This exhibition is one of the outcomes of an artist residency commissioned by Forestry England and supported by Arts Council England, in which sculptor Peter Maris invited artist / photographer Peter Heaton to engage upon a collaborative programme of work together.
The result is a rich and sumptuous display of work, inspired by the formation of a very particular forest environment and how it flourishes and changes through natural processes and human activity.
Beautifully constructed and multi-layered photographs are complemented by intriquing carved stone sculptures which all take the micro-climate and life within some of the forest’s small glacial valleys as a focal point for examination and creative exploration.
Peter Heaton’s striking images for the exhibition were all made in a small area of the forest at High Staindale which contains a complex of several short steep valleys locally known as Griffs and Slacks. These features were created by glacial melt water and lie close to the prehistoric linear boundary known as Dargate Dikes. In this most ancient area of the forest, sunlight very rarely penetrates into the valleys which seem to exude their own pale, green light. They are full of fallen and decaying trees that are passing through continuous transformation as they moulder into the rocky forest floor. In Peter’s images these are atmospheric spaces, dominated by mosses, ferns, deep shadows and …silence.
Two large panoramic compositions flank either side of the exhibition space, examining and celebrating the rich array of minutiae that make up the ever-changing forest floor, all photographically woven into complex layered tapestries that draw in the viewer, to reveal unexpected detail, colour and textures. In contrast, four images printed onto ‘Light Sheets’ on the gallery’s main wall alternate between illuminating the space with that ‘pale green light’ and then darkening, shifting to reveal the mysterious qualities of the woodland’s primeval feel. There is constant change at work in these valleys - but it is imperceptible, a slow decomposition and green rebirth brought about by nature’s agents of change.
The sculptures are inspired by the same subject matter but, importantly, are also a creative response to the photographic compositional processes. They are intentionally focussed towards a ‘picture-plane’ presentation and deal with the surface issues in sculptural composition. These new pieces use the very rugged, textured, natural ‘bed’ surface of the stone as an appropriate visual metaphor in which to explore with a range of mark-making techniques but which also refer to natural growth forms, decomposition and human activity.
The sculptures form a fresh and engaging body of work by Peter Maris. In this project he has found the opportunity to broaden his sculptural expression beyond the boundaries of conventional stonecarving practice and introduce a greater spontaneity in approach and response. In these sculptures he has wanted to develop new creative routes in stone and he has felt free to compose and draw with the chisel in a very loose and painterly manner. Indeed, colour has also been introduced too, both by chance discovery and by deliberation. The natural flaws and textures of the stones are freely and readily exposed and have also given rise to imaginative and creative play in the carving process. Surface features and shapes are undercut and pierced, revealing apertures in the stone, posing references to the earth’s surface as a fragile membrane which can be broken or eroded through human activity and natural environmental processes.