David Nash richly deserves his major retrospective at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. He has been working for forty years now, mostly using a chainsaw, blowtorch and axe to make his pieces in unseasoned wood, sourced only from fallen trees which become available naturally. While the methods he uses to make his work may be quite violent and destructive the end result is a exhibition full of elegant simple forms and quiet dignity. His great skill lies in his knowledge of and love of his material. He makes careful and informed choices and he can see possibilities, some of which may take many years to come to fruition. He has the insight, after working with it for so long, to choose the right piece of wood and allow it to do what it wants to do with his help, breathing new life into it as a gallery object. At times, as in Oculus Block, one of the most beautiful works in the exhibition, his intervention is quite minimal. The beauty of three eucalyptus trees which grew together in Northern California and welded into a single form has been allowed to shine out, carved into a massive cube.
Nash is interested in how his chosen material grows and changes over time. This fascination began very early on in his career when he carved nine balls in wood and found that after a time they cracked open and “smiled” at him, showing him the way forward for his work. He carves into unseasoned wood and then watches it change and develop, sometimes intervening regularly in the process and sometimes not. This change may happen thanks to environmental conditions if the work is outside or simply because of the nature of wood itself as it dries out and seasons. There is a lovely piece in the exhibition called cracking box made in 1992 which is a real celebration of what wood can do. It has warped into an irregular and beautiful parody of what Nash originally made, as if the tree that it came from is still alive in the gallery.
Nash has made a new permanent piece set out in the park, Three Stones For Three Trees, which will change and develop with time as the trees increase in size and their relationship with the stone that they have been given changes.There is a pleasing simplicity about the idea of giving a gift to a tree, a kind of tribute and an acknowledgment of its longevity, and you never know, they may even grow together.
Nash’s work Wooden boulder began in 1978 and in a sense it is still ongoing. Video and sketches in the Garden gallery tell the story of a simple wooden boulder which Nash was in the process of bringing back down a stream after carving it on site in North Wales when it became stuck at the top of a fall. It eventually worked loose and since then he has followed and recorded its progress, occasionally helping it along the way, as it made the long journey out towards an estuary and the sea. After being missing for more than five years it reappeared in 2009. Its current whereabouts are unknown. A mysterious and magical journey.
damp and dry
burnt and buried
wood is given
we do not make it
in air it cracks
in fire it burns
in water floats
in earth returns
All photos are my own copyright other than the one of the wooden boulder (a still from the video of its progress) which was filmed by David Nash himself.