Sunday, 19 July 2009


'Cathedral' by Kevin Atherton

My friend took me to pick my picture up from Cheltenham yesterday, it had failed to be selected for the prize I entered it for. I'm a bit miffed because the frame got bashed, and there were a few scrapes on it and even a bit of what looked like whitewash or emulsion on the glass. I'd delivered the picture wrapped as requested, but got it back unwrapped, which seemed a bit disrespectful and shoddy. Can't say anything though, it just sounds like sour grapes.

Afterwards we drove to the Forest of Dean, parking at the visitors' centre, where there's a cafe, shop and facilities. I was quite impressed by the visitor's centre actually, which wasn't too commercial, blended in quite nicely with the surroundings, and lacked the tacky aspect of the visitor centre at, say Sherwood Forest. (Though Sherwood Forest has some truly awesome veteran trees, and of course, a tremendous appeal being connected with the Robin Hood legend).

We did the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail, for which you can buy a small fold out map and guide at the shop (£1.00). I'd seen the sculpture trail listed in the July edition of the Artist magazine. The trail is a pretty easy going walk, though at 4.5 miles long (2-3 hours according to the trail map) it might be a bit lengthy for some (though various shortcut options are offered). As most of the sculptures were placed in situ in the mid to late 1980's, they're understandably looking a bit tatty now, David Nash's 'Black dome' (1986) is gradually eroding completely, when we were there it was scrambled over by a groups of kids. Presumably this was taken into account by the artist when he designed the piece. The way the wood had eroded reminded me now of a kind of wooden henge, but the kids jumping all over it certainly robbed it of any 'sacred' feel.

It's a shame that so many of the pieces had aged so badly, or have been damaged by environmental forces, I could see very little appeal in 'In Situ' by Erika Tan, though it was one of the newest pieces, created in 2004. 'Cathedral' by Kevin Atherton (1986) must have once been a dazzling site, a stained glass panel hanging high up amongst the trees towards the end of the sculpture trail, but now the Perspex protecting the glass has yellowed with age and some of the tiny panels have shattered. It's still effective from a distance, but not as sparkling as it must have once been. The most effective pieces for me were Keir Smith's 'Iron Road' (1986) which has aged well, a simple length of railway track each sleeper carved with an image relating to the Forest of Dean, and 'Echo' by Annie Cattrell, the newest piece (2008), commissioned to commemorate the death of Jeremy Rees, who was one of the trail's founders. It is literally a chunk of the surrounding quarry face cast in a silvery resin (it looked and sounded like fibreglass when I tapped it, though I'm not sure if this is the case). There's an element of illusion in this work, and the sculpture is pretty startling when you realise what it is and are draw into the artist's intricate replication of the surrounding landscape. It gives an idea of what the other pieces of this sculpture trail must have looked like when they were new.

'Echo' by Annie Cattrell

Top marks for fun has to go to 'Melissa's Swing', it was raining by the time we reached this point on the trail (the last piece) and I got a chance to sit on this sturdy metal swing and enjoy myself for a few minutes. It brought back some memories for me, I had a swing in the back garden as a child and loved sitting on it. I got pretty muddy feet on this one. Other swings grown ups can have a go on include the ones at Buscott Park, though on a popular day you're lucky if you get a chance to have a go!

It's a shame that outdoor sculpture has to age, but I guess that's part of the relationship of sculpture and elements (and audience) that has to be taken into account when a piece is made. Maybe in this way outdoor or public sculpture has more of a direct link with the natural world, its 'mortality' more obviously writ into its surface than a well preserved piece in a humidity controlled museum environment. That said, it would be nice to see a few more contemporary pieces added to this trail. I enjoyed following the map, without which you wouldn't any an idea of the titles or artists of the pieces (there are no indicators apart from direction posts, the trail being indicated in blue). I enjoyed the trail though, and finding sculptures amongst the dense trees is a pretty good way of getting fresh air and exercise.

The Forest of Dean is a Forestry Commission site, parking at the Visitors' Centre costs £3 per car all day, though you can park for free at one of the smaller car parks, and walk from there to the visitor centre to start the trail if you want.

Muddy feet!

No comments: