Day 2: Sunday 1st

With many of the artists gradually leaving Newport House after the launch, the serious intent begins – although shutting oneself away to ‘get on’ is difficult when Pedro, Paula and their multinational team – masterminding catering for the sculpture event until 22nd October – have a simple and delicious supper on the table at 7pm in the tent next to the big house. The table tops are enticing after a day of visitors and childrens’ drawings, and a social half-hour a welcome break to the monotony of the mallet and chisel. Left over pear puddings too; small enough not to make a second – or third – a crime.

Progress today with both blocks – one in the round, the other in relief. Captivated with the way the lime wood moves as it releases.

Day 1: Saturday 30th

Newport House is in full swing with Out of Nature show starting today. I arrived late last night to my Herefordshire retreat for the next nine days, setting up my two blocks to explore the Cart Shed’s role.

One is of pear wood, cut in Fittleworth over 10 years ago. The other is a section of Lime, whose sister block hangs close to where I am sculpting. I also have clay and paper.


The Cart Shed has a presence at the exhibition. Now I need to think of the positive imagery which their actions bring about. The woodland setting will be vital, but what about the activity within?

Visualising the pit

Things become clearer as your consciousness of a subject opens.  But that left me with lots of questions. I emailed a few people who I knew that had an inkling of such things, amongst them the writer and long distance walker Keith Foskett, a school friend, who relaxed when he first heard about dromomania  –  the uncontrollable impulse to wander, often at the expense of all else. His forthcoming new book focuses on his battle with what he realised was depression, whilst hiking across Scotland.

I asked him whether he could give me “any descriptive words or simple imagery that might equate to when one is in that desperate hole, in the hope that it may help me in my artistic hole, so to speak”.

Keith replied: Interesting you refer to it as a ‘hole’ because that’s pretty much how I feel about it as I started to realise something was wrong; I was completely oblivious that I had depression at the time. This is what I wrote:

“Despite the high I experience when hiking long distances, both body and mind take a battering. The constant repetition, the continual pattern of placing one foot in front of the other has consequences. That area inside your shoe that seems slightly uncomfortable on a three-mile stroll, over the course of a long day, is amplified tenfold. The hip belt you don’t notice on a training hike suddenly becomes unbearable.

However, these were more than the usual niggles. My body was lethargic, drained and listless. My mind, once more, was playing games. I had started to score my mental state; a one for as bad as it could get, up to ten where I was elated just to be alive.

This was strange ground for me, unknown territory. I’d had mood swings in the past which were short-lived. I’d never been low for longer than a day or two before. Once there, in that deep pit, it seemed an absolute impossibility to climb out. It’s dim down there, cold, wet, and gloomy. Peering up I see daylight but it’s too far above me and I can’t reach it. I’m a prisoner in a vertical tunnel. The walls are moist, slippery rock offering no grip. I feel the moss, the green slime, but can only just make out its weak glint. I hear nothing except my breathing, and the occasional drop of water, echoing around my prison. As I exhale, my breath condenses and rises, the only part of me capable of liberation.

A pit, that’s where I am. One deep, unbearable pit.

My head, intent on inflicting more pain and confusion, appeared to be re-arming with stronger weapons. As if it knew that I was aware of this dangerous game, and that I was privy to its plans, it upped the stakes. Now I felt depressed, the low mood was lasting longer, and it was an immense battle to scale the pit walls to freedom.

Sometimes I never even attempted to escape, resigned to my fate. Other times the pit wasn’t so deep, the rim closer, and the walls drier. Depending on my inclination, I climbed out, or reached halfway before I fell again.

But the worst part was not knowing. Waking up every morning, I cracked open one eye and peered out into my world: a place where I didn’t know how my mood would be for that day. I had no control, I had to accept what was served. It was this fear I dreaded the most, and the pit was always primed to devour me”.

After reading his email I sketched a couple of images in the notebook (above), then later emailed and asked whether he could equate the pit walls to anything visually – i.e. were they dressed stone, castle like, ‘formal’ or like a stig of the dump-style rough stone/soil edged pit.. ?
He replied:
I always visualised it as an old well. Perhaps 20 feet deep and 6 feet across, solid bottom of dark earth with just a little surface water. The walls I pictured as slate, stacked horizontally, perhaps just an inch or so high, but tightly packed with an even, smooth surface, few hand holds. The surface is wet, with moss or slime, so very hard to grip and climb out of. It’s damp and quiet. Strangely enough I suffered with claustrophobia as a kid (and still do in certain situations), but I never felt the pit made me uncomfortable in that way. It was more a resigned feeling of being stuck down there, but at some point I’d be able to climb out.

It was interesting to see that the proportions of his pit were the same as my innate scribbles.

