A Visit to The Eden Project to see Peter Randall-Page’s Seed sculpture.

In early October 2018, as a birthday treat, I opted to go to the Eden Project near St Austell, in Cornwall. The site is a reclaimed china clay pit and the sculpture is located in the ‘Core, education centre , which is separate from the biomes. The work on the Seed  sculpture was started at De Lank Quarry in Cornwall as a 167 tonne block of granite. Over a period of two years the granite block was reduced to a 70 tonne ovoid. Then 1800 nodes were carved into the ovoid creating the Fibonacci spirals.

 

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The sculpture was installed in 2007, and of note is the fact that the roof of the Core building is itself designed on geometric principles underlying plant growth.

Of interest is that the granite used does not seem to have any obvious feldspar crystals that can be seen in the granite of Dartmoor.

Being in close quarters to this massive sculpture is quite an experience. I was keen to explore the structure and check on the Fibonacci numbers involved. If you look at the photograph above of the sculpture you can see that other people have had the same idea and there is a wide band of dirty hand marks at the lower levels. I like the fact that you are allowed to touch it but felt that perhaps it should be cleaned more often. I counted the rows of spirals in three different directions shown in the photograph below, and came up with 21, 34 and 55 rows, which are all Fibonacci numbers.

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The room housing the sculpture is very bright due to top lighting and the floor is very sympathetic to the structure of the sculpture. It was good to be able to see it from the gallery above, as I wanted to see how the phyllotaxis patterns were worked out near the top of the sculpture. The room is circular which also works well with the form of the piece. The height of the sculpture is 4.18metres so gives a feeling of a  towering mass. There is no doubt that this is an object of contemplation, and contained within the space it certainly feels  powerful and makes me think about  the wonder of nature and how geometry plays such an important part.

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(Seed sculpture as seen from above)

David Newman (November 2018)

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The Granite Song Sculptures A review of their location and impact.

If you are a walker like me and also interested in sculpture, then Peter Randall-Page’s Granite Song sculptures are a delight to search out and appreciate. They are located in the Chagford/Drewsteignton area and all are located near footpaths. If you want to read about this series of sculptures in detail then Peter Randall Page’s book,  ‘Granite Song’ is the best guide, which includes map references, though the sculptor intended them to be found more by accident, as the works are not marked or labelled.

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‘SECRET PLACE’ 1990 (above two photos), in Ashburton marble, is located in a recess in a wall on the Two Moors Way footpath at OS map ref SX736918. The form itself is part geometric and part organic in design and the marble is a rich bluish purple. The piece it self is protected in its enclosed space by a very weathered granite wall, and unlike some of his wall sculptures there is a good space above the sculpture enabling the viewer to truly see how the form works. The sculpture blends well into the landscape with the holly tree growing out of the wall and the fallen tree nearby. The wall acts as a plinth, but more than that there is almost an altar effect with spiritual connotations.

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‘GRANITE SONG’ 1991 (above two photos) in Dartmoor granite, is located at OS map SX710890. As can be seen from the photo it is placed on a small island in the middle of the River Teign. The sculpture has beed ‘naturalised’ by the growth of moss on it so that it looks like it is an integral part of the natural landscape. Putting a sculpture in picturesque natural scenery is certainly a challenge as some people could easily object, but Peter Randall Page has certainly pulled this one off. Reading his book reveals ,some of the success here is in part due to his consultations with the local community. It is hard to get close to this sculpture, but that is also part of it’s allure. The brain like effect seen within the two sections of the sculpture has become one of the sculptors well recognised designs. Of note too is that the natural granite boulder is rounded by natural forces so sits well in the landscape.

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‘WATERSTONE’ (1992) as shown above is located near the footpath at OS map ref SX736906 and is made from a granite boulder.  I visited this piece on an icy cold day in winter so the water that I think was supposed to be pouring down the boulder was frozen, which was a pity. The sculpture is overgrown in moss and sits in a stream. It does not as far as I am aware use electricity to achieve the flow of water up the sculpture but merely gravity, as I would presume that the inlet lies higher up in the stream. To see this sculpture functioning I will certainly be returning to Drewsteignton. Though I have mentioned the technical aspects, one can’t help thinking how amazed an unknowing walker might be to see water coming out of a large rock.

