Thinking is Form - Synopsis
'In a Post-modern sense of journey, Barry Cooper describes the evolution of his work since he began painting whilst studying for a Philosophy Degree in 1970. The simple brush or chisel marks are the essential building blocks which are fundamental and always remain central to the process of realizing artistic concepts.'
My journey into the world of making art began when I was 25 years old studying for a philosophy degree at Bangor University in North Wales in 1970. Other philosophy students were painters, and there was a very active contemporary arts scene there at the time. I read a lot on the subject of modern art and psychology, and began doing line drawings in my philosophy notes. The paintings which followed allowed me a practical outlet to thought; they became a way to materialise, to realise thought processes allowing me to retain that sense of paradox which is essential to reach any kind of truth. It also allowed me to express myself in a medium other than words. Hence the process of the title of this talk was born.
There are two artists in the last 100 years who have influenced my work more than anybody else. In the early days it was Pablo Picasso, and latterly Joseph Beuys who coined the phrase “Thinking is Form”. Both artists experienced an artistic journey which produced controversial, challenging work and both took their art out into the world, leading to Beuy’s other notorious quote: “Everyone is an Artist”. From the very beginning, the act of being able to mark-make on a blank piece of paper, without preconception, has always been very important to me as the ultimate creative resource. Later on in the 1990s when I began working in stone with Joseph Mozundo, a Zimbabwean stone carver, I discovered the same philosophy: “Teaching a stone to talk”. All of this was pre-empted by Picasso when he said “I do not seek I find”.
There are two main threads which go through my work. The first is the JOURNEY FROM CONCEPT TO MARK and the second is the JOURNEY OF MAKING CONNECTIONS. I do not subscribe to the Post-Modern theory that Modernism is finished and thus anything goes. I have a very strong sense of tradition. Picasso and later Beuys taught me that doing on a multiplicity of levels can be a very powerful thing as long as it is focussed. It could be argued that neither of them has produced many individual masterpieces, but without doubt the totality of their life’s work has had a very strong impact both inside the world of art and outside.
Putting aside my early work, I will move straight to 1975 when the Ballet Rambert came to Theatre Gwynedd in Bangor North Wales, where I had been painting full time since finishing my Philosophy degree in 1972. They introduced me to modern movement and modern music executed at a very professional level with modern design. Over the next few years I did many drawings of the choreography both in rehearsal and in performance and produced many paintings from these. The drawings were not naturalistic, they were my own handwriting; they were a sort of hieroglyph, a record of the movement. They introduced me to fast mark-making and to sequence. I saw many well known choreographers, composers, and performers at work, including Glen Tetley, Harrison Birtwhistle, and Lindsay Kemp who introduced me to the concepts and philosophy of contemporary art at that time across several disciplines. I had my first one person show in London with Rambert in the Roundhouse Chalk Farm in 1976, in conjunction with their season there.
My first collaboration with a composer was in 1977, with Anthony Adams in 1977. I stretched 7 six foot square canvases which were to be used in performance with dancers in the Menai Bridge Music Festival. Each canvas and the associated piece of music was inspired by a Haiku, and was designated a particular musical instrument or voice. Only four canvases were completed in this project, the rest developed into other compositions.
The fifth canvas ‘Ghost Dances’ was the first of many pieces which I made from the choreography of Christopher Bruce, who has currently just retired from directing The Rambert Dance Company. The sixth canvas, ‘Life of the Poet’ shows the transition I was beginning to make between the world of dance and my domestic world. The image is taken from ‘Cruel Garden’, a full length ballet on the life and death of the Spanish poet F.G. Lorca, which was choreographed and directed by Christopher Bruce collaborating with the mime artist Lindsay Kemp.
THE NUCLEAR FAMILY
This painting marked the transition from living in the mountains of North Wales, to living on a modern estate in Warminster in 1980, the evidence of the world of dance is still evident in the children’s costumes, otherwise it is a very domestic painting with a nuclear explosion going on in the background. This marks the completion of all 7 of the 6ft square paintings. The previous 2 Rambert paintings were finished in the art room of Selwood middle school while normal lessons were going on, and all 7 were exhibited with other paintings in the Lyttleton foyer of the National Theatre, in 1982 in exhibition called ‘7 Years of Ballet Rambert’. The ‘Nuclear Family’ was taken out of the exhibition, by the United Nations Environment Agency and taken to Nairobi for a mixed exhibition to mark the 10th anniversary of the Stockholm Peace conference. This was the beginning of my concern with make connections on global issues.
