Tag Archives: Sculpture

Curve

1 Jan

A catenary describes the curve adopted by a chain suspended from two points –  gravity acting uniformly along its length. I have been trying to suss out the right curvature for the top rail of a new four poster bed and playing with chains has helped.

Catenary

As you can see, the chain is slightly more curved in the middle than at the ends, like the steam bent lath of oak on top of it.

Catenary curves are important in architecture – particularly in bridge building – because of the way that they resist bending moments. Gaudi loved them so much, all the spires of his great cathedral, the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, are based upon the catenary curve – here is his fantastic inverted string model complete with tiny sand bags… a spider’s web of catenary curves.

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View of Nativity Façade of Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family (Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família) ( UNESCO World Heritage Site). Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.

If you are curious there are many mathematical treatments of catenary curves and their analogies in nature (skeletons). You will find them everywhere if you care to look. The lovely ‘Winking Bridge’ across the Tyne in Gateshead, dogs on leads, electricity cables hanging from pylons…

Gateshead      Catenary curves

I would be the first to admit that I am no mathematician, but I do love symmetry in natural forms. The completed Ruskin Sculpture – Mir Jansen and I will be exhibiting at the Millennium Gallery, consists of a framework of steam bent, thin oak laths on a sturdy base attached to a circular annulus to make a light, airy framework. Within the framework hang a series of paintings by Mir in gouache on panels of oak all cut from the same tree. The paintings appear to float within the interior of the sculpture, each suspended on 3 or 4 powerful magnets.

The laths are identical to the one in the top picture.  They were bent over a hemispherical frame – the slight recoil on removing the dried piece 24 hours later yields a catenary curve  (rather like the opening curvature of the helix generated by the golden mean below). This gives the sculpture great stability and natural spring, and like the Earth, it is, as a result, an oblate spheroid.

Mir and Henk  IMG_4750

The globular gallery is designed with 37 steam bent ribs – a convenient opening at the front for people to step in to structure. I have always thought of it as John Ruskin’s Mind – ideas within leaking out, ideas without leaking in.

The design also allows disabled access as I have taken a bite out of the floor so that you can feel that you are right inside – even in a wheel chair, and sit comfortably too.

But why 37 ribs?

37 is a prime number in the Padovan sequence.

Padovan sequence

The equation for the Padovan Sequence is
 defined by the equation:
P(n) = P(n-2) + P(n-3)            also known as a recurrence relation where every subsequent number depends upon the numbers before it.
with the initial conditions P=(0) = P (1) = P (2) = 1
The first few Padovan numbers are :  1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 16, 21, 28, 37, 49, 65, 86, 114, 151, 200, 265  (the Prime numbers are in Bold)
Another recurrence relation with which you will be familiar is the Fibonacci Sequence:
Fn = Fn-1 + Fn-2
with the initial conditions – F0=0, F1=1
giving the series of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, … (The next number is found by adding up the two numbers before it). Without going into it in detail the formula which allows you to calculate the nth Fibonacci number relies on a special number called phi (1.618), or better know as the Golden Mean. Rectangles with sides 1:1.618 can be used to derive spirals, snail shells and so on.
fibonacci-plant  divine ratio (a sequence of golden rectangles – Yin and Yang)
The Golden Ratio…1.618 (approximately) lies at the heart of proportions of beauty in Greek Architecture.
Greek Architecture
John Ruskin certainly appreciated structure at a deep level, in fact he insisted upon the importance of underlying Natural Laws and Principles in architecture (The Seven Lamps of Architecture)  and it is no accident that the sculpture resonates with the maths. Mir’s paintings reflect other aspects of Ruskin’s thinking … come and see them at the Millennium Gallery from January 23rd 2016 when our piece will be on display as part of an exhibition on contemporary Art and Craft.
This is a chain of thought, I hope you enjoy the links. Happy New Year!
Acknowledgements:
The entire structure was made from a single oak tree – a very kind donation by the Guild of St. George from Ruskinland, through John Isles who supported our work and encouraged us. We were commissioned by Museums Sheffield and generously supported by Arts Council England.

Eel

12 Dec

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I was asked to make a writing slope for a fisherman. I came across an end section on a 16 foot slab of sycamore in my timber store, cut from near the root ball of an old tree. Nicely spalted by invading fungi and with a hint of stress figuring – it spoke of stream. At 2 inches thick I was able to chamfer the top and bottom of the piece and turn a little foot on the lathe to make the piece stand up at comfortable angle for the writer.

As I was carving out the groove for the pen with my router I had a thought, “…what if?”. Digging out my pyrography kit I sketched the outline of an eel around the groove of the pen holder.

I was well pleased with the effect.

When asked to describe what I do for a living (a perennial British Obsession used to classify new acquaintances into categories of usefulness, inferiority or ‘be nice and forget’) I use various descriptions depending upon the audience: woodworker, carpenter, cabinet maker, furniture designer, but never do I use the word ‘Artist’.

