Trees in form: David Nash at Kew Gardens; Surrey Artists Open Studios 2012
The Royal Botanic Gardens is not exactly short of wood. But this year it’s really taking shape. Carol Cordrey previews the sculptures of David Nash
There is always more to discover in art. In 2007, Henry Moore’s work went down a storm at the Royal Botanic Gardens. Now another major sculpture exhibition is on its way to Kew. This time, however, the medium will not be bronze or stone, but – even more appropriately – wood.
The roaring and grinding of chainsaws, the chopping and slicing of axes and the smell of burning are not the usual fare in these tranquil Gardens. Nor is a sculptor’s studio generally in evidence.
But then, David Nash is not your typical sculptor. Trained at Kingston College of Art, Brighton College of Art and Chelsea School of Art, he has seen his acclaimed and distinctive sculptures find their way into numerous private collections, as well as public ones such as the Guggenheim in New York, the Tate Collection and Washington’s National Gallery of Art. He is represented by the internationally renowned London gallery, Annely Juda Fine Art – the same as David Hockney and the abstract sculptor, Sir Anthony Caro.
The wood he uses is not stripped naked and abused as that from a timber yard, but comes to him naturally as a result of storms, lightning or disease, or as entire trees at the end of their life cycle. Every piece is nature’s random gift. At Kew, these past months, David must have wondered if it was he, not the trees, who had died and gone to heaven.
Here in the Gardens he has created a wood quarry, Cedar Vista, where he has prepared and carved the wood for the sculptures, or burnt a charred effect onto it to give the piece an especially contemporary look. On occasions during the summer, visitors will have the chance to witness David at work, watching his sculptures evolve before they are relocated within the Gardens in October for the rest of the exhibition. An English oak, for example, will take shape here. Other works, created earlier and off site, will be on display from the start.
For 40 years David has developed his philosophy of man’s dependence on the natural world, leading to a profound sensitivity towards trees. Humanity and nature, he insists, must work in harmony. Thus his sculpting ‘goes with the flow’, determined by the characteristics of the wood in his hands at any given time.
At Kew, this is most evident in Oculus Block, in which the original, rounded ribs of the stubby trunk have dictated its form. Charred works include Black Dome and Two Sliced Cedars, both reminiscent of sections of Ulster’s Giant’s Causeway. And David has also created large forms referencing man’s dependence on wood for daily essentials, such as spoons.
For almost a year, the whole of the Gardens will be devoted to David’s work, with the magnificent Temperate House hosting sculptures that evoke its form and enormous scale. In the Nash Conservatory, work created at the wood quarry will be on show from October, while throughout the exhibition the Shirley Sherwood Gallery will display David’s cork tree and Family Tree drawings.
A vast exhibition for the equally vast talents of home-grown David Nash
David Nash at Kew – A Natural Gallery, Jun 9 – Apr 14. Tel: (020) 8332 5655. Visit: kew.org
Open Studios 2012
Forget the weather, if you want to lift your spirits adopt my mantra and ‘start with art’ at the annual Surrey Artists Open Studios. This year’s event involves around 200 artists showcasing a great range of work, proving that it has become a huge, landmark occasion within the Surrey social season. To meet demand, Open Studios now spans June and July and provides the opportunity for workshops, meeting the artists and discussing commissions. Here is my recommendation of some of the best to visit during June 9-24 and July 20-22.
Visit: surreyopenstudios.org.uk or tel; (01483) 519 285 for full details or pick up a brochure at Guildford’s Tourist Information Centre or at art galleries and libraries.
9 Jo Quigley – deserved Winner of 2011 Guildford Painting Competition
13/4 Simon Dray – vibrant, mixed-media compositions
39 Robyn Horsburgh – large, dramatic close-ups of flowers and fruit
40 Rosemary Miller – soft, very atmospheric seascapes
49/1 Carol Orwin – animal sculpture injected with character
53 Andrew Curtis – thought provoking mixed media abstracts
63/2 Sue Roche – award winning photographer, architecture a speciality
65 Iona Mackenzie Laycock – expressive landscapes and interiors using textiles
71/2 Margaret Samuel – roughly hewn figurative sculptures include great dogs!
86 Maureen Farr – strong lines and colour inject vigour into randomly grouped objects
93 Fiona Millais – accomplished landscapes reduced to their simplest forms
94 Emma Dunbar – still lifes and seascapes