Sunday, 25 July 2021

'Unlockdown' - Close-up Details

The reason that I've not posted anything about 'Unlockdown' (the art collaboration project between myself and the ceramics artist, Sharon Griffin) for a while is that we thought we'd hold some stuff back until we exhibit the main body of the work. Sharon and I have been selected to exhibit the work at a big event in London, which, because of Covid, has now been postponed till early 2022 - unless another lockdown hits, in which case I'm sure that it'll be postponed even further.

'Nail Head', ceramic & metal sculpture, Unlockdown project. Artists, Wayne Chisnall & Sharon Griffin

However, just to show that we're still working on Unlockdown, I thought I'd share a couple of close-up detail photos from two of the more recent pieces - one of them still a work-in-progress.

These pieces might be the last two sculptures that feature a true face, as Sharon and I have reached a point in the project where we feel to need to move away from the figure. This will be more of a departure from the norm for Sharon as her current practice is predominantly figurative. The ceramic elements of the initial sculptures were that of androgynous-looking human busts, which later got cropped down to disembodied heads, and we feel that the next stage is the simplifying the heads into spheres. 

Ceramic & wood sculpture (work-in-progress), Unlockdown project. Artists, Wayne Chisnall & Sharon Griffin

To give a brief reminder of the process behind the project, and how it started off, here's a bit of text from one of my earlier posts about Unlockdown - "what we are undertaking is to produce a series of experimental sculptures whereby Sharon kicks off the creation of each new sculpture by giving me a clay bust of a relatively androgynous-looking figure, made from a plaster cast mould that she made from her original clay bust sculpture. I then alter the clay bust in some way, before handing it back to Sharon, in order for her to perform her alchemy by apply some of her glazes (created from her own recipes, using locally sourced geological ingredients - apparently the variety of geological settings in Shropshire is unmatched within the British Isles or, within such a relatively small area, probably anywhere else in the world), and then fire the piece.  She then hands the piece back to me for next stage, in which I integrate it with other manipulated materials." 

Although Sharon works predominantly in clay and I work in... well, pretty much anything I can get my grubby hands on, we have a lot of things in common - a love of nature and the earth, of manipulating materials, we share many similar views, we're both from the same part of Shropshire, both with similarly odd family backgrounds etc. So I'm very excited to see where our collaboration takes us. 

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Sketchbooks, Barra, And The Smell Of Death

For the last decade or two I've been using sketchbooks that are A5-size, or smaller - mostly because I only tend to use them as notebooks for scribbling down ideas (and thumbnail sketches) for sculptures, and because they're a convenient size for slipping into a back pocket or shoulder bag. 

'Skeletal Wings', 2021, charcoal, ink & acrylic paint sketch on paper, by Wayne Chisnall

But I'd recently been thinking of upsizing to A3-sized sketchbooks so that I can get back into sketching just for the joy of sketching, with the larger pages allowing me more room to be creative. So when I stumbled upon a couple of new A3 hardback sketchbooks at my local second-hand book stall I took it as a sign, and bought them.

Curious-looking weather-worn wooden post in Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

With the first sketch in my new sketchbook I initially wanted to attack the page with a smorgasbord of materials but ultimately reined it in and just used charcoal, ink and acrylic paint. For the subject matter I chose one of the many finds that I brought back from my recent trip to Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. It's the partial remains of a sea bird - the wings and bits of connecting skeleton.

Kisimul Castle, a medieval castle located on a small island off CastlebayBarra

Last month I spend ten days on this amazing island in the Western Isles - staying with a good friend, Ian Armstrong, at his family's cottage. The landscape was stunning - reminding me a little of Iceland (if on a somewhat smaller scale), and we spent most of our time exploring the beaches. As an artist that utilises a lot of found materials in his sculptures, I'm a big enthusiast of beach combing, and not surprisingly I ended up returning to Shropshire with a rather large quantity of beach finds. A lot of these finds consisted of skulls and other body parts (sheep, birds, sea otters, crustaceans etc - I didn't bring back the dolphin). And considering their various states of decomposition, and the smell inside the car on our 8 hour journey home (after the 5 hour ferry journey), I must say that Ian showed a saint-like tolerance. Once I got home, it took me weeks to properly clean up the specimens (many of which I already have ideas for how they might be used), and some of them, even now, are still a little bit stinky. Although, a few weeks of mummification/desiccation in the baking heat of my conservatory, coupled with a good coating of resin should sort that problem out.

Dolphin carcass, washed up on the shore at Barra, Outer Hebrides, Scotland

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Head Art

Have you ever said something just to be provocative or to play devil's advocate, and some time later questioned whether there might actually be something in what you said?

I remember, many years ago, as part of a group of prospective art students, going to check out universities. At one of the art colleges that we visited, when being interviewed by one of the fine art lecturers, I found myself feeling particularly bloody minded. This was probably because I wasn't that impressed with the attractiveness of the students that I'd seen at the college, and therefore decided that it wasn't the educational establishment I wanted to attend - I was, after all, a very young man at the time, and definitely somewhat superficial. Anyway - during the conversation with the lecturer we somehow got to point where I stated that as long as I made the work in my head it didn't actually need to physically exist (basically, I was being a dick). He then asked me how the work could be assessed if no-one else could see it. To which I replied (still being a dick) that it didn't matter if no-one else could experience it, I made (or didn't make) my art for my own gratification. 

The basic upshot of the conversation was that he offered me a place on the course, there and then. I turned it down (dick!).

Montage of pages from sketchbooks by the artist, Wayne Chisnall

But moving away from the initial youthful bloody mindedness of my side of that conversation, I've recently come to think that there might actually be a grain of truth in there somewhere. I long ago came to terms with the fact that I'll never be able to physically create all the pieces of artwork that I have ideas for - partly because of time constraints, partly because of material or cost constraints, and partly because every piece of art that I make generally triggers ideas for multiple/different version of itself. Because of this I always keep sketchbooks close to hand so that I can jot down ideas - usually a mixture of thumbnail sketches and spidery handwriting, detailing the materials to be used in the sculpture's construction, along with background notes on the thoughts behind the ideas.

And even though I know that the vast majority of these ideas will never see the light of day, as physical objects, I always contented myself with the thought that as long as they existed in a sketchbook, they do existed in some form. But lately I've started to enjoy constructing and developing artwork ideas just in my head (over extended periods of time), and not working them out in sketchbooks first. I know that this can be a risky practice as there have been many times that I've had an idea for a piece but failed to 'realise' it in a sketchbook, and then forgotten it completely. Yet I'm now starting the come round to the idea of this not necessarily being a bad thing. Now that we live in a social media age, where every last thought is shared and all our online activities are algorithmically monitored, maybe some things should remain ephemeral and enjoyed on a purely personal level.