It seems somehow disreputable. Implying an ability to move sinuously, to evade responsibility in order to avoid actual work, to ‘eel’ in fact.

eel life cycle

Yet eels are the most spectacular fish – able to adapt to both fresh and salt water. In fact the common European eel lays its eggs in the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic Ocean, hatching to release larvae which will grow into glass eels. These little creatures swim thousands of miles to the rivers and canals from which their parents journeyed to grow, and fatten and mature. They then spawn in estuaries in the transition zone from fresh to salt water. The life history of the eel is enigmatic – it is only relatively recently that it has been uncovered. Eels taste delicious too – it must be all that maritime migration – a sort of ‘marination’ lacing their flesh with taste from the experience of travel and experiencing such different worlds.

So it is as an ‘Artist’ I will greet 2016 migrating this new piece to the Millennium Gallery. Commissioned by the gallery for an exhibition on Craft and Art it will have forty small paintings inspired by the life, work and thoughts of John Ruskin hanging in it – the contribution of my collaborator, the artist Mir Jansen.

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Some very friendly people came to view this at Exchange Place whilst it was marinating in my studio,  at Yorkshire Artspace’s annual public ‘Open Studios’ event. One visitor liked it so much she has asked me to make a piece  for her new sculpture garden in the new year.

It appears one must adapt, like the eel, to ever changing environmental conditions in order to migrate onwards.

Merry Christmas dear reader, may Santa’s Sleigh bring you joy and inspiration …just like my blue truck does for me. Blue as the Sargasso Sea.

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Faith

28 Jun

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When I was four I was obsessed with the idea of Heaven and very interested in God. “How do you get to heaven?” I would ask my mother. “Is it by train, or by boat, or do you get to heaven by aeroplane?”. I took matters into my own hands one day with my mate, Alan when we drank bath water. In West Africa, where I grew up, this was forbidden, because it could be a sure fire way of contracting typhoid or any number of other deadly tropical diseases. I simply wanted to see how one got to Heaven.

My mother, as she recounted the incident, was at pains to put a stop to these early mystical experiments. When I asked her “Yes, but Mam WHERE is God?” she said to me: “Henkje (in Dutch ‘Little Henk) do you see your shadow on the ground?”

“Yes” I replied

“Pick it up” she said

Apparently, I bent down and tried to reach for my shadow…..”I can’t!”

“Well Henkje, God is like your shadow, He is there all the time, but you cannot pick him up or see him, He is just with you”

My mother in her infinite wisdom would happily engage me in these small philosophical discussions throughout my life sharing her rather impressive knowledge of the Bible (she was truly an Old Testament kind of girl), her understanding of other faiths and the origins of Christianity, Judaism and the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and Blessings be upon his name).

In this Holy month of Ramadan my Muslim neighbours are fasting. In denying themselves food and drink during the hours of daylight according to their teachings they give space in their daily lives for spiritual contemplation. I perceive that it is in what we decide to eschew, that we become closer to our God as humans. There is a rich tradition of asceticism in many of the great faiths, where pilgrims, scholars and holy people deny the flesh in order to move closer to God.

I was asked recently by a young Muslim boy whether I believed in God. I answered him thus “Well, my young friend, no man is capable of knowing everything – therefore it is impossible to deny the existence of God based upon our limited knowledge. This position is called ‘Agnostic’, it is not a belief, rather it is a set of principles based upon logic. But, every human has to have faith in order to meet the challenges of the day. I respect your faith because it gives you Peace.” He seemed satisfied with my answer, I had shown him my shadow, without asking him to pick it up.

Speaking of large shadows, I am engaged at present in the making of a big sculpture for the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield. My collaborator Mir Jansen and I are planning to exhibit the commission in January 2016. I showed her the central piece of the sculpture ( a giant steam bent oaken bower) on Friday – it was the first time she had seen it for real. She had up until that time shown great faith in my design and my ability to deliver as a craftsman.

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Here then is a sneak preview of our exercise in faith. Both of us are investing all our creative resources into producing a piece of Art that can be seen, touched, entered, contemplated and enjoyed by all, for it is a celebration of John Ruskin’s mind. Made from a single oak tree from Ruskinland, Uncly’s Farm in the Wyre Valley, donated by the Ruskin Trust – the Guild of St. George, felled and worked by myself and painted by Mir Jansen.

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Mir is illuminating many oak panels from the tree in the manner of the Old Dutch Masters – who often painted directly onto wood – creating several narrative themes from the work, ideas and legacy of John Ruskin and the Victorian era he influenced. Her panels will be hung inside the sphere, supported by steam bent oaken beams – which currently hang in my studio like the ribs of some beached up wooden whale.

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Art and Craft are coming together supported by generous donations by the Arts Council and the Millennium Gallery and the Trustees of the Ruskin Foundation – if this is not an act of great faith, I don’t know what is.

It is also a meditation on a tree and a mind.

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Ruskin’s view of God was intimately bound up with his contemplation of Nature:

“there is no climate, no place, and scarcely an hour, in which nature does not exhibit colour which no mortal effort can imitate or approach.” His thought that no mortal can convey properly the effects of nature indicates that one must contemplate the higher workings of God in Nature.

In the words of the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins (Ruskin’s contemporary):

God’ Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

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

Pike

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 Gleipnir 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.