Documentary about the life and work of the influential British sculptor David Nash, who has used his profound knowledge of trees and the forces of nature to inform his work.
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This fallen oak tree is about to become a piece of work
devised by one of Britain's most original sculptors.
A real idea has spirit energy in it, and they compel me to make them.
They actually bring that energy with them.
David Nash sees unique forms in each tree that becomes available.
Over his 40-year-long career, he has fashioned over 2,000 sculptures,
many of them monumental in scale.
He also breaks with convention.
He burns the forms he creates.
He creates works of art that take decades to evolve.
He purposefully creates objects that might not be seen.
He allows nature to pick up and continue the sculpture
where he and his chainsaws left off.
His take on organic form is at once very literal, he's got literal wood,
and as well as literal, it's metaphorical and symbolic.
It stands for that world of experience,
of the natural and the organic.
Nash's sculptures have the hallmarks of both man and nature.
They can be found all over the world
from prestigious national collections, to the bottom of rivers.
Being able to just make the stuff that comes out of him
and not to be unduly influenced by fashion
and what other people say or think or do.
To David Nash, wood is more than just a raw material.
It's led him to a deeper understanding of the properties of trees.
His sculpture is a true collaboration with the forces of nature.
For most of 2010, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
was the location of David Nash's biggest exhibition to date.
263 pieces, representing every stage of his career,
were gathered from all over the world.
200,000 people have visited the exhibition.
As well as being a survey of an important career,
it was also a showcase for new works.
Six months before the exhibition opened,
Nash was making new works on site at the park.
Turning ideas into form, creating monumental sculptures,
and a permanent work in the landscape.
The steps being put into place here will serve a practical purpose
as well as being aesthetically pleasing.
Could you put it back?
About an inch and a half.
By the beginning of May, a reunion of sculptures on loan
from collections all over the world,
were assembled in the halls and galleries of Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
They have travelled here from as far afield
as California and Shanghai.
The idea is actually more flexible than the material, I've found.
You've just got to get a sense of the idea into it.
It's no good trying to be exact,
because the feeling of an idea is not exact.
It's just a compelling force.
In 1978, the Arts Council made a film about an up-and-coming young artist.
This film sits alongside Nash's own archive of film,
video and photographs,
which track the development of his ideas and working methods.
30 years later, he is still studying the trees with a forensic eye.
Nash has identified some raw material
that will soon be given new life as sculpture.
Long before it was fashionable to be green,
Nash was determined to work only with wood that nature made
available to him - trees blown down by the wind, or killed by disease.
Only then will he consider its potential for sculpture.
I would never take a tree if there was no reason to take it down.
I can only really engage with it once it's down.
Then I go over it like a dentist looking at teeth,
checking the rot spots and what these forms are.
The art of making a sculpture,
for me it's trying to make an object which is more here.
There are ways of doing this.
I never polish the surface because
my eye just slides off it. A rough surface.
It needs to have holes and cracks in it which will draw the viewer in.
It's got to have an animation, which is actually in the original tree.
You've got to allow the echo of the source to resonate.
The chainsaw is a heavy, cumbersome tool.
Not the obvious choice to create delicate surfaces and texture,
but Nash wields it as adeptly as a painter would a brush.
What a lot of artists are interested in doing
is trying to gather information, to explore certain situations
in order to arrive at a position of greater knowledge
or insight about the world.
What is unique about David Nash
is that he's chosen to focus his investigations on one particular material.
Wood obviously, and on the places and the situations
in which wood can be found.
The work leads me.
I've always been aware of possibilities.
They just wink at me all over the place.
If I'm alert to them, I can catch them.
Locating a fallen tree with potential for sculpture,
is the start of a hugely complex process.
A massive oak tree has fallen into a river
near Nash's home in north Wales.
He needs a team of expert tree surgeons
with a serious tool kit to access it.
This is dangerous. These are very, very heavy pieces of wood
and these people are very skilful.
It's like you're investing an energy, and investing a focus
into the material, so that material to me becomes very special.
I've invested a lot into it.
It's not like any piece of wood,
it's a THE piece of wood.
Those trees are probably 100 years old,
so it's got a story, its own story.
Its form is because of where it is,
and because of where it is, it's fallen down.
So that's all part of its narrative.
I make mainly abstract work, but there is a strong narrative
to the sourcing of the material
and that the narrative goes into the form.
