The liveliness of the wood

An immersion in David Nash's exhibition

Every piece of wood withholds a structural identity of intrinsic refinement and aesthetics. Fragile and beautiful in its unquestionable independence, each strip of wood is a composite of authentic simplicity and humanism that extends beyond any man’s craftsmanship. The wood is refined through its own nature, imbued with liveliness and a plenitude of patterned micro-identities that await for the right human touch to bring them to light. Countless grains and paths lurk within the wild tidiness of the wood, possessing a high aesthetic potential which cannot be left into the hands of the inexperienced or worse, the oblivious. 

In permanent need of preservation and mastery, wood allows for the materialisation of innumerable sculptural iterations. Becoming symbols of a genuine symbiosis between the organic and anthropological, the resultant art pieces prove how versatile, ethereal and beautiful the surface of the wood can be. 

During my recent museal excursions, I encountered a beautiful representation of wood mastery that combines the textural roughness of the material with the geometric purity of the cube, sphere and pyramid. David’s Nash’s recent exhibition in Cardiff National Museum is a unique experience that allows one to interact with the rawness of wood in distinct forms, each in possession of their own character and artistic expression. 

The journey starts with an enormous pile of tree bark that curls itself magically into the height of the room, like a never-ending cocoon. Although peculiar in its controlled coarseness, the exhibit piece seems to permeate the space with a strange emotion; a feeling of overwhelming fascination almost. The smell, touch, and visual impression of the sculpture over-shadow the surroundings whilst allowing the visitor to gauge the concept of induced immensity. 

Nash continues to play with one’s senses and grasp of the experiential by revealing a phenomenological mapping of his home town and surroundings. Each place is labelled according to the artist’s perception and emotional bond to it, breaking the physical barriers by installing a newly-conceived system of mapping. The prioritisation of sensibility over reason together with the conversion of space into place is attained through a sophisticated yet minimalist method, which can be further comprehended, appropriated, and reproduced. 

The following charcoal triptych depicting the three primordial geometric shapes (the square, triangle and circle) investigates a unique transition from flatness to volume, elevation to axonometric, surreal to real. The transition from line to volume might seem perilous for some artists, yet not for Nash. He succeeds in preserving the energetic vibration of the drawn line and transfer it into a volumetric expression that communicates an identical refinement of motion and sensibility. The textural appearance of the sculptures contrasts beautifully with the mock-up charcoal drawings, allowing one to envision the transition from the immaterial to the materialised. It is a genuine aesthetic experience to encounter the envisioned dream side by side with its tangible correspondent.  

Progressing further into the exhibition,one encounters a rich display of everyday objects such as chairs, chests of drawers, tables, and small wardrobes. A synthesis of the primordial dwelling typology, the exhibited everyday objects become an architecture of the ordinary that doesn’t need to be contained but contains itself. The sense of boundary is thus rejected and redefined, leaving room for emotion to inhabit the space. 

The resultant scenery is consecutively enlivened by a series of playful ascetic sculptures that portray swinging or embracing figures, leaning towards each other with a powerful emotion, almost like two human figures stripped to their very essence. Nash’s sculptural approach really seeks to unite the human and its organic correspondent through a translation of movements and body postures within the vibrant texture and visual asymmetry of the wood.

A series of naturally cracked spheres displayed in a 3×3 square continues to explore the eventfulness of nature and its sequential unique iterations. Nash minimises the human imprint within his art, leaving room for natural phenomena to occur. Thus the resultant beauty translates into an elegant intermingling of both the organic and the anthropological, demonstrating how innate symbiosis can be attained.

The silent candour of the wood is left unscathed, its pace and rhythm unaltered, the emotion within preserved.The refinement contained within David Nash’s exhibition is one of a kind, for he does not strip the material of its raw beauty but rather enhances it through as little  external artistic impact as possible. The wood’s cracks, wholes, and changing tones seem to be part of the intended aesthetic. They do not bother, but rather instigate one’s inspiration. The human touch is visible yet not fully disclosed.

The human touch is visible yet not fully disclosed. At a distant look it seems almost as if the sculptures have been found within the heart of a forest, where, touched by wind and rain and sunshine, they took over an unearthly charm, ethereal and intrinsically beautiful.

Note:  All photographs have been taken by the author