‘Atomic Love Song’ was a commission for Friends of the Earth in North Wales. ‘Family in Wessex’ was a commission for Lord Bath, concerning new roots in Somerset and Wiltshire. ‘Communication’ was a turning point in my technique of painting, when the paint surface became much more fluid, there is evidence of over painting and layering; an emerging and enduring interest in the legacy of Cubism with all its spacial concerns can also be seen. I took this painting to an interview at the Royal College of Art and this led to me spending 2 years, at the age of 40, in the painting school from 1985/7, where I looked very closely at Cubism and the other art/scientific movements happening around 1910.
CABARET OF THE CENTURY
During 1984 before I went to London I spent a year as Artist in Residence in Frome Community College. The work that I did with the students was rooted in traditional pieces, all canvases 7 x 5ft, and I took many of these on the RCA to complete them.
During the residency I undertook my second collaboration with a composer, Simon Holt, who was featured composer in the Bath International Festival that year, and we worked with the Times Music Critic, Bill Mann, who was director of the festival that year. We built an Odako Japanese kite with students, which we flew in the Kite festival in Victoria park and then it became the backdrop for a performance of Simon’s piece called ‘Kites’ which was performed by the London Symphonietta conducted by Elgar Howarth, in the Assembly Rooms.
This third project in the residency was my first introduction to sculpture, collaborating with the stage prop maker Richard Hewer on the design, the technology department in Frome Community College made this 10ft tall metal sculpture which now resides in Lord Bath’s private garden in Longleat. Not only does it signal the beginning of my 3 dimensional works, but it also signifies the beginning of my conceptual work linking artistic disciplines and the community in a form of land art. On the Frome Community College campus, the Merlin Theatre was built in the 1970s; this is a professional venue with facilities which are shared by the college students during term time. Adjacent to this was a sloping piece of lawn. I proposed a unified sculptural concept for the site which was based on the monumental ancestral figures arranged around the shore of Easter Island all facing inland from the sea. The idea came from 5 archetypal heads which I had previously painted for a play by Dave Hollis called Angelina; these paintings implied sculpture, made up of several pieces with a linked and multilayered connectivity in a forum. Eventually only one was made that year for Longleat.
My first paintings at the RCA transformed the canvases from the Frome Community College Residency into monumental Cubist images. I was lucky enough to have John Golding as a tutor and friend; he is an abstract painter, expert on Cubism; he was originally an art historian at the Courtauld Institute and has mounted many Picasso and Matisse exhibitions in this country and abroad. I also studied the related fragmentary movements of the time: Eliot and Pound in poetry, Joyce’s Stream of Consciousness writing, Schoenberg’s atonal music, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, and Jung’s archetypes, I was looking at the connections between these.
My time over the next 2 years centred on an intense relationship with Cubism, and the questions that movement raised on the nature of reality. I have always identified with the energy of the work, and the fact that the participating artists insisted on the anonymity of their canvases which were often indistinguishable; the relationship between the nature of the painted image and the object in life was brought into question. The first large new canvas that I stretched was ‘Conversation between Daniel and Akua’. I began to work a lot from life models and then work up compositions from the studies. I have always been interested in Cezanne’s wonderful mountains where the life image hits his retina, travels through his brain and nervous system and emerges onto the canvas as an imposed structure of coloured planes and forms: the elemental building blocks of reality.
When the cubists began their work they were in a world where the perceived and imagined boundaries were in flux. In the smaller canvases which I did at that time I was fired by the same conventional subject matter, the plains and elisions, and the sculptural 3 dimensional preoccupations of the Cubists. In particular an aspect which interested me a great deal was the theory that the image stopped at the picture plane. The picture was the reality, not an illusion of reality, paving the way for the American Abstract Expressionists where the pictures no longer made a reference to an outside reality. I was intrigued by the fact also that when I was confronted by real Cubist paintings they defied the theory; I saw them as crystals with facets which allowed me to travel inside them to a 3 dimensional world leading to the 4 dimensional frozen instant of the Space/Time Continuum. In all these canvases I tried to reach this space inside which was the true nature of the object. In two canvases, ‘Bridge’ and ‘Crossing’ I took this exploration of space to almost pure abstraction. The ‘Singer’ and the ‘Pianist’ were my degree show pieces.
