Tom Hall, Wednesday 19 September 2012
Meet David Nash OBE, the sculptor born and bred in Surrey.
In a career spanning 40 years, Nash is known worldwide for his carved sculptures, which are all impressively made from wood. I get some time with the man himself, and feeling a great opportunity to get an insight into Nash’s mind to see what really makes him tick. I go straight in.
Now although Nash resides in a small North Wales town, Blaenau Ffestiniog, it was in Weybridge where he grew up, attending boarding school in Brighton. ‘When I went to that school I was well adjusted, confident and an original thinker. I was persecuted because of who I was. I remember being very bewildered and very angry... I escaped into art.’ At this point I realise these are not overly fond memories and move swiftly on. His artistic talent flourished during the radical 60s during ‘an age of discovery’ when he attended Kingston College of Art and then Brighton College of Art. These appear to be happy memories for Nash, who describes his teaching staff as ‘bright young artists who were in the vanguard, pioneering new ideas in art’. His time at Brighton studying painting helped Nash realize his true ambition - to go back to Kingston to study sculpture. He explained: ‘Painting is two dimensional and I wanted to make objects in space so I became a sculptor. I am a maker and sculpture is the nearest thing to making.’
Kew Gardens is lucky enough to have Nash exhibiting and working there until April 2013. He told me: ‘I had intended to concentrate on smaller and specific works. But then Kew came along.’ Visiting Kew is not only a great day out but it is also an opportunity to purchase limited edition Nash items so make sure to check in at Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art during your visit. This is the first time Nash is showing the process of making art as part of a major exhibition. Henry Moore’s work was also famously at Kew, but it is their differences which Nash highlights: ‘Kew became a background to Moore’s work whilst my own work is more symbiotic with Kew.’ He adds: ‘A regular visitor to Kew can see the changes as I work – most shows stay the same after they have opened.’
He is very open about how he creates his art explaining the procedure of preparing the wood from its natural state. For example: ‘On a 300-year-old oak tree I took off the top and all the branches which left me with the heartwood’ – and it is this part of the tree which Nash uses as his canvas. The tools he uses to create his artworks are, to be honest, very simple. A cherry picker and a chainsaw. I ask ‘Do you mind the noise?’ ‘No it’s my idea so you put up with a lot if it’s your idea. And visitors can go and see a short film of my work if the noise gets too much.’ I think he’s been asked this before.
Nash tells me that the nature of the wood itself, and the conditions in which to work, are very important in creating his art. ‘Wood does not last outside. 90% of what I do is inside. The temperate glasshouse at Kew is OK.’ He explains: ‘Wood rots outside. The outer layer, sapwood, rots very quickly. So you have to cut that off to get to the heartwood. I have to carve it in such a way that water cannot linger in it. Wood is in a cycle in nature. If it is kept inside, wood will keep very well. There are items from the Pyramids and they’ve lasted pretty well. But if you put it back outside, it goes back into the cycle and starts to rot.’ Other trees that are good to work with are the Californian redwood and some sequoias, however it is important to Nash that he doesn’t ‘take trees from elsewhere in the world’. He tells me: ‘I don’t want to be part of raping trees, taking them from their landscapes, raping the landscape.’ He says: ‘I am aware - as a human being and as part of society - our environment is our outer skin and we do not consider it enough.’ Nash believes a healthy engagement and relationship with our environment is imperative. ‘Wood is a fundamental vital material for every culture and civilisation. It is a source material. It is untouched. I would not know what to do with steel’. Looking at how he works with wood, we should be delighted that he would not!
David Nash will be signing copies of David Nash at Kew Gardens on Saturday 13 October from 2-4pm