Written by Sarah James
There is a definite affinity that the Welsh have with wood. Whether this is because of the down to earth nature of the nation and the solid qualities that wood represents, is unclear. Its versatility, subtlety and strengths possibly taps into subconscious notions of the Welsh character. There is no doubt, however, that wood can be pushed to the limit: bent, turned, carved, woven, laminated, scorched, it can be added to and taken away from, using combinations of traditional and unconventional techniques and tools.
Mike Scott’s turned wood pieces explore the strengths in the surface. The differing tools he uses reveal opposing qualities in the wood, with each burr and imperfection elevated to key features. He often uses chainsaws to heighten the tension within the surface to produce monumental pieces that shows great feeling for the material. In contrast, Steve Howlett pushes the material to its furthest point, turning complex, silky smooth vessels of near impossible thinness. The pieces are extraordinarily light, producing substantial forms with great energy and considerable volume. Andrew Cotterill’s love of the material is obvious. He explores the durability and strength in wood by producing every component in his subtlety carved furniture. Maggie Henton is a versatile artist and has experimented with many differing mediums, though she is more acclaimed for her dynamic, plywood forms. Kevan Hopson is inspired by the rich birdlife of coastal Wales. He carves elegant bird sculptures from found driftwood. Dail Behennah’s unconventional approach to basket weaving has set her apart. She has always used traditional willow, but has often incorporated unconventional materials ranging from electronic components, stainless steel rope to pebbles and other organic materials found in the countryside around Newport in Pembrokeshire. Her most recent work explores the concept of the volume and density of a shape, exploiting the use of shadow to create further depth. The pieces have no defined edges as opposed to a traditional basket, but have floating edges that define and do not constrict the form.
Many exceptional artists working in wood live in Wales. They are afforded by abundant natural resources and surrounded by the inspirational Welsh landscape. It is revealing to discover makers who exploit the differing qualities in wood with such individual style and vision.