Q. Why did you become an artist?
I have always been fascinated by the creative process. For several decades I worked as a gardener and landscape designer, training first at Kew and then other places. Four years ago I undertook a 3 year course in Fine Art. This has been transformative. I can now combine my practical skills and explore them with my art practice. It is an endless supply of alchemy.
Q. How would you describe your art?
My work tries to use found and natural materials, metal, wood, stone to produce a piece of sculpture. There is a lot of waiting to be in the right place at the right time. They are often installation pieces and can include passive or active participation, performance and collaborative performance.
Q. Which artists have inspired you the most? Claire Falkenstein, David Smith, Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth, Jeremy Deller, Suzanne Philipz, Raymond Hain
Q. Why do you think environmental art is important?
I see this as a unique creative opportunity to access deeper issues without the weight of political and social factionalism. A visual message presented 3 dimensionally has to work in shape and form, ( I am still a landscape gardener ! ) If it does this well, occasionally it gets near, then the viewer or participant can engage from within their own experiences. This is how the work expands and this is how our underlying message becomes part of the collective narrative. There are so many ways of throwing ideas up in the air, so many ways they can land but if you look hard you may see things differently. Our environment is the gift we have been given to share. We are all connected. We are all part of a grand symphony, a chance orchestration within the harmony of the spheres, it is too precious to squander.
Q. Why did u choose DSP to showcase your art?
I am a landscape gardener and have been interested in Capability Brown for many years. To have a sculpture park in a CB Parkland setting seemed like a unique combination and I was curious. Once I had met Philip, we talked for 2 hours on our first meeting, I could see you had something special to offer and I was pleased, intrigued and daunted to be asked to showcase some of my work.
The trees on either side of the road that I was by now freewheeling were big, majestic, you might say their strength and proud stature symbolised the same qualities in the people that lived and worked and grew up in Sheffield. I had lived in this part of Sheffield back in the 1970's which was when I started my gardening career, working for what was the Sheffield Recreation Department. Having left school at 16 and worked in different jobs, went to college at the age of 22 and to my amazement got several A levels, and then to University where I lasted 3 months. Spending the summer in Morocco was not the best preparation for serious study. Once I had partly recovered from what can readily be described as a metaphorical car crash I went back to Sheffield and then decided I wanted to be outdoors, working with my hands. Climbing in Derbyshire and further afield fulfilled the former need. The offer of a job as a gardener/grave digger at the local cemetery fulfilled the other need and suited me perfectly. Simple , repetitive, physical. I loved it. My supervisors there saw something I couldn't. They offered me a job on the mobile maintenance gang. I loved it. Then was the offer of a foremans job for 60 acres of school grounds, I loved that too. Then they suggested I go to college. I ended up at Kew, which I wholly and entirely loved.
Any way, back to cycling up in Nether Edge, the Kew story is more than another paragraph or chapter; another time perhaps.
Freewheeling down the street with big trees I noticed yellow ribbons tied half way up their big limbs. Around the corner at the end of the street the big trees had all gone. In their place were small trees, Cherries, Crab Apples, Birch. Trees that would never grow as big as the Limes. A wiser choice for small streets.
When I got back to Brendon and Hannah's they explained that Nether Edge and other neighbourhoods in Sheffield were where the council had been removing these big trees as part of a multi million pound contract to try to do something about the problems that big trees cause, their roots, branches and trunks getting in the way of pedestrians, sewage pipes, electric cables. They also explained that many of the residents were, to say it politely, surprised at the arrival of teams of chainsaws with instruction to cut down the offending problems. The residents, once they had wiped the sleep from their eyes and woken up, were outraged. Who had authorised this ?why were we not asked ? over my dead body ! A not untypical response I think you will agree.
Brendon explained that some of his friends had chained themselves to the trees, some had been arrested, protests had been arranged, questions asked in the Houses of Parliament by Michael Gove, at the time Minister for Environment. The Sheffield councillor responsible for overseeing this work eventually resigned with stress. John Humphries interviewed Jarvis Cocker on Radio 4 and asked in his inimitable style, well Mr Cocker, what do you think about this situation in your city. Jarvis' reply was, 'it's daft innit'. In Sheffield we would normally say ' it's bloody daft ', but Radio 4 tries to be polite in the mornings.
So, back to the cycle.
Better informed now by Brendon and Hannah, I though I'd better go back and take some photos of the trees with yellow ribbons, thinking this might be part of some future historical record that I should have. Nothing more than that in my mind at the time.
Once we had returned to Devon and our family visit, children, grand children, parents and sister had all been visited, I could take a look at the photos I had taken, and as is my wont nowadays I thought, yes, I can do a painting. These things are a simple way of visually putting down ideas. As the ideas take shape, as the paint I am using begins to move, as I put on different marks the ideas expand and I think of how I can include other images to develop the story line. After the first attempt I was drawn back to the studio and began working on the same idea with different materials and different inclusions, all the time the story expanding and making different references.
