Working with Wood in the Present Day – The Continuation of Traditions
The magic of wooden sculptures and functional objects is their deviation from the chemically created materials that have become common place in society today, such as plastic. The use of wood ensures the spirit of the object and intrinsically connects the piece to the natural world. Wood lives for generations and artists working with wood today use methods that enhance the natural beauty of the material to make timeless objects and organic sculptures. The physicality of working with wood cannot be underestimated; turning, sanding and waxing are demanding techniques, making the craftsmanship of wooden sculptures and functional objects even more inspiring and impressive.
Malcolm and Dowling and Takahashi McGill
Malcolm and Dowling and Takahashi McGill are two pairs of collaborative wood artists: Martin Malcom and Gaynor Dowling and Mark McGilvray and Kaori Takahashi. Both sets of wood turners combine their skills, methods and training to create multi-faceted wood crafts.
Malcolm Martin and Gaynor Dowling, from Stroud in Gloucestershire, use traditional hand-tool techniques to carve their wooden sculptures. Meticulous and repeated carving, in a manner similar to drawing, results in the textured and patterned surfaces which celebrate their making-process. The pair work on many commissions, varying significantly in size, from the monumental to the miniature, pieces made to be kept indoors or out. Their pieces are very unusual; explorations of dimensionality which echo forms of furniture, architecture, tools and other objects we are familiar with, enhanced through gouging, scorching or liming. The flowing and undulating surface patterns, which can be traced back to Gaynor’s training as a textile artist, exude a soft quality quite the opposite to the intrinsic hardness of the wood.
Martin and Dowling spent three months on a residency at the Centre for Art in Wood in Philadelphia, which was hugely significant to the traditional carving techniques in their practice. Whilst there they investigated combining carving and stitching, with the use of veneers.
Takahashi McGil’s functional furniture and wooden homeware is made from hardwoods sourced locally to their home and studio in Devon. Originally, their pieces were intended solely for personal use, but their company was happily formed in 2016. Takahashi McGil’s production expanded to include lacquerware following a trip to Japan in 2018. They were introduced to urushi lacquering, which originates as tree sap, and makes objects waterproof as well as adding strength. The urushi lacquering process demands a meticulous approach, with the necessity of applying several layers of lacquer, as well as the perfect, humid temperature, for the lacquer to dry.
Japanese-American woodworker, George Nakashima, who promoted working with the live edge (outside) of a tree, is a major influence for Takahashi McGil. Takahashi McGil’s works celebrate the imperfections of the materials they use, including knots and air-dried cracks.
Emily Stephen is primarily concerned with minimal hand turned wooden bowls and cups, which she crafts from character timber. She sums up her mission clearly in saying, ‘each piece of timber comes with its own history and character, so my job is to uncover and reveal this as best I can.’
Swedish wood turner Marie Eklund uses minimal tools to create objects that express her skilful and pure approach to carving. Her practice is primarily an exploration of wooden spoons, which she has created in original, playful forms and shapes. Marie creates richly coloured patinas using natural processes and materials, making her objects practical whilst maintaining their connection to their state of origin. Marie’s work will be shown as part of the upcoming exhibition, ‘Kogarashi.’
Luke Hope is another artist to whom the spoon is fundamental to their wood craft, prompting his return to creative work in 2014. His pieces are both abstract and functional and are made from a singular piece of wood through a combination of traditional and modern techniques. Hope brings the properties of other materials into his practice, imitating the creases in paper or folded fabric. The arrangement of Hope’s aesthetic and biomorphic objects in clusters exposes the differences in line, informed by the material disposition of the wood.
Gary Allson’s hand turned wooden bowls and plates display an interplay between functional and sculptural. Whilst they could be used as a holder for items, or fruit, which would serve to compliment the tones and hues of the wood, the sculptural simplicity of his forms is in and of themselves. The simplicity of Allson’s bowls and plates leave them open to interpretation. Stacking the pieces creates a completely different experience in terms of scale and form.
Wooden sculptures and functional objects exude a sense of calm and are sure to bring you joy around the home.