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David Nash. Brilliant British Sculptor.

May 12, 2008

Many years ago I had the pleasure of seeing a solo show of David Nash’s sculpture at the Madison Art Center in Wisconsin, and was blown away by his work. Nash is best known for his large wood sculptures. At the Madison exhibit, along with the great selection of his wood pieces, was a video of him carving a large tree trunk; from his years of experience with a chain saw he makes it look as easy as cutting soft butter with a knife.

Through the Trunk, Up the Branch. 1985

David Nash |  Portfolio | image 2

Born in England in 1945, Nash studied at Kingston College of Art from 1963 to 1967 and at Chelsea School of Art (Postgraduate) from 1969 to 1970. His father’s family had connections in North Wales and while growing up Nash spent quite a bit of time there, later moving permanently to live in the remote town of Blaenau Ffestiniog once a major slate mining center. There he purchased a chapel that “houses” both his home and studio; he felt right from the get-go that his way of making art went hand in hand with his way of life.

Ash Dome, begun in 1977

David Nash |  Portfolio | image 14
Nash’s work has evolved from creating complexly engineered painted pieces to investigating the anthropomorphic aspects of a tree’s anatomy. Although he creates sculpture mostly from fallen trees he has in the past made work from growing plants, cutting and training them into domes or ladders. His famous Ash Dome, planted as saplings in 1977, is now a mature dome centred on a plot of woodland in North Wales, Nash’s ‘laboratory’ for growing works and a place for thinking.

Wooden Boulder, begun in 1978

David Nash |  Portfolio | image 10

He also makes land art, of which the best known is “Wooden Boulder,” begun in 1978. This large chunk of spherical oak roughly four feet in diameter, “meant” to be carried downstream to the Atlantic Ocean, got caught repeatedly on the banks of the irregular stream, so Nash decided to leave it at the foot of a small waterfall.

Standing Frame. 1987

Before devoting his studies to sculpture, his initial interest in Art School had been painting, and the first sculptures made in his new Welsh studio were painted towers – albeit somewhat rickety looking painted towers – seeming like an outgrowth from his earlier interest in painting. Nash described them as “putting color into space.”

When reading about minimalists like Rauschenberg, Duchamp and John Cage, although Nash was interested and even excited about their philosophy, the cold mechanical objects that they “produced” turned him off. He wanted to find a way to connect human intellect with the organic reality of nature and in the process of his exploration, and finding his own creative “language,” he was able to bridge the gap between those two independent realities.

Cracking Box. 1992

In 1970 a somewhat serendipitous event occurred: after hacking a piece of ash tree into nine rough spheres he put them aside where they were “forgotten” for a while. During this time they continued to “evolve.” The green wood that he had worked on became seasoned in the warmth of his studio and cracked open. As Nash says, (they) “continued to work for me after I stopped working.” From that moment on Nash has continued to work with unseasoned wood.

In the late 1970’s he began working with trees that were going to be cut down anyway for different and legitimate reasons; after choosing a tree and felling it, he’d camp out at the site, working long hours until every piece of the tree, including twigs, were utilized. The twigs he burned in an oven using them later as charcoal for his drawings.

Charred Sphere, Cube and Pyramid. 1997

He often does large preparatory drawings which he uses to determine the shape of the work before he begins to cut into it with the chain saw. Because his sculptures are made from unseasoned wood and the fact that they crack and twist even after they’re “completed” by the artist’s hand, he is in a sense harnessing not only the element of air, but also fire and water, which changes the form and surface of his sculptures. His first charred works (blackened with a torch) were made in Japan in the early 1980s. The process is almost as ritualistic as it is intense. Charring changes the surface to carbon, which, when treated with preservative and linseed oil, gives the sculptures a longer life in the open air.

Tumble Blocks. 2002

David Nash, <!--2-->Tumble Blocks

In 1999 Nash was elected a member of the Royal Academy of Arts and in 2004 he was awarded the OBE.

Three Humps. 2006

David Nash, Three Humps

In 1999 David Nash embarked on making some works in bronze, using earth and fire in the process. The resulting sculptures, with their patina resonant of smoke and ash, hold echoes of his works in wood.

“I want a simple approach to living and doing.
I want a life and work that reflects the balance and continuity of nature.
Identifying with the time and energy of the tree and with its mortality,
I find myself drawn deeper into the joys and blows of nature.
Worn down and regenerated; broken off and reunited; dormant faith is revived in the new growth on old wood.”
David Nash, 1978

3 Comments leave one →
  1. May 9, 2009 11:15 pm

    I found David Nash in the pages of the May, 2009 issue of Sculpture magazine – I have no idea why I had not heard of him before! I guess I haven’t looked hard enough. I’ll have to buy one of his books to add to my collection. Thanks for taking the time to write this post – I enjoyed reading it and looking at the pictures. Search “Touchstone” on my blog for pictures of pieces I’ve created in the last few years.

  2. nelly permalink
    November 17, 2009 4:49 pm

    amo el arte como el árbol la tierra

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