David Nash at Kew - meet the artist
In a career spanning 40 years, David Nash has created sculptures out of wood, many of them monumental in scale. These sculptures are sometimes carved or partially burned to produce a charred surface.
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A collaborative artistic process
David's main tools are a chainsaw and an axe to carve the wood, and fire to char it. Through his work, he has gained a deep understanding of the properties of trees. The artistic process itself is, for Nash, deeply collaborative – between the artist, his material, and the natural world.
Nash adopts a responsive and adaptable approach to producing his art, allowing nature to dictate the direction that his creations will take. At Kew, this approach reflects the character of the exhibition as a whole – the viewing experience will change and evolve throughout the year, and from visit to visit. This includes the nature of the materials used, the changing seasons that shape and colour Kew Gardens so dramatically, and the display of new work that will be created on site, throughout the course of the exhibition.
Wood as material
Working with wood made available naturally (for example by storms, lightning or disease), Nash excavates the tree by means of a ‘wood quarry’. His chosen term indicates the sheer physical effort of working with a whole tree, as well as suggesting a sense of drawing on something pre-existent. The wood quarry is an outdoor workshop – a work of art in itself – and takes place over several months.
A shared idea of nature - why Nash is exhibiting at Kew Gardens
A shared commitment to the environment make Nash and Kew the perfect partnership; a combined force that will inspire visitors to understand their place in the natural world. Nash’s philosophy places particular emphasis on the fundamental role that nature plays in humanity’s continued existence. He sees the environment as our ‘outer skin’; we are not separate from it or its master – everything that we do impacts upon it, for better or for worse. His work results in sculptures in which form and material have a deep mutual sympathy, and retain some of the essence of their original form. Many of these wooden sculptures take forms that allude to man’s dependence on nature, and specifically wood, through the ages. Tables, ladders, chairs, and shelters, all basic human survival tools and utensils, all recur in Nash’s work.
This idea of nature as not only hugely inspiring, but also as a provider of our most fundamental survival materials, is reflected in Kew’s Economic Botany Collection, which illustrates the extent of human use of plants around the world. The huge variety of objects within the collection ranges from artefacts made from plants to raw plant materials, including a large collection of wood samples. Uses range from food, medicine and utensils, to social activities and clothing. The collection underpins the notion, that plants maintain the health of the world we live in – allowing us to have clean water, fertile farmland, productive seas, and a balanced climate.
Nash’s relationship with and ever-growing knowledge of his chosen material – wood –sits in perfect accordance with the conservation work that Kew carries out both in the UK and across the globe. Kew’s work with trees involves identifying new species, protecting areas of forest diversity, researching their ancestry, DNA, anatomy and chemistry, and studying the fungi that helps them to grow, and eventually, to decay and be recycled. Through projects such as the Millennium Seed Bank Partnership, Kew can share information, assist in research and in planting new areas of forest, and advise on long term planning.
Steve Hopper, Director (CEO) and Chief Scientist of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, says: “We are extremely honoured to host an exhibition of the work of David Nash, a significant and innovative artist whose approach resonates with an important facet of Kew’s work - to encourage people to look at plants and the natural world differently. An exhibition of this kind really helps to convey a simple but vital concept; that we are part of the web of life and nature responds to how we care for it. David Nash at Kew illustrates that nature can act as a great source of inspiration for artists and scientists alike, and brings these two exploratory disciplines together.”
A short biography
Born in 1945, David Nash studied at Kingston College of Art, Brighton College of Art, and Chelsea School of Art. His first solo exhibition was in York in 1973. An artist of international renown, his work is held in private collections and public galleries throughout the world, including the Guggenheim, New York, Tate Collection, London, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. At the age of 21, Nash established a base in Blaenau Ffestiniog, North Wales, and lives and works at Capel Rhiw, a former chapel built in 1863. Read Nash's selected artist biography.
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