On returning to Somerset in the autumn of 1987 I decided to put into practice the advice I had been given that I should be realising 3 dimensional objects in my work. I very much wanted to materialise the world I was working with in the canvases; to find out more about making things with my hands, so I started to make small sculptures in clay, wood, and collaged found objects. At the same time through my connections with the Rambert Dance Company I went on a course in Bristol for designers, dancers and musicians. We all had to do each others’ workshops to learn something about each others’ disciplines for the first week. We were then organised into trios to make a short dance sequence in the second week. The message throughout the whole course was that the emerging art form for the 1990s was collaboration across artistic disciplines, which proved to be a very accurate picture of what happened to me and many other artists, writers, musicians, performers etc. The man leading the course was the composer Nigel Osborne with whom collaborated in the late 1990s in the Edinburgh Festival. He had done much work in Eastern Europe and in the meantime went on to make an opera with schoolchildren in an orphanage in Sarajevo when it was under siege.
This experience brought several threads together; the whole thrust of Cubism as a collaborative adventure engaging with the real world led me to re-examine my Easter Island concept for the piece of grass outside the Merlin Theatre in Frome. I went to John Fisher the principal of Frome Community College and reasserted my original wish to propose a unified sculptural concept for the site. He asked me to submit a proposal and my answer was piece called community which I built up in sketchbooks and maquettes in wood, clay and collaged metal. The concept was a local parliament. I talked to a lot of people about it; we discussed stone and wood representatives and the possibility of an outside performing space since the site was adjacent to a working theatre. Mike Walker, the head of drama suggested an amphitheatre, the artist/art teacher John Nankivell did a sketch of what it might look like. The concept which I eventually and initially came up with was convocation of monumental wood totems 14ft high around a symbolic Arthurian Round Table. John Fisher, the principal, suggested a seat which anyone could sit in. I took the proposal to the managing director of Cuprinol wood preservatives in Frome and nearly managed to get 7,000 in sponsorship for the scheme. Unfortunately at this time the firm had some very bad local publicity about the chemical Lindane which they used in their products. They probably thought that the realisation of a controversial artistic concept attached to their name could possibly back fire on them, so they turned me down just before Christmas 1989.
In the meantime returning to sculpture I began to build the wood totems based on the monumentality of Easter Island figures. I called them ‘Maois’. They were constructed very simply using found bits of metal and wood which I joined with screws and glue. It was very powerful creative time for me, a way of realizing for myself the totemic figures which I had proposed to be representatives, in a local parliament on Frome Community College Campus.
At the same time in March 1989 I had an exhibition in the foyer of the Merlin Theatre on the campus, officially proposing the original unified sculptural concept for the sloping piece of grass on the west side of the theatre. The concept was one of a forum, a democracy, a local parliament, inspired by the ancestral Maois of Easter Island all erected around the edge of the island facing inwards from the sea. It made reference also to the Arthurian Round Table and the City States of Plato’s Republic, reflecting an overall egalitarian view that ‘Small is Beautiful’. I exhibited my wood maquettes, some clay maquettes and some metal maquettes on the same theme. At the suggestion of John Fisher I included some photos of small stones taken close up to give the appearance of Megaliths. In January of that year after Cuprinol Ltd had turned my original proposal down, he had taken me outside his office one sunny morning break-time to sit beside a megalith which he had brought from Wales to commemorate his Deputy Head, Edith Butcher, who had died very suddenly in 1988. He commended it as a faceless representative of Wales which would endure the test of time, bits would drop off it, and lichens would grow on it. He suggested that my concept for a local parliament could be a “United Nations of Stone”. Due to his acute political awareness in wider field of future trends in education, we reduced this concept to a European Community of Stone. And this is precisely what was built on the site. An amphitheatre was built out of local stone by Frank Turner working with lads on a Youth Training Scheme, and monumental representatives were imported from small quarrying communities like Frome in each country of the original European Economic Community. The Spanish stone is 7 metres high; the Belgian stone is 30 tonnes and the Greek stone is marble from the harbour wall on the island of Paros, home to the ancient quarry which gave us the Venus de Milo, Laocoon, and the Elgin marbles. The whole sculpture, a piece of land art, was called ECOS – The European Community of Stones.