I try and always source my wood from trees
which have become naturally available, like this.
It feels ethically OK for me to source my wood from this place.
David? Just going to put the second...
The actual dismantling of it,
there are practical facts that I have to go with.
Sculpture is a physical, factual art.
You're working with substances which live in real space,
which have real weight,
so the actual sourcing of the material does condition the sizes
of the pieces that I can then start with.
Wood is a traditional material
used by craftsmen and sculptors since ancient times.
But in Nash's hands,
trees become works of conceptual art with a primeval power.
I usually start by making something I've done before
because I don't have the anxiety of trying to find a new idea.
It just gets it all flowing, it gets the sawdust flying,
and it just connects me physically with what I've got to work with.
Then after three days, usually, new ideas start to come.
They're coming from the circumstance of that place.
David Nash is associated with the British Land Art movement of the '70s,
where landscape and art are inextricably linked.
But for him, art was a bid for freedom to follow his own path.
What's behind being an artist is being a free human being.
So that was my real quest.
When I was a youngster reading about artists,
these artists seemed to be free.
Typical thing of a teenage, English, middle-class boy
being sent to a boarding school.
My experience was this overwhelming sense
of being controlled and moulded and modelled.
So I was at war with anything that pushed authority towards me,
or assumed authority over me.
I had to take authority.
That still lives in me now.
The essential thing of an artist is to work out
of their own personal journey and freedom.
In 1967, David Nash moved to a remote slate mining town
in North Wales that he'd known as a child.
His main motivation for moving here was an economic one.
The derelict slate quarry workshops were full of cast-off planks
of wood, a godsend to an impoverished young artist.
So hence my working as a scavenger,
not paying any money for my materials.
Not trying to work in steel or bronze,
or materials which actually would cost me.
And I found this really suited me, in that I was picking up something
that had been discarded or had no value,
and I could bring some qualities to it.
I didn't really know whether this was art or not.
Blaenau Ffestiniog is in an area
with the highest recorded rainfall in Wales
and is situated at the foot of mountainous
heaps of slate waste from the old industry.
Moving to this grey, wet town after art college in London
was the perfect antidote to London's competitive art scene.
Coming to Blaenau was like coming to somewhere where nobody was watching.
I was very naive and I started building a big tower here,
because obviously that was very evident,
but I felt I was separate enough to try this out.
Hence the first tower was like an epic statement.
Like trying to write a whole opera,
a huge philosophical statement,
and this moving through these various layers,
going up through the legs and the guts and into the head and into the heavens.
The tower was the start of it all,
the seed from which ideas would evolve into a vast family of sculptures.
What you have here, starting with this very early work,
the first tower that he made in 1967,
which was made up of bits of wood that he found in skips and round and about,
this being the source of everything.
This started to be him speaking,
and then gradually you can see how the works expand out
to form the full vocabulary.
There's a real patience here.
This is really physically hard, arduous stuff.
You get here a real sense of someone's life evolving
over a period of time, that's quite remarkable actually.
I don't know another artist who's really traced
their own life's work in this way.
In 1968, David Nash acquired Capel Rhiw,
a chapel in the heart of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
At a cost of £200, this would enable Nash
to keep his overheads to a minimum,
and realise an ambition to fuse life and work.
Very few young artists have the opportunity of actually having
their materials in abundance around them and unmade work or unresolved work,
without having to put them away
because they have to have the space to make the new piece.
This bringing together of life and work
is something that's crucial
to an understanding of David Nash and his work.
It seems to me that from the very beginning of his career,
this is one of his stated ambitions.
What that means is that the work not only informs the life,
but the life informs the work.
It gives us a body of sculpture and drawings and other projects
that are in a strange kind of way autobiographical,
but they also reflect the character of their maker,
the character of the artist.
This is a very, very powerful quality within David Nash's work.
David Nash married Claire Langdown, an artist who also worked with wood
at the time, and the chapel became a family project.
If something interesting's going on somewhere, however far away
from London or New York or wherever, people will hear about it.
Now with two young boys, life and work was one and the same thing.
Major galleries began to be interested
and made the long trek to the Nash studio and home.
People from the art world came to see the chapel,
the work that was going on there.
There was always something to see because he was seriously working.
People liked the fact that he had made his house
and he had made his kids' toys.
