Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Rusty Nail Art

There are several themes or motifs that run through much of my artwork, so I thought that I'd choose one of them, that of the rusty nail, and share with you a few of the pieces that utilise it.

Nail Heart (2011), Nailless heart (2012) & Mutant Nail Heart (2012) by British artist, Wayne Chisnall

As I mentioned in my recent Instagram video, my first piece to incorporate an element of rusty nails was a sculpture (one of a series of four tower pieces that I made in 1999) called 'The City'. The City was more architectural than its three sister pieces, and mostly made up of small cabinets and boxes constructed from and containing found materials. In this case the nails only adorned an isolated area of the sculpture. With later pieces, the rusty nails took on more of a starring role. 

Still from a stop-motion film by film makers, The Brothers Quay, alongside 'The City' (1999) sculpture by artist, Wayne Chisnall

I spent four years collecting the rusty nails (there's also rusty screws and other metal objects in there, but it's mostly nails) that went into creating my most prominently nail encrusted sculpture, 'Nail Box'. Rather than just buy nails and rust then myself, I decided to only use nails that I found (or which people found for me) either here in the UK or from my travels around the World. Some of the nails were gathered from historical sites - including one that I found high up inside the dome of Saint Paul's Cathedral, London, when I was working there on an art handling job. 

'Nail Box' (2007), sculpture by artist, Wayne Chisnall

Aside from the rusty nails and antique metal casters, the box structure for 'Nail Box' is made of a plywood core, clad in old wooden backing boards from paintings from the Victoria and Albert museum, in London. The sculpture was created during the 15 years that I worked at the V&A, and I'm pleased to say that I still have a massive hoard of interesting found materials, mostly salvaged from the museum's skip.

Three views of 'Frankenstein's Orifice Box' (2011), by artist, Wayne Chisnall

The latest artwork that I've worked on, which utilises the rusty screws and nails, is a collaborative piece between myself and the artist, Sharon Griffin, as part of our ongoing 'Unlockdown' project. For this work however, the nails are inserted into fired clay, and not into wood, the structural material that I usually employ when working with nails.

'Nail Head' (work-in-process from 2020) sculpture by artists, Wayne Chisnall & Sharon Griffin

As I briefly mention in the video, my initial inspiration for the use of rusty nails, screws, and other found objects in my work (and also to create 'The City' itself) was triggered by my love of the stop-motion animated films of people like The Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer. However, when I moved to London back in 1999, in was living just round the corner from what is one of my favourite museums - the Horniman. And it was here that I discovered another form of nail-pierced object; the nikisi. Minkisi (the most commonly used plural for 'nikisi', from what I gather), predominantly stem from the Kongo region, and are usually carved wooden totemic figures, believed to be inhabited by spirits. The word, nikisi, can also refer to the spirit itself. Many minkisi are covered in nails, but this addition isn't decorative. These wooden carvings are not considered artworks. They are intended as spiritual working objects and the hammering of nails into them is a way of activating their power.

A 'nikisi' from the collection of the Horniman Museum, South London

For me, the power or energy (albeit probably imagined) of my nail sculptures comes not from their inner contents but from the collective resonance of each individual nail's personal history - built up, over time, through their interactions with the elements and things around them.