To my original exhibition in March 1989, I had invited Mrs. Angela Yeoman, the owner of a large local quarrying company; it was principally through her subsequent generosity that the realisation of this project was made possible. I raised £10,000 at the outset, and the rest of this £250,000,000 project was completed by donations in kind. Peter Chapman, PR manager for Foster Yeoman Ltd, undertook the project management, and made the presentations to quarries in Europe to obtain the monolithic representatives. Mike Walker, director of the Merlin Theatre, organised a European Festival on the site, for young people from the stone bearing communities, in July 1992. From June 1989 I worked with the sculptor Laurence Knee to design the sculpture. I chose the UK stone from the quarry on the island of Portland, and intended to carve it with the design shown in the clay maquette; this never happened although it was our intention to carve all the representatives, and there is always the possibility, in the future, of a European Sculpture Symposium to do just that. The one exception was the Greek representative which has a cameo relief carving of a Tree of Life by Aristides Varrias, who brought students to the festival in 1992 and carved a Parian folk image of a pomegranate leaf overpowering the moon, symbolising the ‘Triumph of Life over Death’ for the future of Europe. For me this marks the junction point between the painting and the sculpture. The fundamental starting point for the things I make with my hands is the doing, the transition from thought to form needs no more than the emotion to transfer the thought to the making of the mark in 2 or 3 dimensions. The ideas come within that process; the process does need the ideas in order to begin; in this sense thinking and form are the same thing. But what then happened was that the things I made at this simple level started to take on a public persona to make connections.
Meanwhile in the studio I was working out a more and more gestural and abandoned way of painting, but retaining the conventional rectangular format, and the use of the brush. The concept that a painter is someone who’s brush is a little ahead of themselves; finding space in the act of putting paint on: I was re-establishing the first principles which allowed me to make work in the beginning. The excitement of the blank sheet of paper, and the knowledge that I only had to put marks on it to make work, which primarily did not require preconception to be a valid statement, was and is still my starting point. When I moved into stone sculpture in the early 1990s I applied the same principle to found pieces of stone. This has led to my concern at the present time in viewing the processes of my mind, when I am making things, as a ‘Chaotic System’ which creates the artefacts by means of ‘Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions’. Listening to that internal conversation is the most important aspect of making; thinking made form through the materialisation of thought. I mix my oil paints on newspaper, at the end of the day I clean my brushes on it; it was an obvious step to begin to make paintings on these pieces. I called them ‘Palette Notes’, I had nothing to lose, I liked the idea of waste, and images floating on the concept of our world which is fed to us through our printed mass-media. There is no preparation necessary I have an unlimited source of ‘newsprint canvases’, I had a recipe for a much greater freedom of expression. I began to think of paint as another language, a kind of hieroglyph. I began to think of it also as a frozen instant in time, a fractal of the Space/Time Continuum.
So the individual frames, the windows of the rectangular painting displayed all the potential energy and movement which is caught by the camera placed at the meeting point in the atomic accelerator. In Cerne in Switzerland the 4 mile long, circular track, allows physicists to race particles around in opposite directions. They place the camera at the meeting point. What they are looking for in the resulting images is accident, the unexpected, ‘The juxtaposition of Unanticipated Elements’. In this way new particles are discovered to be given ever more exotic, and poetic names such as ‘Charm’, ‘Anti-Charm’, ‘Guage Boson’, ‘Up’, ‘Down’, Pion etc. I began to feel the same about my canvases. They were explorations into Time and Space. The intended or unintended gestural mark is the basic ingredient. What interests me more and more in my paintings is the abstract mark-making in detail, even if the composition is figurative. I began a series of paintings called ‘Events’, which is a term for nuclear collisions, and gave the paintings titles of nuclear particles. Beginning with a carefully prepared absorbent white surface, each painting was a journey without preconception. Each mark led to the next one, it was a duet between me and the paint, the enjoyment of painting in and painting out, creating frozen moments in time like the photos of nuclear encounters. Following the abstract expressionists I saw the canvas more and more as an object in its own right rather than an illusion of visual reality outside the canvas, but it made reference to the material nature of the world, in a similar manner to the way that Cubist paintings made reference to the visual nature of the world .
My concern to bring time into my canvases took me back to my collaboration with composers, and their medium, music, as the art of time. I started to see the canvases as whole pieces of music which it was possible to travel through in time; contemplative pieces which had the same formal concerns as music and could be described in the same terms. I saw the painting as a journey of emotions and elisions, travelling in and out of imagined space as I looked; where my eye rested was where I was in the music. These paintings had musical titles, sometimes I worked from pieces of music, at others they invited pieces of music to be written for them. The pieces of visual music existed and could be experienced within the frame but they implied the larger piece continuing outside the frame, as the ‘Events’ pictures implied a larger reality beyond and within. In the picture I am continually looking for a reality between and behind the layers of paint. Painting for me is like building a sculpture, each layer inhabits a space, the sum of the layers is a four dimensional reality.