Our exchange was hurried as Foskett was leaving for a trip to Greece, where he will be putting the final touches to High and Low for publication in 2018.

You can get a feeling for the world of the thru’-hiker on Keith’s YouTube channel here.

 

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A bereavement

It is somewhat surreal to be considering one’s own resilience and wellbeing and then to be confronted with a sudden passing, albeit of someone who has had a good and fulfilling life.

81 years is no longer ‘old’, but my father went out on a high note, still actively involved with life; before perhaps prolonged hospitalization. A fine result for him, but the suddenness makes it harsh for those closest to him. That we can properly celebrate his ‘complete’ lifespan isn’t an immediate help to the intensity of sadness, other than in blunt comparison to those we have known and loved where we did not have that luxury.

With the loss of one’s first parent, it forces the consideration of things which we consider so stable in life. Our existence is fragile or robust depending on the illusion we create for ourselves.

I’ve been trying to think about the continuum; the healing that the Cart Shed can perhaps offer to move people along that continuum. Searching on the web, it is interesting that lots of imagery comes up for ‘anguish’ and for depression; less so for ‘pain’.

I’ve set up a pinterest page here which has some interesting imagery from painters, photographers and sculptors – these are useful to me to see how complex feelings have been portrayed in the past – which seem forced; which seem honest or truthful. What formal characteristics are considered to convey such emotional distress.

For the sculpture, I need to seek simple words which people association with feeling low, empty or and powerless, through depression, grieving or illness – and also those words or doodles which might show the beginnings of a change in that state. As well as the mere passing of time, what other things are contributive?

Clearly, I cannot make a successful sculpture on my own. And until I’m back in the Herefordshire woods in October, I will not start to do anything but think.

 

 

considering resilience

An artist producing personal work has a great chance of discovery. Responding to a brief is perhaps harder or more compromised; you have to try and get inside something. For me, I suppose that means trying to break down subjective judgements and surrendering to a deeper process.

A teenage thought on mental health issues probably linked to considering seats on a train. Them and us, crassly separated by some consideration of a visible outward distress; some sort of difference in a non-physical way, however small. Trying to keep one’s own environment stress free through maintaining a personal bubble.

Thinking more about Cart Shed trustee Jenny Watt’s point on mental health issues having the potential to affect anyone – us – made me think more deeply about myself and our position as receptive/responsive organisms within a changing environment. What are the factors that can result in a changing balance that could lead to a normal life becoming much less resilient? When does normal cerebral functioning end and imbalance begin? How and when does happiness, or the enjoyment of happiness (as a comedian with mental health issues on R4 raised) decline? Feeling alone, fragile or threatened must all be directly involved with our wellbeing.

When I started writing this I still had two parents alive who were relatively fit and healthy. I have two children within a stable relationship. Both being self-employed yields stress but contained within a supportive family unit. I don’t smoke and have no debt.

I consider myself high functioning, largely motivated, but in late 40s, aware of inertia creeping into tasks that I don’t particularly warm to doing. I am also aware that age results in a realisation of others being younger and more thrusting. Do I care less now about my position within it all, perhaps?

Doctor’s visits are infrequent, but the most recent brought up ‘anxiety’ linked to a long-standing pain under an armpit. After a scan and then a self-referral in fact I ‘just’ needed physiotherapy.

Having had six weeks with my writing hand out of action through a nagging finger joint injury has probably given me the lowest ebb for a long period; a seemingly trivial problem, but that could affect my working with stone for the future, as well as a large proportion of my leisure pursuits.

Then my dad died. And I took the dog for a walk in a wood.

 

 

 

 

 

A Day with the Cart Shed – part 2

Several of us chatted about getting back into drawing and the difficulty of keeping going when you are trying to concentrate but cannot. I find that the very task of putting a pencil line to something fleeting – be it a moving pig or a walking group – means you can allow yourself have no expectation. If you keep at the process, the occasional glimmer of a lively sketch may come through. It’s all about perseverence, not skill, if you can believe in the process.

I tried to capture Milo, a supremely cool, well-manned (and very sculptural) dog but largely failed. But it is also made easier for the sculptor, as sketches are only prompts for remembering form or profile. I don’t create anything which I’d personally consider “art”, although looking back, I can see that the prompts may work their way into new works, through a memory of the combined snippets of form.

The Forces’ Veterans group had been involved with a characterful new bridge, the supporting struts for the handrail being rustic yet visually well balanced:

We reached the horticultural area; two polytunnels with their own warm microclimate, raised beds – and tasty nasturtium flowers

and then onward round the fields, past the wind turbine

and then back to the cool of the wood and the warmth of the camp fire.