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‘PASSAGE’ (1992) seen above is located at OS map ref. SX725895 and is of granite and lead. I found it hard to find but would suggest that if you are coming from the Chagford direction then after crossing the mini suspension bridge over the River Teign, then turn left and after 20 paces turn right up the bank, then follow the footpath up the hill. As you come to the avenue of trees the sculpture is seen at the far end. On the day I visited the light was amazing and it made me realise how much drama can be created by really good placement of sculptures. That is apart from the drama in the sculpture itself. I wasn’t sure how the lead was added to the sculpture, but looking at Peter Randall Page’s book reveals that the lead was poured hot into the stone. There is a picture of a brazier on top of the granite prior to pouring, presumably to stop the rock from cracking due to the heat. Once again a large boulder has been used that has weathered on it’s round surfaces. Do come and see this sculpture in Whiddon Deer park, as the light at the top of this hill overlooking Castle Drogo is wonderful. The two pieces were brought to the site by helicopter!

 

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‘BURROW STONE’ (1994) seen above is located on the footpath at OS map ref SX747910 and is in granite. The interesting thing is that when we went looking for it we walked past it as it had become so naturalised into the landscape! I liked the way that it had been put discretely into the wall without any special treatment such as had been lavished on ‘Secret Place’. A local told us where it was.

 

 

As a bonus to a walk to see ‘Secret Place’ you will also glimpse from a distance the above three sculptures on Peter Randall Page’s land though not part of Granite Song. As part of the Granite Song project sponsored by Common Ground ‘Village Garden’ was designed and built by the sculptor and installed in 1996 and is located at OS map ref SX735908 and a photo of this is seen below:

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The granite terracing  is a lovely feature as well as the oak leaves carved into the bench supports. After strenuous exertions around Drewsteignton there could be nothing more pleasant than to sit a while on the oak bench shown above and rest one’s weary limbs. I can thoroughly recommend this sculpture trail, but don’t expect everything to be pointed out to you. You have to do some of the work yourself!

David Newman (October 2018)

Documentary Film Review -‘Leaning into the Wind’ by Andy Goldsworthy.

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I have only fairly recently become aware of the work of Andy Goldsworthy, when it was mentioned by one of the instructors on a stone walling course that I was on.  The film was shown at Darlington Barn Theatre and predictably attracted lots of artists including three SWSA members. This is a companion piece to River and Tides, a 2001 documentary about the artist directed again by Thomas Riedelsheimer. Andy Goldsworthy is a well known and celebrated sculptor, land artist and environmentalist. His work encompasses two extremes of both monumental long lasting works of land art to transient short lived works that are then altered or erased by natural processes. The originality of his work is quite evident and nature is the unifying theme. Alan Scherstuhl of The Village Voice commented that his work reflects: ‘A contemplative beauty, a chance to consider and be moved by a richer sort of connectedness than our lives typically allow. The Dartington film brochure comments that his work is ‘meditative ,transportive and visually ravishing’.

I was also struck by his playfulness and humour. At the end of the film you see what looks like a cardboard cutout of a man with his hands up in the air and his legs apart in an unnatural posture in the top of a tree at the side of a road . After quite a long while ,with traffic passing, the figure eventually moves , and I realised that it was the artist himself. The are other videos that are fascinating including the one where he literally leans at an angle of into a howling gale at the top of a hill and amazingly manages to remain static by leaning heavily into the wind .

Leslie Felperin in a Guardian review of the film states that his work is about the ephemeral and the enduring and has a meditative melancholy tone that suits the kind of work that Goldsworthy does.(1)

From a stone carver’s point of view the most interesting part for me was where he teamed up with a team of fabricators to construct a trench in New Hampshire fashioned from granite boulders that they have cleaved in half to create the walls of a gully. It was interesting to see how he involved his daughter Holly in making artworks, and she seemed just as dedicated to her art as he obviously is.

He is filmed climbing along a hedge which, as you will see from the film , is not the easiest of things to do! He also is interested in transient effects like the dry imprint of his body left when he lies down on the ground during a rain shower. He obtains very moving effects by wrapping natural objects in brightly coloured petals, such as a fallen elm tree. One of the best points in the film is where he hangs vertical lengths of thin branches down from a small tree, thus totally changing the visual effect. This film is thoroughly recommended, and I think I would like to see it again.