We were like a sort of a team of artists when the boys were little.
They were involved with everything we did.
This picture is of William in David's arms
while he's sawing a piece of wood.
Just that lovely thing of them being
able to be involved in what we were doing.
Blaenau is a very, very interesting place,
because you come to it through
the extraordinary mountains of the National Park,
and this incredible natural beauty.
Suddenly you arrive in this hole within the middle of it,
which is this man-made landscape.
It has a sublime quality to it.
These vast mountains of slate.
And it's very impressive in a fundamental way.
I know something David talks about is that this is a landscape
that is made by man and nature, and that an understanding of that
was something that was important for him
in terms of his development as an artist.
It's hard to imagine that his career would have developed
in the same way, had he been working in a studio somewhere in London.
So the move to north Wales not only took him out
of that immediate art world context,
but it gave him access to different ways of living,
different ways of thinking about everything.
I think for a lot of sculptors place,
location of where they are, is very important. It runs deep.
Particularly with Blaenau, which is like an enormous sculpture,
where people have delved deep into the ground
and brought out this material.
If you go down into those quarries, which you can do, it's solid stone.
They quarried it out, down, down, down there,
blasting these rocks out, hauling them up,
and then working them.
Only about 20% was actually usable and this is the 80% waste.
These beautiful diagonal lines have just found themselves
out of millions of loose pieces which have just tumbled down,
thrown away, but they've ended up with a very precise geometric form.
So there's a tight and looseness about it at the same time.
There is a paradox.
In my work, I just do enough for the form to show itself.
So it could be made up of many parts, like the red dome for example.
There are over 150 pieces there,
and they're quite loosely put together.
The order is their size,
but they can go in any order so long as the sizes grade upwards.
So there's a looseness in the way of putting it together,
but there's a tightness in the form.
I think the beholder finds this dichotomy,
this paradox, very satisfying.
For me, when something is satisfying, it's meeting some sort of need,
of a seeking of a signal of truth.
The tips look as they do from the process of their making.
That, to me, was my fundamental clue on how to work.
Keep my mind on the process
and let the resulting object take care of itself.
What it looked like could take care of itself.
So long as the process itself was clean and true and pure,
I could trust that and let the object be
and not worry it after I'd finished the process.
The early work, Nine Cracked Balls, was the breakthrough piece.
These lumps of wood might appear on impressive, but to David Nash,
they were the spark of inspiration that has guided his work ever since.
The log, being a tree, you cut down with an axe.
Fallen, so the end is axe shaped.
Axe cut. So I just axe cut like that,
cutting in, rolled it over, so then I can cut the underside.
So when that lump came off...
..it was actually the pure result of the process
of chopping a lump of wood off, a length.
And then when that came off,
I then had this rounded shape repeated.
So I just did it again and did it again
until there were nine.
And I'd stored them in a sort of heap in the studio,
and I'd sort of forgotten about them.
And then, six months later, they had all cracked,
so they were all there like grinning at me.
And it was like saying, come on, David, this is the way to go.
Go with us.
So I did. So this is my first step, and that is the key.
So I got them out,
and I found that I could put them three rows of three.
They really made sense.
I mean, they spoke to me. I sort of did it as a one off,
and then didn't really
know whether that was real.
I wasn't confident about them, then. But I am confident about them now.
Because they were my first step on the path,
and I've just gone step by step.
So as long as I stay true to the path,
the path seems to be staying true to me.
Now the Nine Cracked Balls are an important part
of any museum exhibition that shows the development of Nash's ideas in sculpture.
And Nash's vision, embodied in his early towers,
is echoed in these later works that extend high into the gallery space.
I think what one's got to remember about his stuff is that it's quite precise.
So, this business of there being a letting-go element,
where he isn't controlling it, is countered by very clear thinking.
Art is often about leaps in the dark.
You could imagine
his career starting in a rather stumbling way,
that he discovers something that leads to something else and so on.
And he isn't entirely confident that he isn't just
sort of chancing it a bit.
And as the practice builds up over time,
he becomes more confident of the overall picture of what he's doing.
But he wants to retain that element of chancy-ness.
I think that is a very successful component of what he does.
But what is lovely and important and profound and admirable
about what he does, for me, is the way that he can grasp
this element that occurs a lot in modern art,
the really chancy and the really, "Well, I don't know
"what will happen now, and I don't really know what I'm doing.