SONGS OF THE STONES
At this stage and for the next few years, my concerns in painting linked to the wider issues raised by the ECOS project. I worked on the idea that each of the 12 European stones contained a visual song related to its culture of origin and its mineral structure. I shifted my view from a canvas which contained a whole piece of music to one which contained an instant in a piece of music, and then our eye travels on to the next canvas by means of film or by juxtaposing the actual canvases in sequence around a gallery, or at its most basic, making a cartoon transition of pen and ink drawings on A4 paper where each drawing was numbered in sequence and evolved out of the previous one. I called this work ‘Songs of the Stones” and from 1995 -1998 collaborated with the composer Nigel Osborne, who is Professor of Music in Edinburgh to combine them with his music and performance. ‘Hieroglyphs – Serendipity’ joined live painting with a film of my first stone sculpture ‘Song of Life’ and an improvised performance of Nigel’s music in the Demarco European Arts Foundation, bridging Edinburgh to Bosnia for Christmas 1995.
A short film for Channel 4 followed in the summer of 1996 on the ECOS amphitheatre in Frome with 72 school children across the age range under the direction of Nigel Osborne, me and the choreographer Annabelle Macfadyen. In the 1997 Edinburgh Festival I made video installation with Nigel in the Demarco Gallery looping Griffin images from the Greek stone with his music on 3 separate screens, one of which showed a film made by Aristides Varrias on island of Paros traveling down the ancient marble mine; this culminated in a performance of Nigel's music in the 1998 Cheltenham Festival.
SONG OF LIFE
At this point I want to look at the thread of development in the sculpture. ‘Song of Life’ was my first stone sculpture completed in 1993, made in oolytic Limestone. Representing the past present and future of Bosnia, the (distinctly Easer Island influenced) head transforms into a mother and child, and then into a pregnant figure. This piece is typical of the larger sculptures which followed it; the idea comes out of the found piece of stone in the act of chiseling and from this the form emerges and the connecting concept evolves.
In the autumn of 1993 I began working with the Zimbabwean stone carver Joseph Muzondo. ‘Pisces’ and ‘Moonbathing’ were both influenced by his archetypal work, enabling me to sculpt more in the round and not just drawing in relief on the stone.
‘Moonbathing’ was a commission by Lord Bath for the grounds of Longleat begun in November 1993 and completed in March 1994. I was rapidly moving into a world of sculptural projects where the transition of thought, idea or concept to physical reality was very direct, still very instinctive but more practical, less cerebral than painting involving very basic material decisions. It solved problems that, at the time I was unable to solve in paint about the nature of making things, the resolution was simply through doing in sculpture. The indecision which is allowed in the contemplative painting process is absorbed in very basic work with the hands and mind when we are constructing things.
‘Syrens’ was a collaboration with artist/musician Laurence Parnell in 1998/99. It was a commission from Sustans to create a sculpture encompassing the whole length of cycle track from Wells to Glastonbury as a pilgrimage route which was part of the Atlantic route from Inverness to Cadiz. Our concept was an 8 mile long musical instrument consisting of 9 way markers/standing stones. Each stone had a widow recess cut in the top to accommodate a bronze scissor-arch, which was also the embrace of two Syrens. The piece was inspired by John Milton’s ‘Blest pair of sirens’ and by the scissor arch in Wells cathedral; it was created as a response to the ecclesiastical and mythological resonance of the landscape. There were 3 different sizes of arch and each supported a bell, which was tuned to a different note calculated from the relative distances between 3 landmarks (Wells Cathedral, Glastonbury Tor, and Dulcote quarry face) as seen from a proposed earthwork or central viewing platform at Launcherly, a high point on the route. Each way marker had the mileage carved into an area on the surface above an image that predicts or reflects a physical aspect of the journey or alludes to the history and experience of pilgrimage. The route was officially opened by Adam Hart-Davis (a cycling enthusiast who presents science programmes on television) with 300 hundred local schoolchildren.
