David Nash revisited

On the final day of the wonderful David Nash exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, we felt we had to make a return visit after seeing it for the first time in August. The place was heaving with people of all ages – and extremely muddy!

Our first move was to set out across the fields, slithering and sliding in the mud,for Oxley Bank where Nash has installed a permanent piece commissioned by the YSP, which we didn’t have time to see in the summer.  Black Steps (above) consists of 71 charred oak steps embedded in a coal drift that usefully replace an original flight of steps leading up Oxley Bank from the lake which had rotted.  Between each step Nash has laid down coal, a reminder that beneath the grounds of the stately home and parkland created here in the 18th century lie extensive coal mines.  In this way the organic nature of the steps –  wood and coal – recapitulates the history of the local countryside and underlines man’s dependency on the natural world.

The path up Oxley Bank takes you past earlier permanent installations by Andy Goldsworthy, left behind after his major retrospective exhibition in 2007.  Hanging Trees (below) is another intervention in the landscape that works with rather than in opposition to forces which shape the landscape. It consists of three felled tree trunks and boughs embedded in pits of the Yorkshire stone that is characteristic of the area.

The trail brings you to the Longside Gallery, where we had a chance to explore again groups of sculptures and drawings that reveal how the themes and practices that Nash established in the late 1960s and early 1970s have evolved throughout his career.  Nash has said, ‘if anyone looks at my work as a whole, it is a bit like a tree, there are different branches and different themes but there are cross references to them. Each new branch of forms feeds back into the central trunk of the tree’. This idea is beautifully illustrated in Nash’s huge drawing Family Tree which he updates regularly. (below, click to enlarge)

The works in Longside Gallery provide a vivid overview of Nash’s work to date. From  Nine Cracked Balls (1970), which encouraged Nash that he was on the right path in trying to learn the language of wood and the way that it warps, twists and cracks with time, through to recent pieces, it’s possible to trace Nash’s increasingly confident and sophisticated working of the material. I was particularly impressed this time (and after watching him in action on the recent BBC4 documentary) with the pieces that have been deftly and delicately sliced with the chainsaw. Many of the Crack and Warp pieces have been sawn along the horizontal, vertical and diagonal to produce thin slivers like the pages of a book that, as a result of the natural processes of certain woods as they dry out, have created cracks and warps.

Back at the main display in the Underground gallery, one piece I had overlooked before is Eighteen Thousand Tides (1996), a  large, weathered timber slightly worked by Nash that once formed part of a wooden sea defence on the English south coast.

This has been a truly memorable exhibition, and we were really glad to have seen it again before it closed.  Great too, that as part of the recent British sculpture season on BBC4 we were able to see the documentary Force of Nature: The Sculpture of David Nash. The film gave an intimate insight into Nash’s methods of working with his material. From sawing and gouging to charring and planting, it revealed how he has used his profound knowledge of trees and the forces of nature to inform his work.  Using archive footage, it traced Nash’s artistic journey from art school to the bleak mining landscape of Blaenau Ffestiniog in north Wales, culminating in the preparations for the Yorkshire Sculpture Park exhibition – his most significant to date.

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3 thoughts on “David Nash revisited

  1. A good friend of ours, a former tree surgeon, works with David Nash as his assitant on the large wooden pieces. They are good friends. We have a piece our friend made, influenced by Nash – a wooden box like a frame with a charred interior.

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