David Newman. (September 2018)

(1)  Guardian film review Fri 10th August 2018 by Leslie Felperin

 

 

 

 

 

Exhibition-The Revelation of the Head (Messums Wiltshire – 26/5/2018 to 8/7/2018)

P1010344I recently went to this exhibition with my partner  as I have an interest in the head and would like to move my skills on in this area. I had another reason to visit too. I had talked to a member of SWSA , Rose Ellis , about who her favourite sculptor is. She replied that it is Emily Young. This sculptor was totally unknown to me so to an opportunity to see her work was eagerly anticipated.

The scope of the exhibition is very broad and includes the very reductionist piece : Supermodel (Kate Moss) , which is simply two gold plated steel circles , the larger placed across the top of the other and based on the Golden Ratio  that the ancient Greeks’ used to calculate perfect facial beauty .(1)

I shall concentrate on the more classical representations of the head as that is my current interest. The above head by Laurance Edwards and the rest of the series are described by him as ‘Chthonic Heads’ and are in bronze. Chthonic means from the underworld. He starts off in clay , then transfers this to a wax version by way of a latex shell. I don’t think that this would my preferred style as it wouldn’t express what I would want to , and it does seem to show an ancient almost atavistic being.

 

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The above ‘Bust of Hercules’ from the second half of the 18th century is in bronze and is called ‘Provenance’ . The hair is stylised , and some features are pronounced such as the eyebrows. This type of exact classical form perfect as it is ,is not the kind of representation that I would strive for although I can admire the workmanship.

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The above head is by David Mach and is called ‘L’homme’ and is amazingly constructed of thousands of matches. It is the only obviously religious head in the exhibition and looks like the head of Christ. Mach seems attracted to unexpected mediums as there was another head present that had cleverly been made from wire coat hangers all with the hooks protruding from the head. (2) Technically this is very accomplished, but would not my preferred medium.

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The above ‘Head of Juno’ from the first to second century is made of white marble, and despite the damage is exceedingly well finished such that the skin has the look of skin and the subtleness of curvature around the features. It pays homage to middle aged women To aim for this sort of standard is to aim for perfection. I am not sure that this is what I would personally strive for but can appreciate the consummate skill of the creator. The hair ,which is not the easiest thing to represent in stone ,works well as it has a movement within it which complements the smoothness of the facial features, and the ribbon restraining the hair is unusual but works well.

P1010347The above ‘Lined Head’ by John Davies in bronze certainly has a presence and I find it very accomplished . The lines on the face for me do not detract from the overall impression and add a certain tribal quality , and also raises the idea of mapping that has become popular of late. The patina has not been overdone , is subtle, and gives it a uniformity , with the light reflected providing the variations in tone and colour. Certainly ,one could learn a great deal from this very confident bronze head. John Davies also had a painted fibreglass and resin head in the exhibition. The appearance is very different and achieves a completely different effect. (3)

 

P1010352Ellen Christiansen’s ‘Elisa’ (above) is in bronze is an example of her work ,that uses a measuring technique derived from stone carving. She has left her measurements on the form and I do not find this detracts from the finished work. It could be said to be analogous to leaving all the lines in a pencil sketch. In some ways the marks add an extra layer of complexity just like Leonardo Da Vinci’s measurements on the human figure in the Vitruvian Man. The measuring has paid off in my view as all the features are so well formed.It’s almost as if by leaving the marks she is making the sculpture hers . The head is not over finished as there are areas where you can see how she has worked and this is certainly no detriment to the finished result.

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Kevin Francis Gray’s ‘Temporal Sitter Bust’ (above) in Carara marble is a typical example of his work as a figurative sculptor who works mainly in bronze and marble to create idealised figures draped with fabric in the Neoclassical or Baroque styles. Gray uses anonymous individuals that he encounters near his studio, often people struggling with addiction. This work is very accomplished indeed and to depict two layers simultaneously takes incredible skill in my view, though of course the marble does work well for this kind of effect. From the angle of view of my photograph the nose does look prominent , though this may well be the reality of what the sculptor saw. The shine on the marble is too much for me but that is just my personal preference. It makes it look overfinished. The suggestion of features beneath the veil is enough for my imagination to do the rest ,and this also asks the question about what is the veil a metaphor for?