"But I have enough confidence in what I've done up to now
"to take that chance and make it work."
But while Nash sculptures travel all over the world,
their home is the chapel.
At any one time, up to 400 pieces reside here.
But the sculptures come and go in an ever-changing dance,
that makes this place the centre of a global sculpture network.
The chapel is an extraordinary place.
One has quite as sort of uncanny feeling going into the chapel
for the first time, because it feels almost as if it's occupied
by hundreds of living things.
A kind of congregation, if you like, of work that's thronged there,
seem to have this unusual vitality.
So you immediately walk into a space that is full of the smell of wood,
the rich, warm, tones and colours of wood, but it's sort of animated.
This is the kind of thing that really struck me about it
when I first went there - this sense of vitality.
In preparation for the exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park,
most of the sculptures were wrapped up and sent on a chapel outing.
-Doing a tidy job there.
One local, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, was amazed by what he saw
going on in the chapel
when he was the MP for Blaenau Ffestiniog in the 1970s.
I just walked up and looked through the windows and saw these,
obviously what were works of art.
And I was immediately captivated by it all. Then I got to know David.
I keep being reinvigorated whenever I meet him or see his work.
Not just a passing interest in the chapel,
Lord Elis-Thomas's father was a minister here.
'I'd always had it drummed into me, by my father, that this is where our roots were.
'And, of course, this particular chapel'
was the great temple of the Presbyterian Church.
And that's a verse, of course,
"Holiness, sanctity, behoves your house", would be the translation.
But, of course, the holy in religion is something spiritual.
Art, I think, is a close cousin of that drive
towards the spiritual, in human life.
And I think it's very appropriate.
Well, obviously, it's why he did it, he kept it there,
because he saw a synergy between what the chapel was in the past
and the spiritual activity that was here, and the creativity,
verging on the spiritual, which is in his work.
I love the idea that there is in this chapel now a new congregation.
David tells me there at least 400,
which must make it the best-attended chapel for miles around!
In the mid-'70s, David Nash began working on a piece of land
This became a site where he could experiment with sculpture
that exists outside of the gallery experience...
He started exploring this concept by planting a circle of ash trees.
After decades of nurturing,
the concept that he had imagined in his drawings has taken shape
and the Ash Dome, a living sculpture, has been realised.
Through these living works, Nash has a deeper understanding
of his materials, incorporating the elements more fully
into his understanding of wood and trees.
'What a tree is, it's a weave of all the four classic elements
'of the earth and the air
'and the light/fire element and water.
'They are woven by the energy of the tree, the will forces of the tree.
'It engages with these elements and some are incredibly resilient,'
like the ash tree. Its will forces are incredible.
If you cut them right down at the root, they will just come again.
If they are damaged, they will just deal with it.
Other trees are more sensitive and don't necessarily recover.
So this is what has drawn me into...
..the elemental forces, this is what nature really is.
And it is relentless.
These forces are relentless.
'Planting the trees, this was something very new to me and very exciting.
'So with the Ash Dome, that was really my realisation that I could
'grow a form, a space, from sculptural principles,
'rather than topiary and gardening, and I could use those skills
'and the skills of hedging to make a space for the 21st century.
'This is 1977 - gloomy times, then.'
People were saying, "We're not going to see the 21st century".
So this was like a rather naive act of faith, of projecting, then, a concept, when it started.
A concept which would grow, if it worked. I didn't know if it was going to work, if I could really do this.
But if it did work, it would mature in the 21st century.
I think the way that he set up that circle of trees, he's brought his sensibility, his experience
and his thoughtfulness and soulfulness, to something
which could be glib, and made it really lovely.
It has a man-made structure, that sort of circle,
but it is beautifully structured.
And that structure pays homage to the way that nature
is always patterned and structured in the first place.
And we always appreciate those inherent structures of nature.
On the other side of the valley to Cainacoid
and a year after planting Ash Dome, another concept that would also have
a lasting impact on Nash's work was taking shape.
The Nine Cracked Balls had driven Nash to discover what would happen
when a very large volume of wood dried out.
He cut a big lump from the base of an oak,
with the intention of taking it to his studio.
While rolling it down the hill, to get it to his van,
the rough mass of wood became wedged in a stream.
It looked good here and Nash decided to leave it.