Two books on whittling and carving wood lay on a bench next to the camp fire. Flicking through them, one had a recollection of a carver who was producing a figure, which seemed to have life. On making another small chisel cut to improve the face, the material immediately died and lost that spirit which had somehow emerged in the inanimate material.

That is something I need to remember with a developing work.

A day with The Cart Shed – part 1

It was important to feel for myself the environment which The Cart Shed creates for its participants; to sense what it is that has such an effect on their clients and visitors.

You have to rid the mind of the preconceptions and ideas which creep in to sculptures, otherwise they just become designs. So I had to try to be an insider – or at least a combination of observer and insider – rather than someone coolly assessing it all from outside. But I did bring a sketchbook, fresh from getting my hand and eye back in several days previously, on an overnight trip to a zoo.

I’d been to one of the Cart Shed sites before in 2015, at the woods at Newport House.

The parallels with the Norton Canon site are plain; the architecture and planning of the camps encourage you to stop and observe details and the contrasts between the built and the wider woodland environment it rests in.

There is a calmness as the camp populates in the morning. Participants arriving and greeting and starting to consider their thoughts for the day. I joined the morning walk and we strolled, discussing things which came into sight – the pigs; the medicinal properties of the root of Meadowsweet, the breeze in the trees. Kate Lawes, Health Development Manager, has a tranquility about her delivery – you can’t help but relax. I found that an urge to contribute information (from a former background in countryside management) gradually disappeared as I just let some of the simple experiences soak in.

On the walk, a few of us talked about the two sites and how some were drawn to one and others to another. The presence of a rural road beyond the woodland was recognised as something that affected the ultimate calmness for some, at times one might just want to be alone and away from the main camp activities.

to be continued

considering a sculpture of The Cart Shed

The Cart Shed is an independent charity which lifts the aspirations of people with mental health problems and learning difficulties. Through enjoying the natural environment, both health and well-being can benefit.

Being asked to consider ‘What is The Cart Shed?’ through the process of making a sculpture brings up many issues to think about.

Meeting Jenny Watt, trustee of The Cart Shed, she articulated that it is important to realise mental health is about people like you and me – we can all succumb at times in our lives when our balance is tipped; when real pain is experienced.

The Journal (2015) sculpture exemplifies perhaps what is less appropriate for this new work. Woodland sites are evocative and the rural skill imagery strong, but a cataloguing of its recognisable assets risks becoming too overtly descriptive. Talking to one of the Cart Shed participants in the camp, it was summed up as having the potential to lack spirit. Sculpture is not interpretation.

Enduring sculptures are perceived as having archetypal or universal qualities; they can be perceived with a rich or strong message.

‘What is’ is not the same as ‘what does’ – that will be important to consider. Conveying Cart Shed will need to show the contrast of before and after rather than just showing the issue of pain or imbalance, in order to show the charity’s role in bringing about change in a meaningful way.

 

 

 

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Reading a sculpture

Journal (2015) was a response to the surroundings, not pre-planned but responding to the landscape and day to day happenings of a two week period at Newport House, Almeley.

After finishing the work  – and immediately being separated from it – I came to remember it as a representational piece, depicting things through the relief carving of a limewood board.

Refamiliarising myself with it nearly two years later, I had forgotten the sculptural feel of some of the areas of the carving and the rhythms inherent in those memories.

It became autobiographical and the marks were immediately there to see.

The weeks had seen a portrait sitting take place with Herefordshire countryman Jeff Glyn Jones, and this too became a part of the block.

More ambiguous areas brought back immediate memories of the trapped hedgehog in the gravel area around the bottom of the cottage, probably unrecognisable to anyone but the artist. I wonder what those forms relate to others, if any?

The poplars took on simplified form, and a fine stallion on the Estate was recorded. This also referenced a 1932 Hilaire Belloc song The Winged Horse, probably an allegory of his life and something which had been occupying my interest at the time.

The pigs in the woodland edge also crept in.

I was shown an email I had sent about the piece at the time:

the middle bit… the most muddled bit I think – there was a treehouse in the garden, and to the right of that, the end products of elsewhere started to come into a coppice stump of sorts. I knocked it back a good deal to try and separate the image a bit, but that’s the only really ambiguous bit, I think. Yes, I’m leaving it exactly as is – indeed I’ve left it there. Much less considered than the other but far more immediate.

 

Journal (2015) Limewood 200cm – private collection

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Background

Jon Edgar is a sculptor whose work responds to people and place, using a process of improvisation.

In October 2015, a sculpture was created as part of the Out of Nature biennial sculpture event.

Over 10 days whilst based in the Gardener’s Cottage, a carving emerged, responding to the surroundings and involving visitors.Gardener'sCottage

After it was finished it was named ‘Journal’ and Jon saw the work again 20 months later, now permanently located where it was created.

2015 Journal small

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