My ambition for this sculpture is to develop the earlier ‘Listening Ear’ sculpture on a larger scale and, ideally, incorporating stone as well as wood. Firstly, I used paper clay, as before, to cast a large dish based on an old garden planter. I lined this with clingfilm and pressed the paper pulp into it with my hands. Since the dish is so large, I though I would, as an homage to Hepworth and Moore, pierce the dish so that a view through the work would be created and the large plan of the dish broke. I used a cut down pop bottle weighted with beans in a plastic bag, to form the hole.
This mass of pulp has taken a considerable time to dry but has created a dish with interesting texture, especially at the edge and is also lightweight and strong. It has small fissures which allow light through, as an extra asset. At present, it reminds me of a moon crater.
Looking in a skip for old wood, I found two pine planks, ex garden centre staging, which have been power washed to expose the grain and all the old screws knocked out. They were chosen from the available wood for their knots, holes and splits, but this meant they were very splintery, so they were also sanded on a linesher.
I also collected a range of other materials from around the garden and garage: wood slices from cut down trees, half burnt tree roots, the slate collected for an earlier project and some old slate tiles, an old tv aerial waiting to go to the tip etc. My plan was to make a pylon structure which meant devising a way of fixing the planks upright with stability. For this, I planned to use a very heavy slice of oak cut from a dead tree felled years ago. Several of these have been piled up in the garden for years, some whole still and some split in two, all well eaten by beetles.
Before joining the planks, a played about with the materials.
I also photographed the pieces and collaged in my sketchbook to refine my design ideas.
The planks were joined with wood strip on both sides to provide flat surfaces to which slate strips could be glued. A suitable board was selected from scrap DIY plywood for a base which could then be waited with the oak semicircles for stability. I used some old bits of metal bracket to fix the uprights to the board. My ability to drill holes and line things up is improving immeasurably through the course!
The wood strip was a bit bright and red, so I painted it with acrylic to match the slate. Having achieved a basic form, I continued to play around with my materials.
The dish was hung on with a loop of string.
The old tv aerial was discarded as too spidery but I liked many of the combinations of organic materials and blue, hard slate. I was struggling to produce a form which had volume and was interesting seen from the side. The massive oaks slices and the tree roots achieved this best. However, I also like the simpler structures without the fussiness of the tree roots. I decided to make my piece flexible. The slate roof tiles and oak were stable without needing to be fixed. I drilled a hole in the centre of my dish and fixed it to the pylon with a screw and washer, so that it could be removed and transported.
The sculpture was dismantled, taken to the back of the local hospital on a Sunday morning and put back together in front of a building awaiting redevelopment. My tutor had suggested photographing work in an urban environment and I thought this decayed area would be interesting as a setting. It took four people to set it up (that oak is so heavy). We were a sculpture mini ‘flash mob’ putting the work together quickly and back down again before anyone objected or we got in anyone’s way. The light was a bit problematic for photographing from some angles.
I did mean to paint the screw head in the dish white before we left but forgot. It is interesting how the slate picks up and echoes the blues in that environment.
Back home, the sculpture was reassembled in a green environment, and drawn. The hot glue failed and the slate was repositioned with gaffer tape. The long piece had sadly broken when the glue failed. Again, I played about with the materials, replacing one oak slice with a silver birch log and one slate tile with tree roots, since the support was now broken.
To complete my big drawing I used lining paper, taped together and gessoed to give a surface to work into and then completely covered with charcoal. I used a huge sheet of cardboard as a drawing board on the lawn. I am unsure of the objective of these large drawing exercises, but felt that the value to me of working so large would be using very broad brush materials and trying to be very unfussy and not too involved with detail. I found working at ninety degrees to my subject very difficult, and it was clear when I got someone to hold up the work to photograph, that this had completely distorted my proportions. The drawing is executed by drawing into the charcoal with a huge lump of old putty rubber and scrubbing charcoal around with my hands. The rim light was applied using white acrylic paint.
I have considered reworking this to correct the perspective but I have decided that that might defeat the spontaneity and lack of fussiness I was trying to achieve in working big and bold.
This work developed out of an earlier piece inspired by the acoustic mirrors of WWII. my objective was to create a large piece which would sit in the landscape and which would evoke these ‘listening ears’ but also other structures such as standing stones. I wanted to intrigue the viewer and make them wonder whether it had ever had a purpose and what that purpose might have been.
I am unhappy about the mix of materials I used. The dish was made, by necessity, out of a material I could cast, papier mache, and references works by Anish Kapoor. I like the texture and the translucency but I am not convinced that it sits well with the other materials. Slate is a good contrast, in mass, texture and colour. Wood gives height and further mass with aged texture but I think two out of the three materials would have had a better effect. It would have been wonderful to have been able to make the ‘pylon’ out of slate or stone. Adequately fixing the materials safely and permanently proved to be beyond my technical abilities.
I think this sculpture worked best in the ‘urban decay’ setting where it certainly puzzled and intrigued those who saw it, even causing a bus driver, waiting at a stand, to come over and have a look. The colours and materials of that environment really resonated with those in the sculpture.
Ultimately, however, I am disappointed that the piece is an assemblage of parts and not a single coherent piece in the round. I would have preferred it to have less of a front and back, although that does work in the context of this setting.
My ideal development of this idea would be a huge, weathered stone pillar of the sort you sometimes see used a gate posts in Northern Wales, but much bigger with a smooth dish carved into one side at head height, as an acoustic mirror . This would be fully functional and would reflect its environment, both geologically and also acoustically. I could imagine someone coming across this, say on an isolated moor, and standing, listening to the focused wind or the cry of a bird.