Now, nature was in control.
Consecutive storms washed it further downstream.
Nash followed the wooden boulder, recording it on a journey
that lasted 25 years, until it reached the river.
Now, heading to the sea.
Well, the Wooden Boulder is geometrically a spherish thing.
If it was a cube or a triangular shape, it would be manufactured,
but it looks enough like a boulder
to be naturally there. It's, sort of, it's in disguise.
That's the other thing about my outdoor pieces.
This is low visibility. I am not very interested in making
big red things outside, which shout at you.
These earlier works particularly, Wooden Boulder and Ash Dome,
are very discreet and have low visibility.
The Wooden Boulder, people would walk past it and think it was a boulder, and that's fine.
The boulder was travelling an average of eight miles a day -
four miles with the outgoing tide and four miles back on the incoming tide.
The artist recording it each time it found a new place to settle.
In June 2003, it was lost and presumed to have broken free of the estuary
and made it out to the Irish Sea and on into the Atlantic.
The film Nash had made of the Wooden Boulder's
erratic progress became a video installation
and marked a broadening of the artist's work into multimedia.
The Wooden Boulder, that's really a hands-off sculpture, whereas the Ash Dome is a hands-on one.
Part of the concept was that it was a sculpture that would need me to be with it.
It is an artist-attached sculpture,
whereas the Wooden Boulder is an artist-observing sculpture.
But in 2008, Wooden Boulder was rediscovered
in the River Dwyryd,
trapped among the branches of a fallen tree.
The conceptual element is extremely important.
It's about the artist setting a process off
and telling us what he's done and then, sort of, leaving it.
We can follow it or not.
We can imagine it or not.
Nature kind of just makes it happen.
Now with the Wooden Boulder rarely visible, there is also the chance,
of course, that it will once more disappear from view altogether.
When David Nash
creates a wooden boulder that moves around,
so that you are not quite sure what is the sculptural thing exactly
about it - is it the form of that object
or is at the context in which the form is seen?
Or is it just the idea that the boulder is moving around?
When he's got those ash trees in a circle and they're growing all the time,
every time you come to them, they are slightly different.
Most people will never come to them. They are just a story.
They have heard about them. They appreciate the idea. So you're not quite sure,
with those particular works and other ones that he's done, what exactly is the sculptural element.
It could be many things.
One is open to all of them, because one is convinced by what he's done.
So he has, in effect there, quite successfully redefined the definition of sculpture,
with the Ash Dome and that moving wooden boulder.
As an artist, Nash has chosen a very difficult means of expression.
Unlike a painter, who can rub out mistakes on a canvas and start again,
Nash is committed to each cut he makes.
Mistakes are not an option.
A tree is pulling up hundreds of gallons of water every day,
so when it's been cut down, that piece of wood has got a lot of water in it.
It takes about two years for that water to actually evaporate out into the air.
The dry air is pulling it out, so when the water content in the wood is equal to the water content
of the air, then the wood will settle.
David, he gets a bit of wood, he does something to it,
but something goes on happening to that wood after he has done that thing.
So the wood is doing something to itself, as it were, or the natural processes
that occur to wood in nature are part of the work.
Water is evaporated from the wood, so it splits.
The fact that wood does go on changing over time is, sort of, something that we all know
and we all experience and all appreciate and rather enjoy it,
when wood is in its natural element. And him harnessing that
and making that into a gallery experience, is...
I don't know if this is the right word, but I'll use it anyway,
it is, sort of, profoundly enjoyable.
There is something about the very simplicity of the way he has done it
that one can appreciate and one finds convincing.
These crack and warp columns
are water and air pieces.
They go into my kiln, which is heated under there.
There is a dehumidifier.
And the crack and warp column will be sitting in there like that.
This air is very dry - v dry.
And it is pulling it out very, very fast.
I also found that
it will preserve a colour, which then remains afterwards.
If it dries more slowly in a room,
it can dull.
The actual wood can dull.
Indoor sculptures, in controlled conditions, behave in
a different way to sculptures Nash makes for the outside, where the elements are active on the work.
When Nash has carved a new piece for an exhibition,
like this Crack And Warp Column at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park,
it's not unusual for the sculpture to crack loudly
as it changes shape during the course of the exhibition.
Throughout the '70s and early '80s, Nash worked alone.
