Last Friday, during a short break in London, we travelled over to Kew Gardens. We’d never been there before, but our main reason for the visit was not to look at the plants, but to see the major exhibition of works by the sculptor David Nash that’s taking place there at the moment. I’d first become interested in his work when we saw his exhibition a couple of years ago at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, and we were keen to take another look.
Like the one at the YSP, the Kew exhibition features a large number of his works. Some of the same sculptures and pictures featured in both exhibitions, but at Kew there were a number of newer works we hadn’t seen before and he is also creating some new works on site in a “Wood Quarry”. So it was interesting to see how his work had evolved. At both sites sculptures were located outdoors in parkland with some shown indoors in well lit, modern galleries. But at Kew he was able to site a number of works at carefully selected locations amongst the plants in the Temperate House.
Probably the most significant of the new works we saw was the Cork Dome which was built on site especially for the exhibition. It’s also the first work he has made from cork oak, taking his inspiration from a visit to Portugal to see the cork harvest.
It’s made from different sized pieces of cork bark. Smaller ones at the edges increasing in size towards the centre to form the dome shape.
The colour and the texture of the cork bark is quite different from the wood he usually works with.
And at Kew he has had the opportunity to work on site in a “wood quarry”. On a number of occasions over the years, Nash has been able to work with trees that have fallen naturally or must be felled because of storm damage or because they have become diseased. He “quarries” the wood from these trees, working in situ, creating works inspired by the natural form of the pieces he cuts from the tree. He’s documented this process, producing drawings, some of which were displayed in the indoor gallery
Visitors who have been fortunate enough to be present when he is on site have been able to watch Nash work, creating sculptures that will be shown as part of the exhibition later in the year. Unfortunately he wasn’t there during our visit, but we were still able to visit the quarry and could see the works in progress.
A major piece that he’s creating in the quarry is this “totem pole” which looks as if it’s comprised of a series of cup like objects stacked precariously on toop of each other
The wood quarry closes on 24 September, so if we had visited it a few days later then we wouldn’t have been able to see it. The exhibition is going to be reorganised during September / October and will then include sculptures created in the quarry. So it would be good to revisit Kew before the exhibition ends in April next year if we get the chance.
The YSP exhibition had featured a few sculptures that had been cast in iron and bronze. At Kew there were several new bronze castings on display. These had been created from charred wooden sculptures and had been painted black. At first glance the bronzes are very easy to mistake for the originals. The texture and colour of the charred wood had been recreated so well (he clearly works with some very skilled foundries).
Black Butt, 2011
They are relatively recent works and creating castings is obviously something he has been interested in exploring. Wood is affected by the elements and will split, warp and deform due to weathering and intervention of animals and even humans. Nash is interested in change and has not been afraid to let this happen with his work, incorporating them into the creative process. We could see this with some of those works that had also been displayed at the YSP, particularly the Oculus block a massive piece of eucalyptus wood from California that had been displayed indoors during the earlier exhibition but had been sited outdoors at Kew. We could see many changes brought about by exposure to the elements
But castings are much more durable and less susceptible to change. So perhaps Nash, as he gets older, wants to preserve some of his work for posterity.
It was really interesting to see the works sited in the Temperate House amongst the plants. In some cases they were almost hidden amongst the vegetation. Walking through the glass house we had to keep our eyes peeled and were taken by surprise by a number of works that either blended in with the plants or were well camouflaged by them.
It’s only the regular shapes of the sphere and pyramid that gives these away
Sculptures were also displayed indoors in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical At, together with drawings and prints.
The film of his Wooden Boulder project was being shown. In 1978 he carved a boulder like shape from a section of one of his tree quarries at his home and studio near Blaenau Ffestiniog and dumped it in the nearby river to try to transport it away from the site. However, he ended up releasing it “into the wild” and followed its progress down the river to the sea near Portmadog, filming, drawing and photographing it over twenty odd years until it disappeared out to sea.
We spent a full day at the exhibition, and with the works spread across the park we were able to combine looking at some excellent art with a pleasant walk and some exercise.