David Nash at Kew: A Natural Gallery exploring the fundamental material of wood

By Richard Moss | 11 June 2012
a photo of a column sculpture of black wood
Cairn Column, 2012, Oak© RBG, Kew
Exhibition: David Nash at Kew: A Natural Gallery at Kew Gardens until April 14 2013

Visitors searching for a theme prior to visiting this exhibition need look no further than its subtitle. A Natural Gallery points unambiguously to David Nash's love of wood and other organic forms and his willingness to let nature dictate the direction of his work. 

Even the few works in bronze in this major exhibition of sculptures ranging across the World Heritage Site have an organic character; pieces such as Seed and Plateau possess a helpful blackened effect that attests to a love of wood, landscape and the natural world.

Nash has been on site at Kew since early April, working - in what they appositely refer to as a “wood quarry” - on trees that have reached the end of their lives.

The result is a series of monumental works in Yew, Oak, Redwood, Cork, Lime, Beech and Eucalyptus that retain some of their essence and original form. Other recurring motifs include tables, chairs, shelters and ladders – objects that allude to man’s dependence on the environment.

a photo of a tall structure made of wood with slats cut into it resembling a tile tower
Crack and Warp Column, 2010, Lime© RBG, Kew
Renowned for his deep awareness of the natural world Nash describes his work as being part of a wider exploration into the “science and anthropology of trees” and acknowledges nature as the “essence of our continued existence”.

“It guides us spiritually and takes care of us practically,” he adds. “Wood, specifically, is a fundamental survival material, providing us with homes and shelter, and sustaining us by its use as fuel. The art that I create is fed by such a union, and should always be observed with this essential, unique, and sometimes challenging relationship in mind.”

Using chainsaws and an axe to carve his monumental sculptures, Nash also chars and burns their surfaces to give a them an appearance akin to the petrified relics of an ancient, primeval forest.

For Kew the works betray an empathy and a knowledge of trees that provides a perfect fit with their work to identify new tree species, protect areas of forest diversity and research tree ancestry, DNA, anatomy and chemistry.

Steve Hopper, Director and Chief Scientist of the Royal Botanic Gardens says the exhibition will help people to “look at plants and the natural world differently”.

“An exhibition of this kind really helps to convey a simple but vital concept; that we are part of the web of life and nature responds to how we care for it. David Nash at Kew illustrates that nature can act as a great source of inspiration for artists and scientists alike, and brings these two exploratory disciplines together.”

Nash’s on-going work will continue throughout the summer with further sculptures going on display in the autumn.

More pictures:

a photo of an egg-shaped sculpture with squares and crosses cut into its shell
Seed, 2008. Bronze© RBG, Kew
a photo of a sculpture comprising a mound of cork resembling fungus
Cork Dome, 2012, Cork© RBG, Kew
a photo of a wooden carved sculpture sited within foliage
Furrowed Oak, 1991, Polish Oak© RBG, Kew
a photo of a large sculpted tree trunk
Oculus Block, 2010, Eucalyptus© RBG, Kew
a photo of a large balck wooden sculpture resembling a seed
Seed, 2008, Bronze© RBG, Kew
a photo of two large blackened wooden sculptures resembling rock megaliths
Two Sliced Cedars, 2010, Charred Cedar© RBG, Kew
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