Archive | March, 2014

Stuff

30 Mar

In the realm of Bonkers, the art of Victorian Taxidermy is King. I had the serene pleasure of stumbling into Warwick Museum this weekend whilst attending my niece’s wedding. As I stepped inside the old museum in the market square I was greeted by a glass case containing two stuffed Choughs, examining a beetle with very beady eye.

Just as the Victorians were fascinated by the natural world and wanted literally to own bits of it, preserved for posterity in their parlours, so we too collect trinkets. Today’s stuff is kept as digital files and posted on Facebook. It’s the same schtick: “Hey look! I found this amazing thing, shot it (with a gun/Victorians, iPhone/us) and ‘stuffed’ it – displayed it in an amusing pose for you to look at and admire.

Image

Peter Spicer, master taxidermist of Leamington Spa, stuffed this bear and rendered him in the anthropomorphic pose of a Roman Emperor. “Friends, Romans, Countrymen – lend me your bears”. Appropriate for Shakespeare’s county I feel and a moth eaten literal rendering of the County’s badge. Motto ‘Non sanz droict’  – literally – ‘Not without right’. What right had anyone to shoot and stuff this bruin, let alone chain him to a post and set the dogs on him?

Image

This distinctly anorexic Badger begs the topical question, “TB or not TB?”

And the fox with ear mange chasing the partridge seems a reluctant Rotten Reynard.

Image

My Bipolar mind is always stuffed with crazy unconnected images, sounds and ideas – such is the nature of manic depression. Natural History Museums are balm to this unquiet mind, because to see the physical expression of cultural obsession displayed with such rigour is somehow deeply soothing to me. One person’s Bonkers, is another person’s serene tranquility. Thank you Peter Spicer for this daft treasury, if only I could skin, stuff and pose the madness in my head. The quietness of curation, bliss.

A final absurdity in this little chocolate box of a museum was the magnificent skeleton of an extinct Irish Elk. A cracking display mounted so that it faces out of an obscure museum side window. Visitors to the gallery are greeted by an extinct deer’s arse and not the seven foot span antlers which so fascinated Charles Darwin.

Image

 

Darwin was able to come up with a reason for growing these magnificent antlers and shedding them annually – sexual display and mate acquisition. There is no evolutionary reason for manic depression that I can deduce – only the exhaust fumes of an unquiet mind.

Too much stuffing? Give me taxidermy, give me curation, give me peace of mind.

 

Image

Rot

21 Mar

Rot

Timber from a beech tree infected fungus inspired my inlay of an albatross gliding over the vast southern oceans.

Many fungi cause marbling, mottling and discolouration in timber, and whilst this rot may detract from the structural value of the wood, the ‘spalting’, as the patterning is called is much sought after by wood turners and knife handle makers. This discolouration was probably produced by ‘white rot’, which is caused by a common polypore fungus called Trametes versicolor, the ‘turkey tail’ bracket fungus.

Trees, like humans, gain character (and a huge disease load) with age. Beech trees, in particular, are prone to fail suddenly – huge limbs dropping off in a storm, or entire trees keeling over – due to the insidious activity of the fungal hyphae literally eating the tree’s heart out.

Yet, in so doing, we are sometimes left with something which is ‘more’ than the unaffected original. It is as though the humble process of rotting has wrought a truly beautiful transformation.

The albatross is sometimes used metaphorically to mean a psychological burden or curse from Coleridge’s ‘Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’. I have always thought of them as truly unburdened in their wandering, effortless and epic flights.

I doubt there are fungi in the sea (bacteria do the rotting there), here is an escape from rot.

Image

Berserker

13 Mar

Berserker

When I am making I like to think that I am ‘at one’ with my materials and tools – that I am in a calm zen-like state of grace.

I was smartly disabused of this rosy notion whilst talking to a very talented artist colleague who makes the most divine wedding attire in her pristine studio. I was having a convivial cup of tea with a bunch of artists from Exchange Place Studios, when Debbie Carlisle described to me how she had looked in through the window of my workshop door out of curiosity.

What she saw was a man with a fearsome grimace on his face, gnashing his teeth, whilst forcing a screaming machine through a gigantic piece of wood. I had been routing a piece of oak in the process of constructing these enormous gates.

Oak Gates

She mimed my teeth gnashing stance with vivid skill.

The Berserkers were Odin’s wolf or bear skinned warriors who were capable of working themselves up into such a mighty warrior frenzy that they would gnaw the tops of their shields and howl like demons. Probably scarring bejesus out of their foe.

As a man I do experience the emotion of pure rage. Usually when I am in my van (much to my wife’s irritation) and when I am confronted with unkindness toward others.

I have come to accept that it is probably a product of too much ‘juice’ or testosterone. Having taught at a boys school years ago I learned early on that plenty of physical exercise in the form of rugby, PE, hiking, running around and yelling rendered boys quite teachable.

Much is said about the problems associated with uncontrolled male aggression and most of it is true. Brutality towards those unable to defend themselves is inhumane and unacceptable, so can it be controlled?

Without our fathers we men find it difficult to make sense of the Berserker in us. It is only from a paternal figure do we learn to play the long game, patience, kindness, gentleness and courtliness and grace.

In my studio I will continue to be Berserkr (literally – ‘wearing the bear skin’) for it in this transformed state that I can focus my all my energies in honour of the old gods, releasing the demons away from polite company.

Tuatha Dé Danann

1 Mar

Image

Literally ‘The people of the Goddess Danu’, or in this case from left to right:

Rob, Angus, Jessica, Derek and Sarah – the core of the Friends of Lynwood Gardens, a small green treasure in the heart of Sheffield which has brought together these doughty folk. It is said that the Tuatha (ancestral Irish folk) had four great treasures or talismans that showed their skills in arts, crafts and magic. The first treasure was the Stone of Fal, which would scream whenever a true king placed his foot on it. The next talisman was the Magic Sword of Nuada – the one armed king of the Tuatha – a fearsome weapon that always inflicted a mortal blow when drawn. The third treasure was the spear of the Sun God Lugh, this spear never missed its target when thrown. The final treasure was the Cauldron of Dagda – a cornucopia from which an inexhaustible supply of food came forth.

Well, the friends of Lynwood have in their way recreated four sacred treasures in this hallowed ground in Broomhall. Firstly, they have uncovered and enhanced a strange old neglected Victorian garden with a work ethic enshrined in the practise of sustainable community endeavour rooted in sound ecological practise. Secondly they have safely navigated the multitude of conflicting local and municipal demands and issues without losing sight of the intrinsic nature of their work – enjoyment in being part of the Green Wood. Thirdly, they have generously shared the fruits of their labours with young and old alike and demonstrated a canny educationalists skill of ‘show, don’t tell’ to persuade locals, councillors, funders, movers and shakers (just like the Tuatha who showed great ‘domestic’ skill and leadership). Finally, and most unlike many other friends’ groups I have had the pleasure of working with, they have created a fellowship founded upon youthful energy and a celebration of diversity – a great treasure.

Their figure head and Chairman, Derek, who lives beside Lynwood gardens is, in a very real sense, Lynwood’s guardian spirit – he has quietly woven himself into the very fabric of the landscape:

Image

He has trained and nurtured these mature willows into spectacular living green spun candy floss-like sculptures, worthy of any royal park. Just one of the treasures of Lynwood.

It could be Tir na n’Og – the land of the young, I’ve been there, have you?