P1010365Dame Elizabeth Frink’s ‘Goggled Head 1’ in bronze was one of a series made in the 1960’s. They reflect a concern in her work of masculine power. In her ‘Goggle Heads’ she criticised bullish army generals of rogue states. There is no doubt that she was not a slave to exact anatomy , but this sculpture still works ,and imparts a message. The identity of the person is hidden , and the strong features exude power. The photograph depicts an asymmetrical mouth that somehow imparts an effect of uneasiness in the viewer.

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This portrait above, by Eric Kennington, is entitled T.E. Lawrence and is in painted plaster. This is an underrated medium and here he has achieved fine results. This was created in three hour long sittings, and that gives one a feel for the considerable skill of the sculptor. I can certainly get a real feel of the mass of the forehead and the whole of the cranium, the deep anatomy of the orbits, and the malaria prominence, and vert strong features that merge well into each other. The angle of the head seems to reflect a man of substance looking to the horizon. The pitted plaster just adds to the overall effect. In my experience plaster is not one of the easiest mediums to work with so this is why I included this exhibit.P1010363

This portrait above, by Glynn Williams, is called ‘Young Priest’ and is in plaster. His sculptures are ‘representational but weighted in abstraction’ (4). This giving them a surrealist feel. Certainly, he is not weighed down by the necessity to be truly representational , but I can’t help think that he probably started out from that point originally.  There is no doubt that he understands anatomy but has consciously distorted to  achieve the effects he desires. Almost a caricature, but with a dark sinister edge.

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Above is a pair of sculptures in bronze by Keith Coventry called ‘King and Queen’.They were inspired by the theft of heads of a sculpture by Henry Moore from an estate in Scotland in 1995. Before I had even read this fact in the text I had already said to myself that they look like Henry Moore’s work. There is nothing beautiful about them, but then perhaps in abstraction the sculptor is paring down the subject to show something more primitive and basic about the human condition. I think that perhaps it is wise to start from a place of being representational and to move to abstraction from there where the artist has established a solid basis for his work, just as Henry Moore did.

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‘Michelle, Nefertiti head’ by Brian Taylor in bronze (above) impressed me  a great deal. The hair has been dealt with in a very lively manner and the lips are prominent, and the way that the eyes have been done creates a mysteriousness. The surface finish is interesting in that it leaves a lot of evidence of the way of working , which I like. In summary ,there is an energy here that inhabits the sculpture.

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‘Ragut Kirn’ by Gavin Turk in varnished clay has caused me to wonder what the artist intended to convey. Initially I thought it was some kind of barbaric violence perpetrated on what appeared to be a male head. The title could not be located as as a person or description on a search engine, but eventually I unravelled it as being an almost complete anagram of the artists name. So it was intended to be the artist. The piece was exhibited in Paris in 2015 and the stated narrative of the exhibition was : ‘What defines masculinity these days, and how can we come up with an alternative to the figure of the dominant male in patriarchal society?’ Later on I saw that the booklet accompanying the exhibition did state that ‘Turk made a series of 72 self portrait heads in clay , and then invited the public to come and distort them. Gavin Turk is one of a number of artists who have used destruction of the sculpted head as a way of expressing fragmented identity.’

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‘Character Head by Antonio Canova (above) is in terracotta. The face is very expressive .The shape of the eyebrows, widened eyes and the dropped jaw according to the guidebook is showing ‘an androgynous figure with a quizzical ,fain toy comic, pained expression. This shows how accomplished Canova was at expression emotion in his portraits.

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The three photographs above depict two the exhibits that were by Emily Young, the first in the yellowish Purbeck Freestone is called ‘Purbeck Head’ and the last one in Carara marble is called ‘Laran’. According to the guidebook ‘the primary objective of Emily Young’s sculpture is to bring the natural beauty and energy of the stone to the fore.’ For me, seeing Emily Young’s work for the first time was exciting. I began to realise how she is not aiming for perfection , but uses the imperfections in the piece of stone she is using to good effect. She does not stick rigidly to conventional anatomy, but alters the features to achieve the effect that she is wanting to show. Also, for me, the brokenness of some of her sculptures could  signify the human condition and our imperfection. Purists may find her lacking anatomical rigour, but I think her way of working could be very liberating, assuming one had already learnt enough anatomy to know where to make ‘adjustments’.

