I had to explain recently about how I started using an axe in my work.
I was making sculptural paintings at the time on blocks of rough Oak - responding to the marks and grain already in the wood - listening to the wood itself, trying to hear the story; geographies of place, history, sunlight...
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. I had a studio visit from David Nash and the gift of a piece of wood to work on, cut with his own chainsaw marks. In the light of the then political situation, I had a rousing message from a friend in the arts talking about 'a call to arms' and a sense of urgency and energy and, in the midst of a major life change I went to Scotland and found myself wandering in that pleasing, aimless, lost-and-found way in an unknown city, without my phone, happily unmoored.
I covered the city and its edges, walking all day each day, seeing everything under a more Northern light. At some point I found myself in museum. I've always been interested in the sense of connection with an object's presence and the stories behind artefacts - the people and places.
(I used to build reconstruction Saxon and Bronze Age buildings, working from the archaeological record, recreating them using traditional tools which we made ourselves. I learnt to thatch and use and Adze and an Axe, to make dye from plants, to tan hides and make bramble string. We cut the wood we needed for the buildings, choosing the trees.)
I was drawn to two things in the museum - a slate Ulu (an Inuit woman's knife - which would have been used for everything - as a weapon, for skinning, cutting food to cutting a child's hair) and a whalebone. I saw the whale bone first, huge and beautiful - I found myself standing in front of it magnetised. Struck dumb by its size and presence. The label told me it was from the Banda sea. On a small part of the bone of were some cut marks, I read them as a drawing but it wasn't - they were possibly from butchery, small, but strangely compelling and beautiful. The story they told - an immense old story within just a few marks - encompassed beauty and terror, 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 seemed right 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 - I saw people in boats hunting, some circular process, relational being, stories, translations, connection - deep listening to some resonance of matter.