Aerolith was a collaboration with the aircraft designer David Cook during the summer of 1998, and was a commission for the Principal’s lawn at Frome Community College. I have always been intrigued by the progress of mineral technology since the building of the Neolithic monuments, and the fact that the constituents of a modern aeroplane are 99% mineral. In Neolithic times flight was a dream, through 7000 years of technology distilling engine parts, fuselage, and fuel out of the mineral of our planet air travel is possible. Aerolith juxtaposes the Neolithic Dolmen, or exposed burial mound, with an image of flight which has been carved into a mathematically correct wing section. There is a bronze nose cone and a bronze tail. I worked with students on the design and there is evidence of student ‘Rock Art' on the legs.
ROUND AND ROUND
My painting at this time was becoming more and more welded to the sculpture. It was distilled into monochromatic pieces as I began a continuing interest in exploring space through the single variable of one colour and white but in conjunction with the sculpture it moved into a collaborative outlet. I assigned each of the 12 stone representatives on ECOS an area of the colour spectrum, and painted a series of 12 canvases, each related to one of the ECOS stones. The composer Helen Ottaway composed a 5 minute piece of piano music for each painting. We collaborated with the video artist Al Morrison, who filmed each canvas for 5 minutes travelling through it and in and out of the picture space. He also closely filmed the texture of each of the ECOS stones. We organised a performance in the Merlin Theatre in 1999 with Helen playing the whole cycle of 12 piano pieces whilst the film of each canvas was projected on the back wall of the stage. Preceding each individual piano piece a film of the texture of the relevant stone was projected in silence. This was subsequently performed in the Salisbury Festival 2001 and a boxed CD has been made containing the 12 images as cards. This was the most complete project in terms of the exploration of space and time, beginning with the 2 dimensional image embedded in the 3 dimensional ECOS sculpture, made 4 dimensional by the composition and performance of Helen’s music.
Grendel’s mother was a commission for Rode first school in the playground. It was inspired by a dragon carved on the school wall, and a ‘Dragon Garden’ created by Laurence Parnell. The image is seated cross-legged echoing the Oriental figure of Hotei, a symbol of repletion and contentment; it has a marsupial pouch which allows the children to keep treasure in the tradition of Grendel, the Anglo Saxon dragon in Beowulf. Grendel and his mother lived in a cave under a lake, where they hoarded treasure, late at night they came out and terrorized the mead halls.
The conceptual and contextual nature of the sculpture was brought together in the Millennium year with an ambitious project multimedia project. ECOS 2000, was the culmination of the European Community of Stones Project. This was funded jointly by the Millennium Commission and Foster Yeoman Ltd. In June of 2000 a video installation completed a European wide virtual sculpture linking young people across Europe from each of the stone bearing communities, juxtaposing the Neolithic with the 21st Century in a Festival generated by the silicon chip. Based in a Megalithic site, this microstone piece is the means to ensure that the culmination of ECOS is one of continuing communication between young people from 12 different geological locations in Europe for the future. It is a transcontinental musical instrument with 12 internet strings, stretching between the sites in Europe. By this time I had become increasingly interested in Joseph Beuys’ notions of ‘Connective Methodologies’ and ‘Social Sculpture’. I began to recognize that my work both in painting and in sculpture over the past few years has been to do with the business of making connections between artistic disciplines and between art and the community.
In Somerset Arts Week during September 2000 I created an installation in Biddlecombe Woods near Wells, alongside other artists. The piece was called Items from a Lost World: a tribute to Joseph Beuys which consisted of 7 Oak Tree Totems leading to laminated computer images lodged as detritus in the undergrowth and river to mark the "End of the 20th Century". I was interested in the connection between Beuys’ proposal to plant 7000 Oak trees across Europe for the Millennium, and the environmental and social implications of the virtual 12 Way Bridge across Europe implied by the ECOS amphitheatre.
OUR LADY OF THE MENDIPS
A life-size Rock Art commission funded by the Poetry Society in London completed the year 2000. "Our Lady of the Mendips" stands alongside other stones in a community poetry/sculpture trail, initiated by Mendip District Council, for disabled people in the Collett Park in Shepton Mallet. It is a carving that juxtaposes Shaun Jackson's poem with a Gaia image on Carboniferous Limestone.
In April 2001 I exhibited with the group '6s and 7s' in the Walcott Chapel in Bath. An installation called 'Portes', The Gates, made reference, through an Oak arch, small stone sculptures in sand and paintings echoing the translucent effect of stained glass, to the disastrous ferry accident which occurred at the harbour entrance to Greek island of Paros in September 2000. Again I returned to a connection which was made though ECOS; the piece was intended as a kind of ‘healing’ along the ‘Songline’ between northern and southern Europe. The arch symbolized the Portes, two very large rocks which stand at the entrance to Paros harbour. On the insides of the arch I carved Portes in Greek on one side and Portes in Runes on the other, so it was also a conversation between northern and southern Europe.