References

(1) Front cover and page 7 of Guidebook to ‘The revelation of the Head’ available from Messums Wiltshire.

(2)Above guidebook page 28.

(3)Above guidebook page 27.

(4)Above guidebook page 24.

David Newman (August 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review- ‘Stone : A legacy and Inspiration’.

imageThis book was found by randomly looking on the Internet, and what a find! It is a very inspiring book that wholeheartedly enthuses about stone. In particular it visits the quarries where various stones come from , so is unique in that respect. In many other books on stone the origin is taken as a given. The book is based on a three year research investigation called STONE project . A project research team embarked on an extensive travel programme to stone working locations throughout the world. They sought out and gathered examples of stone extraction , stone use , and stone worker’s skills  through film, photography, and face-to-face interview.  The photography is of a high standard such that when I saw a picture of Shap granite I knew that I wanted to work with this stone.  The book refers to well known sculptors such as Barbara Hepworth, Peter Randall Page and Isamu Noguchi. This was very educational for me as I had never heard of Isamu Noguchi, who had spent much time studying ancient methods of working stone, and writing at length on the spiritual associations and meditative properties of carving. The work of Jake Harvey , Gerard Mas and Atsuo  Okamoto were also shown.

The section on quarrying certainly has some amazing photographs of quarries and quarry workers and makes you realise the vaste masses of rock involved and the difficulties in cutting the rock .

Tools and techniques are also given a chapter, from basic chisels to to diamond grinding blades. Also the hand, measuring devices, and moving stone were given a mention. Towards the end the work of a large number of stone carvers is shown , revealing a great diversity .

I won’t reveal all that is in this wonderful book , but for a stone carver this is a revelation. Do enjoy this book.

Thanks to the contributors: Jake Harvey, Joel Fisher, Jessica Harrison and Noe Mandelle, as well to the Editor Andrew Patrizio and Sarah Coulson for the excellent introduction.

David Newman (August 2018).

 

 

A Discussion at Messums between Sculptor Tim Harrison and Prof. Simon Olding.

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Tim Harrison left- Prof. Simon Olding right  –   (picture courtesy of Jan O’Highway)

On 21st April 2018 a group of South West Sculptors ( Jan, Miguel, Helen, myself and my partner Kate) travelled to Messums in Wiltshire to attend the exhibition of Tim Harrisson’s work and a discussion between him and Prof. Simon Olding.

For those who have not been to Messums , it is set in the heart of the Wiltshire countryside in the village of Tisbury and exhibits the work of a wide variety of  reputable sculptors. The discussion started off by mentioning that Tim is influenced by the landscape, and uses Chicksgrove stone, which is a local stone to Messums. The title of his exhibition is ‘As it was is now’, and this is also the title of a large piece if sculpture done in 2018 in four sections in Jordan’s Whitbed Portland stone. This piece of work draws a reference to the very old barn that is Messums. The Portland stone has a lot of fossils in it and is a contemporary response to this building. ‘The history of the building and that of the stone operate together.’

 

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‘As it was is now’.

This piece above is 2.4metres high and gives you a feeling of modernity and also the gaps between the stone give it a paradoxical lightness almost as if the blocks are suspended in air. The texture of the dense fossils certainly echo the textures and patterns seen on the walls of the building, and are very attractive, and it is of note that the patterns include spaces in the stone.

I liked one quote from Tim which was : ‘It is encouraging as an artist to look back at your old work.’ It is too easy to think that one has moved on from one’s older work and not pay it much attention but seeing a progression and a development in one’s work can be very helpful. The horizontal piece ‘Bearing’ from 1991, in Purbeck limestone , could be designated an old piece of Tim’s work and though weathered ,it is a powerful piece of work and of note here is the way that he has purposely made the fossils protrude in order to bring them to the fore . This was not planned and was one of those decisions made in the the process of working the stone. Tim comments that ‘the fossils are making the stone come alive again’.

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Bearing (1991)

The column is a very significant part of Tim’s work , and it doesn’t have to have edges. He uses columns as an analogy of space, carved with a rhythm, suggesting the vertical. The rhythm moving through some of there pieces is more horizontal. Some of the pieces are split to create a sense of precariousness and balance in the work.

