Our Peatland Connections' Artist in Residence introduces himself and his work.
Hi Stuart, tell us about yourself.
Hi, I’m an artist currently living in Norfolk with my wife and children. I was born in the Weald of Kent and lived for many years in Birmingham … despite this I have long been drawn to the uplands of Britain. The initial seed was perhaps sown by a couple of family holidays to the Lake District and a bit later scout camps and expeditions to Yorkshire and Scotland (amongst other places). These early experiences have led to hobbies of hill-walking, long-distance running and cycling. Inevitably, an interest in and visits to these upland areas brings you in to contact with peat. From days on Dartmoor as a student, through climbing the Scottish Munros, to running amongst the high ground of Wales as part of a multi-day race … I have long loved the experience of being in peatlands (the smells, colours, flora, … even the awkwardness of the terrain) … even in Norfolk I find I am drawn to small areas of peat (a dark molehill raised in a landscape of pale reedy browns). Running on the Pennine Way on a few occasions I have also been made acutely aware of the degraded nature of some British peatlands; these experiences have provided a personal experience to what I read in the news and on social media.
What art do you create, and what inspires you to do so?
The way I work has changed a lot over the years but at the core has always been some sort of commitment to the theme of landscape. Through the course of my practice I have made limited-edition artist’s books, large-scale public art, written poetry, led creative workshops, performed, made videos, and worked with sound. But always, somewhere in there was landscape … frequently this was referenced through exploration of sense of place. It is hard to pin down exactly what keeps artists working but broadly speaking it is a desire to question, to think ‘what if?’. Maybe it is getting older, but I am more cynical now and see beyond the surface appearance of a place and want to explore why it is like it is and maybe challenge a status quo, particularly if it appears unhealthy. There is definitely a lot of abuse of the environments we inhabit (and rely on) and this needs to be addressed.
What was your path into art?
When I was at school, I don’t think it was made clear to me that I could have a job as an artist, I just enjoyed art and seemed to be ok at it. Around A level time we were told about an art foundation course at our nearest art college and I was encouraged to apply (still not quite knowing what this would lead to). I just about passed my A level art but did get in to Maidstone art college to do a foundation course … that was a wonderfully broad experience and led me on to getting a place on the Fine Art BA course at Exeter College of Art & Design. This was another fairly broad-ranging course, but I had some really supportive and motivating tutors. Still not sure I knew what being an artist was though! But it just went on from there really … I kept pushing at how I could keep being an artist and eventually—reality check!—how I might make some sort of living from my art working. It’s been tough at times and I have re-invented my practice on several occasions for both pragmatic and creative reasons.
Your residency is linked with Peatland Connections’ Water Cycle initiative – how have you familiarised yourself with the landscape so far?
Initially I spent several days undertaking desk-based research into the project site and surrounding area. I had never visited Dumfries & Galloway before my flying visit for the project interview and it has been really enjoyable getting to know the Galloway Hills. In this research I have looked at geology, local history, natural history, old maps, and so forth. Subsequently I have spent four days in and around the project site (mostly cycling and walking), adding some lived reality to the reality of written place. In many ways it is a familiar landscape, many of the elements of the project site are common to uplands throughout Britain but having the research freshly in mind has added a lot of local colour that somehow brings the landscape to life even more. Having said this, I did spend the best part of two days trying to forget the research and just melt into the place … I don’t want to say letting the landscape speak to me but certainly permitting myself to ‘listen’ more deeply (especially to the water). I also spent a day with Lewis from CCC and Kenny from Galloway Fisheries Trust … it was useful to stand back and see how they experience the site through their work.
What are you most looking forward to in your residency?
I’m looking forward to getting to know the project site further and to see how my work will unfold. As I don’t work in one specific medium there is always a thrilling/unnerving sense of uncertainty as to how I will work, how I will respond to the context. I’m also looking forward to working further with the Crichton Carbon Centre team, it is great to see the passion they have for these landscapes and their valuing of art in the work they do.
You can see more of Stuart's work and his residency at the links below. We're really excited to welcome Stuart and his artistic perspective to our work - thanks to Galloway Glens Landscape Partnership and Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for funding the Peatland Connections project.