This theme developed further in the autumn of 2001 when I began working on the exhibition ‘Genesis’ with Aristides Varrias, a sculptor from the Greek island of Paros in the Aegean sea, who works in Parian Marble, which 2000 years ago provided the material for the most famous Greek sculptures of antiquity: The Venus de Milo, Laocoon, and the Elgin Marbles. The exhibition was held in February 2000 in the Hellenic Centre in London as a conversation between my paintings, as archetypal voices of the ECOS stones in Frome, and Aristides’ carved heads, ‘Flowers of Stone’. The exhibition continued to link the amphitheatre in Frome across Europe to Paros, the birthplace of the Greek stone on the ECOS site. The process in all these projects travels from an initial thought to a form which is largely not preconceived, and the created artefact then generates its own thoughts and connections. This very much links in with Beuy’s notion of Social Sculpture and Connective Methodology; it also highlights the emphasis which he places on imagination at the centre of what we do as artists and members of a world community.
PATHWAYS IN STONE
In May 2002 I collaborated with Jim Shiner on Pathways in Stone: this sculpture, which is spread over four miles, consists of seven monolithic boundary stones for the village of Aldeby in Norfolk, involving a dialogue between elemental Christian symbols and the Runic language, pathways which allow you to travel physically between stones, and mentally into the layers of meaning in the icons.
1. The travellers stone – Fire, Air and Ehwarz, the horse/prophet.
2. The stone of redemption – Yr the Yew, and the Crown of Thorns.
3. The stone of regeneration – Berkana, the Birch tree, healing, and the Scandinavian Cross for the northern stone.
4. The Wherry stone – water and earth symbols and Lagaz the leek, beside the river Waverney.
5. The stone of dawn – Dagaz, day or gateway, and the sign of the world & 4 elements for most easterly stone.
6. The stone of wisdom – Ansuz, the wise one, beside the material and spiritual world, for the westerly stone.
7. The stone of destiny – combines all the elements with the additional rune of Ancestral Homeland at the top.
TREE OF LIFE
From January 2003 – April 2004 I worked on the Holm Oak – Tree of Life extension and completion of the ECOS amphitheatre, as a bridge across Europe between 12 similar small communities linked geologically by the monoliths on the ECOS amphitheatre. I designed a bank behind the stage which supports 11 Holm oak trees, and has carved a 4 metre high Portland stone Tree of Life which stands as the 12th tree to symbolise a forum for peace and friendship across a continent which for centuries has been at war. The Oak tree, as the traditional focus of European culture and ritual, is juxtaposed with the standing stone to make a 21st century forum allowing young people to create the future.
On the new chorus tier stage for the ECOS amphitheatre I worked with students to design 12 figures which have danced out of the European stones. Each figure occupied the designated area of the colour spectrum and was set into the stage with a special resin tarmac using real stone and glass bonded with polyurethane to generate the colours. The idea was to make some reference to the icons on a computer screen, implying the 12 Way Bridge, the potential Intranet connections between the 12 participating communities. This also made reference to the new Media Arts building, just across the car park from the amphitheatre, which could provide the means to make this a reality. It symbolised my continuing interest in make connections in my work, the idea of exchanging images like Hieroglyphs between communities, towards a common language of iconography.
I saved the patterns for the dancing figures developing a separate concept in the studio in 2004. This concept centred on Messaien’s Turangalila symphony written in (1946-48). The name comes from the Sanskrit. Lila literally means a game, but game in the sense of divine workings in the cosmos: the game of creation, destruction and reconstruction, the game of life and death. Lila is also love. Turanga is ‘time that flies like a galloping horse’; time that runs out like sand from an hour-glass. Turanga is movement and rhythm. Hence Turangalila means altogether: song of love, hymn to joy, movement, rhythm, life and death. I was returning to my early abstract images from dance, creating images inside the figures which come out of the music, responding to the sounds in a similar way to a choreographer. The figures form 6 duets between a woman and a man. They are love duets for ‘The healing of the nations’.
1. Red/Violet & Violet/Blue (Spain and Germany) enter in the ‘moderate somewhat animated’ INTRODUCTION leading to LOVE SONG 1.
