All I needed now was a break in the rain. A studio in the wilderness is a wonderful thing, but it is rather weather depended. Watching the forecast for sun I got lucky with two or three blisteringly hot dry days in a row.
Day One and Location One: a collection of fallen trees that have been neatly cut and stacked into perfect log piles. Rubber silicone is brilliant stuff, flexible, able to deal with extreme undercuts, fast drying, and easy to use. It is also INCREDIBLY sticky and bright pink. It was once all the silicone was applied and drying, as I sat reading in the sun that the owner of the land appeared to keep clearing the storm damage. Thankfully he generously didn’t mind finding me, or my strange alien materials taking advantage of his woodpile.
Day Two and Location Two: the trees and slate growing over the bank alongside the estuary and local tidal road. This is without question one of my favourite places in the world so I had to include it. I spent a glorious sunny day finding the most interesting bark and slate among a series of ever increasingly beautiful trees, covering them in sticky pink stuff and reading Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways while it dried.
Day Three and Location Three: my local woods, and the trees that started everything. Rubber applied I sat surrounded by the small of wild garlic and throwing the stick for my dog before carrying the heavy dried mould home across the fields.
My final location so far came a few days later on Bantham Beach. Bantham is part of a privately owned estate and I am incredibly thankful to the owners for allowing me to use their rocks for the day. Bantham is hugely affected by the tide; a beach so vast at low tide it is hard to believe how far the tide eventually comes in. I sat getting steadily colder in harsh sea winds watching the tide roll across the sand towards me and desperately hoping I would be done before I got cut off. Luckily my second spot among the rocks was just above the tide line and as I froze and waited for the silicone to dry I listened to the waves and watched the kite surfers.
The rubber silicone moulds are currently laid face up on the floor of my mother’s garage, which I am taking over to make Akin. I am off on a course for a week but am looking forward to returning. I have a few more locations to visit for the last of my moulds before I start stage two...
Part Four: Some assembly and a lot of help required.
This week has been a series of complications, difficulties and near disasters. I suppose it was going to happen eventually but it does seem unfair that it has happened all at once. On Tuesday morning I tried to order materials only to find out the advice I had been given was incorrect meaning I had to spend hours planning entirely new ways to create Akin. On Thursday I found out a vital component was out stock and the earliest they could delivery it to me is Monday. In between I have managed one more day in the wild making the mould, done the strangest washing up ever and assembled the pieces, all of which has inevitably taken far longer than expected.
From little things to big my week has left me behind schedule, stressed and more than a little scared of my looming deadline. Thankfully I have some wonderful people in my life, from the folks at the end of the phone at Jesmonite, Flints and Tiranti’s who have all helped solve my technical issues as best they could, to my neighbours and family who have helped without question or hesitation, giving up hours of their time to offer advice, ideas, transport and an extra pair of hands.
It is Saturday evening as I write this and I have done as much as I can without my final ingredient. I am losing a days work, which with the van coming at 10am on Thursday to collect Akin is freaky, but there it is. I likely won’t get much sleep between now and the delivery day, it is definitely going to take a village to complete this thing and I will need all the good luck and fingers crossed possible but I will get it done.
For now, and until I can keep going, my Mums garage looks like a horrendous crime is in the process of being committed.
Part 5: Starting Again
Students have asked me over the years what quality I think is the most integral to success as an artist. Many ask if it is luck, and while luck is obviously important it is not the thing I think one needs most. I think what one needs is bull headed stubbornness, the kind of stubbornness that keeps you going no matter how bleak or impossible things seem.
Since my last diary entry my near disasters became actual disasters. Every problem I solved was followed by another until eventually it all fell apart.
In a speech to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia Neil Gaiman once said:
‘I hope you make mistakes. If you are making mistakes it means you’re out there doing something… Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all the other ways life can go wrong. And when things get though, this is what you should do. Make good art… Make interesting, amazing, glorious, fantastic mistakes.’
Neils speech echoes the words of one of the greatest writers ever, Dr. Seuss in OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO! …
Except when you don’t.
Because, sometimes, you won’t…
You’ll get mixed up, of course,
as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up
With many strange birds as you go.
So be sure when you step.
Step with great care and great tact
And remember that Life’s
A Great Balancing Act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with you left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ per cent guaranteed.)’
These words, and my own belief in the importance of stubbornness circled around my mind as everything went so horribly wrong, and they helped me pick myself up and start all over again. The problems lay in bad advice and meant that my intended scale was impossible. With that in mind I cleared a new space, scaled down and got to work on Akin for the second time. With a rapidly approaching deadline and no guarantee this would work I had a number of hugely stress filled days. I managed to push myself through, and I am beyond proud that I did, because the second time around is all came together and worked beautifully.
One of the incredible things about the National Sculpture Prize is that is provides an opportunity for emerging artists, artists who likely haven’t had many opportunities of this sort before. This isn’t only the opportunity to make new work and show it somewhere incredible as part of a renowned prize. It is also the opportunity to imagine big, stretch artistic muscles, make mistakes, start again and above all else, the opportunity to learn.
I have learnt more than I ever imagined I would. My glorious mistake is waiting for me to turn it into something brand new, and most importantly Akin is finally complete.
None of this would have been possible, particularly not picking myself up to start again, without the support of my family, friends, neighbours and local builders merchant. I cannot thank them enough. Nor can I thank Broomhill enough for giving me the chance to make Akin.
The only thing left to do now is to deliver and install Akin on Monday.
Akin was safely and smoothly installed that Monday and you can visit it any time until May 2019 at Broomhill Sculpture Gardens