Magazine article The Spectator

Green F Inger

Magazine article The Spectator

Green F Inger

Article excerpt

The last time I visited Kew was to see the installation of Henry Moore's sculptures in 2007. Moore's monumental bronzes made an enormous impact on the botanical gardens, so much so that the gardens were in danger of becoming merely a backdrop for the sculpture. Although a good many people came to see the exhibition, it was felt by the authorities at Kew that the crowds took away a greater appreciation of Henry Moore than they did of the Royal Botanical Gardens. So, when another sculptor was invited to show at Kew, the intention was that he or she would be involved more closely with the aims of the institution. Who better than David Nash (born 1945), known worldwide for his work with trees?

Nash makes sculptures with living trees, training them to assume particular shapes, or sculpts from wood that has died of natural causes, both of which make him an artist of impeccably sound ecological credentials. He arrived at Kew in the spring to be sculptorin-residence for a year, and was given a cottage on the estate. To be within easy reach of central London is rather different for a man who usually lives in North Wales among the slate tips of Blaenau Ffestiniog. He's taken advantage of the new situation and been up to town quite a bit, looking at exhibitions (the Henry Moore show at Gagosian was 'a revelation') and going to concerts (Nixon in China at the Royal Albert Hall he found particularly thrilling). He's also been busy in what he calls a 'wood quarry' at Kew.

Nash has worked in a number of wood quarries in different parts of the world - places where there is a natural supply of wood for him to sculpt. At Kew he's been working on an oak tree and, although by no means a performance artist, has had to work in the public eye, on a platform or up in a cherry-picker, in full view of visitors. Did this make him self-conscious? 'Sometimes.

I imagined what people would think who were watching me. But once you've got the saw going, you don't notice anything.'

David Nash emerged in the 1970s in a generation of sculptors that included Tony Cragg and Richard Deacon. His main tools are an axe and a chainsaw, with which he cuts and shapes wood. (He loves the fluidity of gesture he can achieve with a chainsaw. ) 'I prefer to work very early in the morning, from about 7 till 10 or 11. The public come in about 9.30 and it's 10 o'clock by the time they get up to the wood quarry. It's on a vista in a kind of amphitheatre with a backing of yew trees, so there were constantly people going by - I was like an interlude on their travels.' Nash hasn't worked there every day:

he also sees his time at Kew as an important period of research into the archives and laboratories. He has imported a number of his existing sculptures into Kew to give the public an idea of the range of his achievement.

The Gardens looked magnificent on the fine autumn day I visited, and Nash's sculptures seemed thoroughly in tune with their surroundings. In fact, he is not really an outdoor sculptor, and an important aspect of his presence at Kew are the displays in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art and the Temperate House. A lot of his wooden sculptures would not survive very long out of doors, so in the past decade Nash has begun to have some of his key works replicated in metal: bronze, cast iron or Corten steel. …

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