Material Matters – Residency reflections.

It’s now nearing the end of August and I’ve been back in Cardiff for a month and I’m missing the land and seascapes I experienced in July. I feel that my spirit was nourished and creativity sparked. The residency at Aberystwyth moved me profoundly by reconnecting me with nature. It was fantastic to have the Creative Suite at Aberystwyth Arts Centre, it gave me space to respond to the landscapes I experienced in and around Ceredigion. Time and space away from my familiar surroundings and studio activities in Cardiff was invaluable in freeing up my thinking and stoking the creative fires. Experiencing without preconceived ideas and encouraging a direct and visceral response to the external and internal feel of nature is essential in terms of the absorption of new influences that are now percolating and feeding into my studio practice. To be within a landscape dominated by forms, lines, colours and textures arising from nature rather than the built environment stirred my senses, held my attention keeping me at once alert and present yet calm and balanced. The landscape and my experiences moved through me, cleansing and soothing me, calming my mind and slowing my breathing but making me feel alive and connected.

My research broadened and deepened taking in Snowdonia National Park and other aspects of the Gwynedd landscape. Those vast, gracious mountains were always in the distance beyond Aberystwyth calling to me whatever the weather. It was only a matter of time before I ventured further north where the rolling hills turned steeply upwards exposing slate and granite, their now angled mountainous peaks towering over me.

Blaenau Ffestiniog presented me with every tone of grey I could wish for and some shocking acid yellow and green lichens to contrast. The Llanberis Pass and adjoining roads made me gasp and my heart pound as rock structure after rock structure and vista upon vista literally took my breath away with awe and wonder. As the steam train took me to Snowdon’s summit (I was ill-prepared so will walk it another time!) I applauded any plant, animal and human that managed to somehow cling to and survive on the side of these mountains. My head spun as I realised that for the first time I was looking down upon clouds when not on the inside of an aeroplane!

From Llanllyfni at Snowdon’s foothills, with the distinct scent of ferns in my nostrils, I watched the sunset across the Menai Straits and the soft mauve greys of Ynys Mon slowly disappeared to a soundtrack of birdsong and popping grasses and moss. My senses were alive. This direct perception of the natural world had enlivened me, re-engaged me with what it is to be alive, to be aware of the moss under my feet or the flow of the stream, the thunder of the waterfall, the ever-changing seas, the solidity and steadfastness of rock and the light and sense of spaciousness and time gained from the clouds moving across land and sky.

I wondered whether you could ever take this landscape for granted? Would in time, the eye make assumptions about what it saw? Would that sense of wonder, discovery, attentiveness and connectivity fade and dull with the daily grind? Or, would this landscape continue to ease the daily grind and bring balance to life?

Further research was carried out within Aberystwyth University’s Ceramic Collection and Archive and School of Art Collection. It was a great opportunity to explore these collections in order to contextualise my research and practice. Within the Ceramics Collection I spent time drawing pieces by Betty Blandino, Elizabeth Fritsch, Claudi Casanovas, John Ward and Gordon Baldwin. My thanks go to the staff who facilitated this aspect of my research.

So now as I sit and ponder the drawings, photographs, sound and film recordings I made of the experiences I had, I am both excited and nervous of things to come. It is good to remind myself that this is a huge honour to be afforded time and space to develop, explore and try out new materials, techniques and equipment so that I can hopefully in some way bring something of the feeling that I have for nature into my work and share that with audiences who may visit the exhibition. So I’d better get on with it!