2. Orange & Yellow ((Luxembourg and Italy) continue, moving from TURANGALILA 1 ‘almost slow and dreamy’, to LOVE SONG 2.
3. Yellow/Orange & Blue/Green (France and Ireland) unite through JOY IN THE BLOOD OF THE STARS, ‘a long frenetic dance of joy’, transformation on a cosmic scale; leading to GARDEN OF THE SLEEP OF LOVE, ‘very moderate very tender’ where time passes forgotten.
4. Blue & Orange/Red (Denmark and Holland) awake from the garden and descend into TURANGALILA 2, ‘a vision of the abyss’.
5. Green & Red (UK and Portugal) climb into DEVELOPMENT OF LOVE: ‘growing passion which increases to infinity’.
6. Green/Yellow & Violet (Belgium and Greece) move from the ‘very moderate’, strangely poetic, TURANGALILA 3 to the ‘almost animated, with great joy’ FINALE where the melody hangs suspended in a state of luminous expectation.
THE DANCE OF EROS AND THANATOS
From September to December of 2004 I was resident on the island of Paros in the Aegean, continuing the link with the Greek stone on the ECOS amphitheatre. At the end of my time there I worked with the American Environmental artist Cameron Hochenson to create an installation in Archilochos, the community building dedicated to the heroic lyric poet, a contemporary of Homer, who lived and died on the island in the 7th century BC. The building was also the original shed by the port where the Parian marble was unloaded when it came down from Marathi, the ancient marble mine, in the hills above. We made connections with the past by means of archetypal images: huge charcoal drawings in a frieze at the back of the stage, an Odyssey of digital images, pieces of Marathi marble carved as though they had just been washed up from the sea arranged in fish boxes to remember the ferry accident at the Portes in the harbour entrance in 2001, a birdman and woman, dancing figures from Cappadocia (original home of the Greek Orthodox church), and in the centre a silver Olive Tree of Life to remind us that the Venetians carried all the trees of Paros away to make boats. Before I visited the island this time I painted ‘Bird of Paros’, symbolising 21st century mobility and looking back to the Birdman culture of Easter island with all its environmental implications for the planet as a whole.
Whilst in Greece I had visited 2 volcanic landscapes, the Caldera on the island of Santorini which 3,600 years ago was the site of the biggest explosion the planet has known, and Cappadocia where the inhabitants live in caves on landscape covered by the lava from 2 volcanoes, and where the early Orthodox Christians hid in an underground city. At the turn of the year we experienced the Tsunami in the New Year, and a series of television programmes informed us about the potential Super Volcano in the Yellow Stone Park USA, which has a Caldera (cauldron-like collapsed volcano) 35 kilometres across. For the Frome Festival in July 2005 I put on an exhibition in the front room of our house, and in ours and our neighbour’s front garden based on a quote from Isaiah Berlin: “Hegel says, ‘The spirit cheats us, the spirit intrigues, the spirit lies, the spirit triumphs.’ He almost conceives of it as a kind of huge, ironical, Aristophanic force which mocks the poor human beings who are trying to construct their little homes upon the slopes of what they regard as a green and flowery mountain, but which turns out to be the vast volcano of human history, which is about to erupt once again, ultimately perhaps for human good, ultimately in order to realize itself towards an ideal, but in the short run destroying a large number of innocent persons and causing a great deal of suffering and damage.” In the exhibition, entitled Caldera, the images were presented as remains, fossils, fragments from 2005; visitors were invited to investigate archaeology of the present.
In the sculpture and the painting I went back to the roots of my making process leaving the stone very raw with clear evidence of the chisel marks, and the history of the pieces, drill holes, fossils etc; in the paint concentrating on the layers of brush marks. In the ‘fractal’ paintings I was indebted to the painter and filmmaker Clive Walley with whom I had had many recent conversations on the subject of Chaos Theory. In the Black & White paintings I had been working with the composer Helen Ottaway on improvised duets for piano and paint, the instantaneous transition from thinking to form in performance. In ‘Caldera’ I brought together the strands of Connective Aesthetics/ Social Sculpture with the raw mark making in material. I am becoming increasingly interested in the idea of the creative process being a Chaotic System which evolves out of “Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions”. I would like to put forward this presentation as evidence of such a process which has evolved over 35 years out of drawings in philosophy notes to the present condition!
This presentation was first given to Bath Artists Network at their Widcombe Studios.
Thursday 17th November 2005.