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Axe Marks

Updated: 3 days ago

An Ulu and a whalebone.



I had to explain recently about how I started using an axe in my work.


I was making sculptural paintings in the summer of 2016 on blocks of rough Oak - responding to the marks in the wood - a conversation - listening to the wood itself.

I wanted to find a way to work on more than the surface - to go deeper and make my own marks, to 'draw' on and in the wood. When you trace things back it's easier to see the links, several things happened; A studio visit from David Nash, the gift of a piece of wood to work on, cut with his chainsaw marks and a question about a return to sculpture.

A rousing message from a friend, to her female friends, in the light of the then political situation talking about 'a call to arms' and a sense of urgency and energy.

My own life was on the edge of a difficult transition. I went to Scotland and found myself wandering in that pleasing, aimless, lost and found way

in an unknown city, without a phone, happily unmoored.

In the museum I found two things - a slate Ulu (an Inuit woman's knife - used for everything from skinning, being a weapon, cutting food to cutting a child's hair) and a whale bone, huge, beautiful, emanating silence, from the Banda sea ( somewhere I had never heard of - like a place from a childhood poem).

On a small part of the bone of were some cut marks, possibly from butchery, small, but strangely compelling and beautiful. They told a story - an immense old story within just a few marks encompassing seas and time and the great gentleness of Whales and the great violence of humanity, survival, ritual, and also the connection between hunter and prey. I was transported in that moment in front of that Whale bone. The contrast of the knowledge of the violence inherent in their being there, set against the beauty of how they were, if seen as a drawing, black on white, answered my question about how to mark the wood, the journey the work might take and something of the story I might tell.

A call to arms and a question of balance - holding a paradox - the tension of opposites.

Matter - both solid and also points of light and empty space. Beauty and violence, black on white, strength and vulnerabilty, masculine and feminine.

I'm a sculptor by training, a lover of trees and wood and fires - I'm familiar with using an axe - so it felt good to bring it into my art practice.


The image is a copy of the marks on the bone which I sketched at the time - translated onto an Oak block, with its own cuts and marks. They suddenly together seemed to me reminiscent of cave drawings. Relational being, stories, translations, connection.



#Axe #whalebone #sculpturalpainting #Museums #Drawing #Oak

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All images and words © Jenny Arran 2020