Archive | November, 2014

Hands

24 Nov

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It is not often that a complete stranger manages to capture the essence of what I am about. But in this study of my hands carving a moon into a sweet chestnut post, Catherine Burgess has achieved it.

My right hand is applying some force to the back of the chisel as I pare away the edge of the design, whilst my left hand directs the chisel point and controls the force I am applying.

Catherine approached me in her final year as a Photography student for her thesis ‘Waking Hands’ a study of makers and artists at work in Sheffield.

She approached my practice with stealth and great sensitivity. At no point did she hinder my work, she put me at my ease as would a mote of silvery dust in a moonbeam. I have seen some of her other studies of artists’ hands at work in Exchange Place Studios where my workshop is and have been amazed at the subtlety of expression in each: jewellers, smiths, potters all shown in rich activity.

I held my mother’s hand through the night as she lay drifting in and out of consciousness, moving steadily on towards her own end. Mam has big hands tempered by a lifetime of hard work, as a child chopping wood and digging graves as a captive in a Japanese POW camp in Sumatra, as a young woman tending the rich and famous as an air stewardess for KLM, and through most of the rest of her life as a needlework teacher. The history of her life wrought in her old hands, still strong despite her wasted body.

Missing her right index finger (she stuck it in a mangle accidentally as a child) – she instinctively rubs where the missing digit was amputated entire by a skilful Dutch surgeon.

Holding her hand felt profoundly human and humane. We were able to transmit our love through her pain and suffering.

Catherine told me that her title had been inspired by a poem by D.H.Lawrence. The quote that applies most aptly to my mother is this:

“I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself. A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough without ever having felt sorry for itself”

I

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Percie, Hazel and their Aunty Clare (my wife)

I love wildness in living beings, fierce women and stealth. It is no dishonour to be stalked by a huntress, loved by a lioness and raised by a Sabre Tooth Tigress, it is the mark of a man.

Gleipnir

3 Nov

Gleipnir – was a mythical ribbon described in old Norse Lore. It was made to bind an impossibly strong Wolf, the offspring of Loki and the giantess Angrboda. He was such a handful that it took all the cunning of Tyr, the loss of his hand and the magic of the Dwarves to subdue him.

The word ‘Gleipnir’ means ‘open’ in old Norse. It was forged by the Dwarves from six impossible components:

The sound of a cat’s footfall, the beard of a woman, the roots of a mountain, the sinews of a bear, the breath of a fish

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and the spit of a bird!

Fenrir was tricked by Tyr. Having broken all manner of chains and ropes previously used by the Gods to subdue him, he nevertheless agreed to be leashed by the apparently flimsy Sleipnir only if Tyr left his hand in the wolf’s huge jaws. This was a difficult decision for the warrior, for no King could ever rule ‘single handed’. It was the kind of moral dilemma favoured in the old Viking stories and in the end Tyr bargained his kingship for the good of his people. Fenrir was left to howl away and slather with Tyr’s sword wedged in his jaws, giving rise to the river named ‘Expectation’. But what was expected?

The Chelsea Park bench

For past month I have been making an art installation for a lovely park in Nether Edge, Sheffield, called Chelsea park. This quiet little green space is beloved of dog walkers, and on any given day you can meet the most bewildering variety of pedigree, and Heinz 57 dogs.

My piece is designed to complement an owl carved by the sculptor Jason Thomson – it is a respectful nod to this work and the wishes of the park regulars. I have interpreted Edward Lear’s ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ in seven wooden sight posts, set around the perimeter of Chelsea Park – carved in cleft sweet chestnut. Visitors old and young can sight each post through a spy hole (shaped like a needle eyelet) to find the next component of the poem. There is a little eyelet at knee height for small children to look through. There is a thread, or ribbon of a narrative to be discovered and threaded here, and then discussed on the seat.

The posts are made with love and humour for both big and little humans. I have even set two of them exactly eight paces apart in a flat bit of grass at the top of the park – for young people to enjoy a game of football.

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In fact there are actually two stories in my sculpture – a Nonsense Poem and a Norse Myth.

The seat is carved out of a 3 inch thick piece of oak with a stylised ‘sea’ lapping the front of a sandy beach – the sea that the Owl and the Pussycat sailed upon for a year and a day. Three human bottoms are carved in the seat – two adults and a child – and alongside a dog has left his imprint also…. or is it a dog?

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Whilst carving I imagined that the Fenrir had escaped the bonds of Gleipnir – represented by the cleft Oak branch making the back rest of the seat. Prophecy foretells that when the dire wolf escapes this heralds the time of Ragnarok, the end of the world when Odin the Wise will be consumed by the wolf, the walls of Asgard will come tumbling down and the rainbow bridge Bifrost will be shattered. Chaos will ensue – this is why the river coming from Fenrir’s jaws is called ‘Expectation’.

There is a bit of wolf in every dog, this is why we leash them is it not? Just as Tyr did with Fenrir. We all like to aspire to be the Owl, but do we have the wisdom or the ability to control the elemental forces represented by the Wolf?

In our lives we make brief, imprints on the shore which are washed away by tide and time. ‘Nonsense’, Art and Poetry that is what we need to confront our fear of chaos.