But, with his reputation growing, and, with it, a demand for him to
exhibit in other countries, Nash was to realise the benefits of bringing a team together to create the works.
So I found myself going to Japan,
which was amazing.
And being taken up 6,000 feet,
in February, to see a fallen tree,
and I had a team of woodmen.
They didn't speak English. I don't speak Japanese,
but we both speak wood, so this was a revelation.
I wasn't using any skills that they were foreign to.
They were more skilled than I was with these basic methods of moving wood and cutting wood.
So, over a period of three weeks, I enacted a wood quarry
and the results were shown in the Tokyo Museum.
This way of working,
that Nash discovered in Japan, was to become a hallmark
of his approach to creating the work in the coming years.
Looking at the opportunities a fallen tree offers him,
like a prospector looking at the properties in an outcrop of rock,
Nash creates a number of sculptures from one tree.
With labourers and heavy machines employed for the job,
a focused industrial atmosphere is created around the site.
Nash came to call these events "wood quarries."
The motivation to create them was a simple and practical one,
but it gave Nash the opportunity to investigate new species of trees
and begin to create works
on ever-greater scale.
'In 1996, I was asked to'
take a tree down in Ascot, at a school there.
It was a vast oak tree, which had died.
In the mid-1990s, a long-term friendship and working relationship
grew between the artist and a tree surgeon from Sussex.
This friendship is still enabling Nash to develop ambitious ideas.
Alan Smith continues to source Nash's materials at his yard, sharing a passion for wood.
I love it, love it from start to finish.
I couldn't imagine my life without it. I love wood.
I once said to David, when I first met him, I thanked him for opening my eyes, really.
To me, felled trees were logs, went off to a sawmill, if you were lucky, and that kind of thing.
Art is so much better than that, because although wood in houses and building houses are great...
..art and in particularly, David's art,
when it's well looked after, just goes on and on and on.
I love the idea that something that has come down in the woods
has got a new life and continuing in that way.
Working the oak in Ascot, like a seam of slate in the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog,
Nash created some important art here.
A number of sculptures went to private collections.
The Tate also acquired a large work
and, another key piece, King and Queen, was made here.
Wood doesn't just mature and change.
It is programmed to decay.
At the Forest of Dean, David Nash was given the opportunity to explore this aspect of the nature of wood.
There are these extraordinary works that he has made, which have their own decay and destruction
built into them, which is a radical idea, in terms of making art.
You're going to make something that you know will not survive.
They will rot, they go back into the ground, they become humus and it's all part of a cycle.
If you make a wooden table to have in your home,
you're borrowing the material out of that cycle,
you bring it into your home and, then, if you put it back outside again, it'll go back into the cycle.
We borrow this material and 90% of what I do is indoor work
because there is longevity in the wood.
This is where I like it to be seen.
These indoor sculptures
need to be seen indoors. What I do outside has to be very specific
to the circumstances of where it's sited.
The outdoor sculptures, with circumstances, like the Black Dome
in the Forest of Dean, there was charcoal burning there.
That gave me a clue about charred wood having something to do with
the burning and the charcoal fires that domed.
I made a charred wood dome.
900 pieces of larch - public place.
I was warned that we had to secure it in.
Every bit's is wired to the next bit, so they can't be pulled out.
What I wouldn't anticipated was people walking on it.
After two years, it was worn and looked like a stroked cat.
Then there was the health and safety issue.
To solve that problem we filled it with coal, which is a local material.
So, it's had an evolution.
The clue was that if you put a sculpture like that in a public place, people will walk on it.
The next opportunity I had
was in America, at the Laumeier Sculpture Park.
And actually work with the fact of people walking on it
and eroding it.
That led on to the steps at Schoenthal, in Switzerland,
and the steps in the coal at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
One of the new works Nash created for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park,
was the permanent piece, Black Steps -
71 charred steps, embedded in a coal drift.
An allusion to the former local industry and the major source
of wealth in the coal seams that run underneath the park.
Scorching, charring and burning have all been used by Nash to dramatic effect.
It makes sense that he wants to harness the forces of nature to make art.
His art is about nature and it is, literally, made out of nature.
As with a lot of other things that he does, it's about honing down all the possibilities
that he could do, in an era of utter freedom, where art can be anything you like.
Honing down, so what he does has consequence and is readable and coherent, even though it has
elements of light heartedness or elements of mystery and, indeed, sometimes elements of bafflement.
