Updated: May 31, 2020
As the daughter of a carpenter, I have grown up surrounded by people who craft in wood. A material which, although beautiful, is by its very nature dangerously unforgiving to those who have not mastered its ways of manipulation. It is an art form. Overlooked and taken for granted and yet it is at the heart of almost everything around us. Hidden, in plain sight. Thankfully however, centre stage is calling at David Nash’s latest blockbuster ‘Sculpture Through the Seasons’ at Cardiff’s National Museum.
The moment you enter the first gallery you find yourself completely engulfed by the mighty material in the form of Cork Spire; a monumental construction crafted from what appear to be parmesan like shavings of cork bark, painstakingly layered and supported only by the wood itself. It sets the tone from there on in.
Moving through the galleries Nash presents a mixture of sculpture and drawings in various sizes spanning the past 50 years of his career spent living and working in Northern Wales. A major new publication, ‘David Nash: 200 Seasons at Chapel Rhiw’, coincides with the opening.
Nash may need little introduction to most. The sculptor is arguably one of Britain’s best-known land artists and Royal Academicians whose work possesses that all important instant recognisability; and although fond of material experimentation, wood is his medium of choice, with 90% of the 120-works exhibited throughout the exhibition proving just that.
The second-floor galleries are a playground documenting Nash’s life in wood. Singed forms like Charred Cross Egg prove a dominance over the material in how far the artist knowns its limits and provides interesting contrast to the lighter Ubus or Lightening Strike whose movement and fluidity evoke a modern depiction of mythological Daphne mid transfiguration. The rawness in handling harks back to Morris’s mantra of truth to materials. With Nash’s surface marks standing has his signature.
Packing the biggest punch are two films recording the journeys of his best-known works. One, Wooden Bolder. The Second, Ash Dome, which documents the life cycle of 22 Ash trees Nash has spent almost 40 years manipulating into a dome. As I stand and watch the journey of the piece, I admire Nash’s patience and dedication to the vision of the work. However, my heart soon sinks. 2018 saw it fall victim to a fatal disease.
To Nash – the equivalent of a good friend’s terminal diagnosis.
Hope prevails in the planting of a sibling Oak Dome, something Nash himself won’t live to see come into fruition. There is something poignant in the way he passes the baton, sitting truly on point within the current surge in efforts of sustainability and rewriting the wrongs of previous generations.
This exhibition itself is nothing but thought provoking - the passing of time, a life spent dedicated to a material, patience, the enjoyment in the journey, the community in which these artworks have created. What will happen once Nash has gone?
As I turn to leave, I spy a vast charcoal map of woodlands which the artist has spent 20 years documenting. The perfect ending.
Nash’s lasting love letter to the woods of Wales.
The exhibition runs until September 1st at the National Gallery of Wales before it moves to Towner Art Gallery Eastbourne, where it will run until February 2020.