This year both Bernard and I we were awarded Arts council funding to each make a body of work reflecting on the wealth of collaboration, research and creativity arising from ‘Picturing the Mines’ and to gather all its momentum into a touring exhibition.
With so many themes percolating through my recollections, I kept thinking about all the characters that had to co -exist and work together. From the the hierarchies of class to the methodist congregations, they all clashed, bonded and shaped each other but like the mining process itself.
In the town halls and civic venues we exhibited in, there are the grand but sombre portraits of distinguished gentlemen such patrons, lords and politicians and they colour how we recall the past. So I hoped to gather figures together that interweave the legacies of mining and suggest an alternative ‘gallery’.
I also wanted to echo the inspiring camaraderie and generosity of spirit of those we worked with last year. Just some of them include the pastors at Gweenap pit, artists and mining experts, PZ conservation trainees, volunteers, musicians and writers, cornwall archivers, the school teachers and the fantastic children that really were the vital energy and inspiration behind our workshops.
At one workshop we did at St Agnes, artists, the public and schoolchildren made etchings of crystals, kindly brought in by Calum Beeson from the School on Mining. When he unwrapped them, there was this exhilarating awe from us all at their sheer unique beauty. We were all like children and I also wanted to refer somehow to that experience.
I began to select iconic individuals that might represent the historical communities such as mine workers to owners, campaigners, preachers, disaster fatalities, bal maidens, poets, pit ponies and intersected these with images of unearthed gems.
I invited artists and students to my studio for feedback and after much thrashing around with the paintings I could see the images were all pursuing diverse painterly approaches and I wanted them to read as one artwork. I then decided to sand them away completely leaving the copper tarnished like a vinyl record with endless scratches of barely discernible colours.
I would have liked to leave these minimalist ‘tablets’ but now considered how I might consistently render them all again. In frustration I described features with my oily hands and realised this was the most appropriate way to shape each portrait and the crystals became more abstract and could refer to skulls, hearts, rock faces or brutal mining processes. By just using hands,blades, power tools and glazes of milky turps I could work on them all simultaneously.
This gestural approach helped as I was seeking to reflect the tensions, trauma’s and tenacity that animated each individual and shape the organic spectacle of crystals.
I hope they convey a remarkable collaborative project that celebrated human qualities that through time make us remembered.