He has some key shapes such as squares , ovals and circles. In the oval the edge is elastic. Tim stated that for the circle, ‘there is no change in rhythm’. ‘In ‘Bearing’ there’s an oval, and you are held in suspension of your disbelief’. ‘The cube represents the earth- it has edges and you can read the edges as the block’. ‘The block defines the image’. ‘There is a problem with the central area of a rectangle’.

Tim stated that public art is very difficult as you don’t have control over the surroundings. He says this from bitter experience of having a development put up right next to one of his pieces.

 

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Double Vision

Tim stated that ‘Double Vision’ is like throwing a stone into a pond. All these pieces in this exhibition are shown in a booklet available, with an excellent article entitled ‘In the slow zone’ by Christopher Nicholson. The photography in an old barn is superb , particularly of a sculpture called ‘North’ which is made of a rich chocolatey brown Cumbrian sandstone. This piece has definite ripples in it, swirling round the oval form; the sculpture in three pieces placed on top of each other . The mass of the sculpture is impressive as is the effect of the texturing causing gradations of shadowing.

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North

The sculpture ‘Single Vision’, Tim explained, is the expression of some ideas with a platonic cube (the earth) exploring how rhythm patterns can operate on a cube. This work was a proposal for a large work and allowed him to explore the potential for a 1.5metre cube, but in the end the commission didn’t happen. ‘End Piece’ in Ham stone was originally one piece of stone as it came out of the ground. Here Tim’s affect on the stone has been minimal. I like this kind of respect for the natural form as occurring in nature. Peter Randall-Page also has this respect for the original contours of a piece of stone.

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End Piece- Ham Stone

It  was mentioned that there is so much different geology in the UK, stone sculptors are very fortunate with so many different types of stone to choose from. Ham stone is unique as it is limestone, with shells, as well as iron and seams of clay. The stone above was teased out, not cut. Tim decided to cut it in half and let the pieces face each other.

Tim mentioned that he is interested in the work of Kim Lin. He turned to sculpture quite late in his life like Kim Lim. Having looked up Kim Lim I can definitely see the influence of her work in Tim’s work. He finds that there is a beautiful rhythm in stone carving. ‘There is a natural progress in it’, ‘You see the detail of the stone’.

Tim also comments that ‘there can be a dysfunctional relationship between architecture and sculpture. Some architecture denies the humanistic perspective.’ He mentioned that he does a lot of preparatory drawing before working on the stone. Another comment was that ‘there has to be room for things happening in the work.’

 

Above are two more of my favourite pieces of his. On the left ‘Cervaiole’ resembles a Classical Greek column and is in Carrara marble and on the right ‘The Hurdcott Stone’ in Wiltshire sandstone and Carrara marble . The undulations in the surfaces are heightened by the restricted natural light in Messums and the judicious use of lighting exhibits these pieces really well.

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‘Base Bed’ 2017

Finally, if I had to have a favourite then ‘Base Bed’ in Chicksgrove limestone, Cumberland sandstone and Portland Base Bed would be a contender. The colours, textures and the carefully chosen stones work really well together and the relationship between the pieces is powerful.

David Newman (8/5/2018).                                         This exhibition closes on 13/5/2018.

Exhibition Catalogue – Tim Harrisson -‘As it was is now’. – commentary by Christopher Nicholson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Randall-Page’s Central London Sculpture : The One and The Many.

Earlier this year I went to see this massive 25 tonne granite sculpture in Central London that is an eroded granite boulder. It is in Fitzroy Place, Fitzrovia, which is about a 15 minute walk from St Pancras station and the nearest tube station is Goodge Street.  It incorporates writing systems from the earliest cuneiform script to modern languages. The marks convey  creation stories from around the world. It was installed in 2015. After I had taken a series of photos a couple of security guards told me that photography in this site was not allowed , though this did not prevent me from enjoying the sculpture.

 

 

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The One and the Many.

The morse code decodes as : ‘The end is in the beginning and yet you go on’.                      At the base is writing in English which is as follows : ‘In the beginning there was a single geometrical point containing all space time matter and energy ; this point did not sit in space , it was space ; there was no inside and no outside’.                                                      The sculpture does have serious impact due to it’s size and is located in a square edged with tall metal pillars and suspended planting. The public walk through this area and  it is very pleasant despite the offices and apartments surrounding. If you are in London and have some time to spare do have a look at this sculpture, which must be one of Peter’s largest.

David Newman 29/11/2017.