Sunday, 3 November 2013

The rediscovered boulder

David Nash' Wooden Boulder, standing proudly on a sand bank
It’s not every day you get to see a famous work of art in the making.  

This was the privilege that transpired the other day, when I found myself up close and personal with a work that is known the world over.  But this encounter didn’t take place in an artist’s studio or gallery surrounded by crowds of fellow admirers; it happened on a seaweed-strewn sandbank on Snowdonia’s Dwyryd estuary; a pair of mergansers being my only company for the viewing.  The piece in question was possibly the most well known creation of the renowned land artist, David Nash. 

Wooden Boulder started its life a few miles upstream near the National Trust’s Coedydd Maentwrog oakwood nature reserve, back in 1978.  Originally destined for the artist’s workshop at Tanygrisiau, the half-tonne rugged sphere of oak became firmly jammed in a rocky streambed. Unable to shift it, Nash, with characteristic deference to the vagaries of his materials, hit upon the idea of allowing the huge wooden globe to make its own way in the world. 

Over the next 30 years Nash obsessively followed his work downstream, photographing and sketching it as it underwent the multifarious effects of nature’s attrition.  It eventually met the briny waters of the estuary after a great flood back in 2002 and after a few years languidly ebbing and flowing amongst the Dwyryd’s rushy creeks and banks, it was released onto the wider canvas of the Irish Sea.  Or so the devotees of Nash’s work thought.

That was until the other day, when an eagle-eyed aficionado spotted the orb sitting proudly like a full stop on its sandbank after a high tide.  A few days after I heard the news, I paddled my kayak down the river and was able to step out and reverently pat the boulder on its worn shoulder, like a venerable old friend.
Kyaking to the boulder: like meeting a venerable old friend
 The coast has always been a powerful inspirer of art; and the coastal work of artists such as Maggie Hambling and Anthony Gormley show how sculpture has the ability to enhance the environment that inspired it.  But there can be few works that have linked both land and sea as satisfactorily and in such an absorbing way a David Nash’s Wooden Boulder. Long may this unfinished artwork continue to grace the tidal reaches of the Dwyryd.

A few days later, I returned, this time with David Nash himself to record an item for BBC Radio Wales Country Focus programme.  The top of the boulder can just be seen at high tide behind us.
Article courtesy of Welsh Coastal Life magazine.

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