He wants to make all that convincing.
Saying "fire is a priority for me or air or water, because those
"are natural elements", he's not being a mystical or pretentious.
He's being marvellous and poetic,
but also there's a commonsense element to it.
It's a way of highlighting the theme of nature.
Charring requires focus and precision.
As well as the element of danger
to the artist and assistants,
there's a great risk of destroying the sculpture.
When you have a wood sculpture, you see wood first, form second.
When it's black, you see form first...
..then the material.
Think of those burnt works, the smell of the charcoal
and the feel of charcoal, that thing that we're familiar with,
that density of it, which he's monumentalised, captured and isolated it.
You sense that burnt, dense, fiery, charcoal dead quality on a very deep level.
You enjoy that very much, so that you're seeing something,
a very particular form that is made out of burning, but you're feeling something.
You've got a combination of the mind and the senses and a sort of soulful response.
He's capitalising on that. He knows that is so.
He knows that we're equipped, as humans, to experience art in that way.
I would say that's operating in everything he does, but it's extreme in the charcoal and burnt things.
There's the level of smell, the level that we imagine
what it would be like to touch it,
even though we're not actually touching it.
Scorching, charring and burning have all been used by Nash to dramatic effect.
In 2001, Nash created a powerful charred piece -
a personal response to global events.
..the television and the newspapers were just full of these images
and it was very powerful, particularly for me,
with the falling, that awful falling of those two towers,
this grinding, and the fact that there were people in there.
I was in the middle of a very big
three-block tower piece,
a big beech, and I cut a slice off the side squaring it.
The piece that came off looked like
one of the images, which became a talisman of that event,
these three spires of that structure, these new crosses, I call them.
It only took a few cuts to make it.
These images started pouring out.
I felt it was completely separate
and there was an emotional experience,
which I hadn't had before in making it, because the whole of the world was feeling this.
There was this pure response.
I have always seen that as a separate body of work, certainly not for sale.
Seeing them in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, there's still
that echo of that feeling that I had when I was making them.
It's still there and they really do seem to speak to people.
Many of Nash's sculptures
ARE for sale and are seen in exhibitions around the world,
where placement is part of the artist's craft.
With a gallery show, the pieces together have to make sense together,
because I'm doing it for whoever is coming in,
to come into a particular atmosphere,
in the spaces between the things, how they resonate off each other.
There is a theatrical aspect to it, but they are, nonetheless, autonomous, individual objects,
which in a commercial gallery sense, these are pieces that people can take into their own lives.
Some collectors buy with an eye on the investment
and that is an aspect of it, but the true collectors
are the ones who just love art and they love to have it in their lives.
To have three such simple elements
caused me to say, "Wow!"
The moment I saw them, across the pond in Wales, in the mist,
it was just a "Wow!" I immediately started going through in my mind,
"Where on my property could I give this incredible sculpture a perfect home?"
I took quite some time to figure it out,
because it's a very large piece and I don't have large, flat pieces
of land waiting for a piece like that.
Roger Evans is one of Nash's most enthusiastic collectors,
shipping sculptures to his home in California.
It's the subset of artists that are interested in real dialogue with a collector, such as myself,
and, for those, I think they really enjoy
understanding, on what level...
..a collector, like me, responds to their work.
Often, it is at a level that they haven't thought about,
particularly for somebody who collects art
in a non-intellectual way, such as myself.
What they get from me in terms of feedback is raw emotion
and I think people like David probably appreciate that a lot.
Roger Evans has found that living with Nash's sculpture,
the collector can connect with the work and feel part of the experience.
In particular, some of the works that continue to live
after they're made, the Crack and Warp pieces,
the pieces that are still wet when they are finished,
and depending on what local they end up residing in,
they really do continue to have a life, as they dry and crack and move about.
And there's a wonderful interaction, I've noticed, between the people that live with that work.
The more time you spend looking at a great piece of art,
the more you see in it - unlike wallpaper.
Each of these responses to one of the pieces of art keeps
enlarging the experience of living with that particular work.
Oh, he is a cult figure, he has a huge following.
Some of the people that come to his openings, I'm not sure
I'd ever see them under any other circumstances, it's quite fantastic, really.
You can tell they just engage instantly and the language of wood,
that David does mention on many occasions, truly is its own.
