Cairn Column is carved from Sussex oak and was created for this exhibition at Kew.
Cairn Column at Kew Gardens
Date and material
- Charred oak
Waiting for the right opportunity
Although Cairn Column is a newly made work, Nash has had the wood at his workshop in Wales for nearly 10 years. It originally came from Sussex where the sapwood was removed, but it has been carved and charred in Wales. 'I knew it was a good piece of wood. I've been keeping it for a good opportunity because it had this marvellous lean on it, which is how I've worked it, so there's a certain precariousness and consequently an animation in the form,' he says.
Nash's workshop and home are surrounded by the mountains of Snowdonia, where people often stack stones in cairns to mark mountain summits - hence the name of this work.
The process of charring
Cairn Column and the nearby work Flame Column have been charred - a carefully controlled burning technique that Nash first tried in 1971 but did not work with seriously until 1983.
After burning, Nash sprays the wood with water to let it cool off. He then scrapes the loose char away and re-chars the wood with a propane torch to get an even tighter texture that does not fall off.
The surface is transformed from a vegetable to a mineral - carbon - and one sees the form before the material.David Nash
Charring in Nash's work
The process of charring and the way it changes our perception of his sculptures is integral to Nash's interest in the four elements.
To Nash the blackness of burned wood absorbs all light and encourages the viewer to observe the form of the sculpture rather than the detail of wood. 'I've always had an interest in blackness. Black looks bigger when you look into it, it is a very deep space. With wood sculpture one tends to see "wood", a familiar material, before reading the form: wood first, sculpture second. Charring radically changes this experience,' he says.
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