As this work was going on I was learning more about the background to Sheffield Councils tree problems. It became obvious that it was much more than taking down old trees. I spoke to many people, some closely involved, many on the periphery but all who felt that trees need as much respect and care as we all do. I found a video recording of 'Careful with that axe Eugene ' by Pink Floyd, a very scary crescendo of rolling swirling organ which I later used as an early part of an installation I did about this situation. It fitted perfectly.
What started out as a bike ride exploring some of my youthful haunts, going back in time to see the roads and houses that were always there, had now become a journey into a world where our anxieties about the world we live in had taken a reality that was first hand. This was not something we heard on the radio or saw on Facebook. It was outside our front door, it was where I used to live, it was where I started my career as a gardener. It was where hundreds of people I had never met had come together in a common cause. It was a demonstration of how, once we rub the sleep from our eyes and are dramatically woken from our domesticities, we realise those big green things outside matter.
So by now I had some paintings and the ideas has grown. I had begun to realise that this taking down of trees in Sheffield was a reflection of the complexities surrounding our relationships with nature. I could see what these big Lime trees were. I could imagine their enormous cellular system that draws up moisture from the ground and transpire into the air, imagining all the birds that fly around, feed and nest in its expansive limbs. I also knew that along side this grand wonder were mundane and everyday consequences of their existence in this urban environment. We make attachments to those things that are familiar to use, give them pet names and make them ours. But they drop sticky stuff on our cars, and sometimes their branches snap and fall on our cars as well, and yes didn't Mrs Phelps at no. 53 have a burst water pipe last year that was caused by that tree outside.
All part of the both sides now equation. But we live with it and fix it and carry on. We don't normally carry out a clandestine execution, not least without telling us.
So the argument is subtle, it is nuanced, there are many sides to this story. Can a work of art help us look more deeply at something like this. I hope so.
Please click paintings to enlarge them:
Photo of the metal sculpture of 'tekin' down trees'.
Photo taken on the beach at Saunton Sands, Devon, September 2019
Colin’s first blog
For my first art blog I thought I should give some background to my Australian series
Its title is Gallipoli, Landscape - heritage and sacrifice.
These works are the product of a visit Christine and I made to Australia and New Zealand early last year. We visited relatives and friends and did a lot of traveling around and exploring. Now that I’m doing my Fine Art course at Petroc College and I was, in theory, supposed to be at college I got a dispensation to do my site project based on what I found in our tour.
This was the perfect excuse to visit some amazing art galleries, do lots of painting and drawing and speak to some great people about art things. Above all what soon became obvious was the difference the light made. It was bright and warm and sunny just about every day and when I got out my paint box I used different colours. There was a vibrancy and richness we don’t often get in North Devon. Additionally there were trees, birds, sounds, vistas we never get in North Devon or even Europe. When I travel around our countryside I can tell you what the trees are from a long distance away. When I look around the trees I can tell you the names of the plants that are around them. I know why our landscapes are the way they are. Not in Australia. It was all new, different. It is a relatively new culture and the impact immigration has made on the development of the land has been enormous. Equally significant was the connection the people in Australia have for their ancestors homeland. Our visit could only touch the surface of the great vibrancy of culture and life there, but even with this caveat there was much that struck a chord. There is a massive commonality between our homeland and theirs. Imperialism, colonialism, wars, industrialisation on one hand and music, arts and culture on the other. Humanity often, usually, struggles between these two factions, if thats what they are?
I took with me my own connection to my European heritage and found something as beautifully profound as what I have in my own homeland. The pain and joy we as humans bear and share is not separated by man made boundaries or borders.
The first piece of my Australian series is a personal interpretation of these interwoven ideas and qualities. It is a summary and statement of the relationship between sacrifice and heritage. The soldier is a New Zealander eating from a tin of bully beef, flies hovering around the tin. He is on the battlefield in Gallipoli. The poppies on the right were knitted by ladies in a small town in New Zealand to remember the boys who died in their community in the 2 world wars. The fluid charged landscape between them is meant to depict the power and movement within the new lands their parents had colonised.
The words written onto the painting are from the powerful anti-war song, And the band played Waltzing Matilda by Eric Bogle. They say ‘ From the Murrays Green Basin to the dusty outback’
Throughout our visit we met many people who openly acknowledged the debt they owe to the sacrifice their forebears had made. I am profoundly moved whenever, wherever I see this, and my painting is my token of honour to them.
The painting went through several stages once I started working on paper.
There were ideas and sketches that I had made, and gradually some idea of what I was aiming for emerged. Firstly the composition was a collage, this was then copied and printed with onto art paper. The selected pieces and areas were recoloured by hand in watercolour and acrylic. Then the words of the song were written freehand and very laboriously with a fine nibbed pen and gesso which gave it a certain raised texture.