Last week, with a few friends in tow, I headed off to Sway, deep in the heart of the New Forest, and in particular, to ArtSway.
ArtSway is a contemporary gallery space which offers wide-ranging creative and educational opportunities for people of all ages to discuss, engage with and exhibit contemporary modern art. Since the loss of their Arts Council core funding in 2010, they have since developed relationships with three organisations with similar goals who all have a regular presence at ArtSway. Check our their website for more info.
The reason for our visit was the lovely Mary Dalton. As you may or may not know, I work 3 days a week at the awesome craft organisation Making Space. At Making Space we have 2 big old teaching spaces and 7 studios. In one of these studios you can find Mary. Mary is an incredibly talented artist and printmaker and since joining our little creative community 5 months ago has been busy creating work for her show ‘Into the Woods, Out of the Trees’.
Mary is also an artist in residence at Hollybank Wood. Hollybank is a beautiful medieval conservation woodland in the heart of Hampshire downland. You can find out more about Mary’s residency here.
One of the lovely things about working where I do is being able to get a behind the scenes glimpse into an artists world… Seeing amazing pieces of artwork be born into creation and the hours spent going into it is a privilege. One of the pieces Mary was working on was a massive (and I really mean massive) continuos lino print which took up a large proportion of our ceramics studio floor.
As the Making Space crew arrived early we were given an inspirational and informative pre-PV talk from Mary about the work, the meanings behind the pieces and a more detailed description about the narrative in the work.
I’m not going to lie, sometimes when I hear artists talk about their work in a deep way I get lost, I don’t understand where they’re coming from or that a piece of art can really mean all they want it to, but with Mary I was utterly absorbed into her description and thought processes.
Whilst I knew the work was in response to her residency at Hollybank, I had no idea how personal the show was to Mary and her lovely family. Not only is the wood a part of their working life, but an integral part of their families way of living.
In every piece of art shown there was something of Mary in it. A day spent in the woods with a friends son, her love and admiration towards her husband or other family members, feelings and fears about life choices and the future of the woodland she holds so dear.
Whilst visually the work was beautiful on the eye, it also intrigued you in trying to understand the process and enlightened you when you read the accompanying artist statement.
My favourite part of the show was The ‘Spirits of the Sweet Chestnut Tree’ installation.
A room with textures of green on the wall, textures which I might add, perfectly captured the dappled light of the leaf canopy outside. But as you looked down covering the floor were hundreds of green spirits…
These little characters were inspired by a past trip to the woods where the sweet chestnut trees, plentiful in lime green nuts were dropping all around them. Mary imagines these creatures “rummaging on the floor amongst the nuts, gorging on them and meeting in annual gatherings of joyous celebration”.
What really got me were the individual personalities the spirits had. Their expressions and adornments were brilliant. Made from a bi-product of the sweet chestnut tree coppice the spirits were adorned using natural materials and woven decorations. I thought they were magical.
The other thing that sucked me in way the variety of mark making in the prints. Mary has an instinctive and simple style of ‘drawing’ which is unique and yet familiar all at the same time.
I won’t say too much more as I urge you to go visit yourself and draw your own conclusions. The show is on till the 13 August. Later on in the year (Mid October ish) the Spirits of the Sweet Chestnut Tree will be returning home to Hollybank wood where they will forage and party amongst the fallen leaves during the Hollybank Wood annual fair. I can’t wait to see them again in their natural habitat, bright green heads poking out of the undergrowth!
Well done Mary, a truly fantastic and awe-inspiring show!