The United States is now not just a marketplace
for Nash's works - it's a supplier of material.
With magnificent species, such as eucalyptus, growing in abundance
in California, trees regularly become available.
And Nash has his scouts.
As well as access to massive fallen trees, Evan's Wood Yard has the
specialist expertise and equipment in this transatlantic partnership.
I had the pleasure of meeting David for the first time,
maybe three or four years ago. I didn't realise that we'd been
building his candy store this whole time!
But he did, as soon as he drove in.
It is fascinating, in working with him, in that the conversation goes both ways.
Sequoia trees have been growing for thousands of millennia in their forms,
but now I walk in for a forest and I'll say, "My, that's a Nashy one, isn't it?"
I tease him sometimes by calling him "the artomatic".
What I mean by that is he
lives it, breathes it.
Every time, every moment of the day or night, it is always percolating.
A massive eucalyptus is the latest large lump of wood that Evans has sourced for David Nash.
The oculus block was formed out of a huge root and trunk -
12 tonnes, 2.4 metres across and three metres high -
four trees that fused together as they grew.
Now it's being installed at Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
He started making the table pieces in the early '70s and,
in a sense, this is the largest and the most distinguished table piece of all.
For me, it doesn't really need to symbolise anything.
The thing is what it is.
It could be nothing else in the world.
I love that idea that David has brought together all of these different agencies
and then to develop the equipment that was necessary to cut the edges from it,
which were chainsaws, double-ended chainsaws, a motor at each end.
There was about 20 feet of chain on those saws.
Two guys holding the saws, so that they were on lifts,
and as they came down the piece, they shaved off these edges
and slicing of those pieces of wood in one go,
so that you get this incredible surface.
The chainsaw is just to make a straight cut, but also to be able to make one simple gesture.
You can see the lines, the marks of the tool going uninterrupted
across the face and to emphasise the simplicity
of his minimal nature of his interventions into it.
Almost how little it took, with the right insight, to make it into a sculpture.
I don't know what the single element is that makes that Oculus work impressive.
Maybe it's scale, because it's big, but a lot of works are big.
Maybe it's the beauty of trees, anyway, but that's a common beauty.
Maybe it's the flourish of the way he's created it,
that it's so cleanly done and so unfussy.
I think it's a combination of all those things and it's
an example of that rare thing in art where you really feel
it couldn't have been done any other way.
It's beautiful, you like it, you'd be very happy to see it, repeatedly,
very happy to come back to it and it lines up in one's mind,
along with certain art experiences,
that make you happy to be alive, in a rather uncomplicated way.
There's a kind of calligraphy happening here,
it's like a Zen calligraphy, where all of the idea, the intent
and the physical process of making this work
goes into this one, fluid moment.
It's all very pragmatic and logical
and technical and really thought through and worked out.
The end result is something that's actually really poetic and really beautiful.
And I love it for all of those reasons.
On May 28th, 2010,
David Nash at Yorkshire Sculpture Park opened.
A very significant exhibition, bringing together
Nash's past and present,
providing a platform to launch into his future.
He's an artist who connects to very many moments in the history
of culture, where nature is exalted and the relationship between mankind and nature is urgent and important.
Artists don't retire. People retire to be artists.
It's just a question of deepening the work.
My attempt at making an epic statement with the towers is as though the room is the tower
and the exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is really that tower,
but I'm not trying to do everything in one piece.
I've separated the ideas out.
When you're young, you're going to have a lot of ideas coming at you, but just get them in there,
put them in, don't worry about whether they relate to each other.
The ideas are so precious, you have to touch on them in some way and you
have the rest of your life to sort it out. That's what I've been doing.
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a show of how what I've sorted out from those initial years.
I think in your 60s, 70s and on, this is a time for being very clear.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
David Nash is one of Britain's most original and internationally recognised sculptors. In a career spanning 40 years he has created over 2,000 sculptures out of wood, many of then monumental in scale. In this film Nash gives an intimate insight into his unique collaboration with his material. From sawing and gouging to charring and planting, it reveals how he has used his profound knowledge of trees and the forces of nature to inform his work.
Using extensive archive it traces Nash's artistic journey from art school to the rugged mining landscape of Blaenau Ffestiniog in north Wales via the many exhibitions he has had around the world, culminating in the most significant to date at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2010.