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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, June 23, 2004
    Nash downstream

    Reading David Nash's Forms into Time at the moment and I'm reminded of how impressed I was seeing his work at Tate St Ives. It's because he's one of those artists who work with, and in, nature, lending perspectives on our place in it, showing appreciation of the mystery of the world - the visible not the invisible. There's a conscious spirituality to his work - influenced by wisdom such as this Buddhist tenet: "We get along better if we collaborate with nature instead of trying to dominate it."

    In Nash's case wood is the medium for his work. He's worked with it so long - always going with the grain, he permits the wood to determine the shape and form of his art, he's learned a great deal about its natural textures and behaviours.

    I also like about him that he got out of the metropolis at an early age to set up his studio in an old chapel in Blaneau Ffestiniog, which I know well: Britain's wettest, greyest place, a town hemmed in by slate slag heaps and very raw, very close to nature.

    And I'm especially grabbed (and amused, which is ok I think) by one work - Wooden Boulder, Maentwrog, North Wales 1978-

    He writes: "In the summer of 1978 a massive oak, recently felled, became available high above the Ffestiniog Valley. Its owner had feared that it would fall on their cottage. Working the tree where it lay over a two-year period, a dozen or more sculptures were extracted. The first piece evolved into the Wooden Boulder.

    The mid-seventies had been a period of working with the thin ends of trees - branches and twigs- making linear sculptures, and using hazel to plait into 'ropes' and structures. Feeling the need to return to solid volume I went back to the elemental rough carved balls made in 1971. I carved a very large one, 1 metre in diameter, 400 kilograms in weight, with the intention of taking it inside to dry out and crack. Following the cuts left from the tree’s felling there came a point where the half-carved sphere had to be cut loose from the trunk. I intended to roll over it and continue carving the underneath, but being on a slope the rolling was difficult and dangerous. The physicality and implied movement of a sphere became an active reality.

    "The idea came to make an event - to document an action - with this 400-kilogram beast, and, if eventually exhibited, to show a photograph together with the object to illustrate its origin.

    "Rolling it into a nearby stream, down a steep slide of water and into a pool would give an image of a big splash; the sphere could then be hauled out and rolled down the tract to the road to be transported up to the studio.

    "It got stuck half-way down the water slide. Pondering what at first seemed to be a problem, it became clear that this rough oak sphere should remain in the stream. It became a sculpture of a rock: a Wooden Boulder with continual potential."

    The picture below is on display at St Ives; it illustrates the boulder's downstream journey so far (from the top): cut from an oak trunk October '78; lodged in waterfall November '78; winched to shallows May '79; into second pool August '80 where it stays for eight years; rolled further downstream June '88; storm moves boulder 150 metres December '90; rests in shallows; moves in storm December '94; wedged under a bridge; moved beyond bridge May '95.