Sunday, 15 September 2013

Art: Sculpted benches on Yearsley Moor: Interview with Jonathan Newdick

From his cat statues that prowl York’s rooftops, to his Lady of the Lake carved from a fallen tree in Kirby Sigston, Jonathan Newdick’s contribution to Yorkshire’s landscape has been impressive.

Over the past three decades Newdick has carved a reputation for being one of the region’s finest sculptors.

The York-based artist was recently commissioned by North York Moors National Park to produce five carved benches which take their inspiration from the rich history of Yearsley Moor.

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The artist had never made benches before, with the vast majority of his work being sculpted in stone, bronze and wood. But the prospect of returning to Yearsley Moor – the place where he walked his dog as a young man – was irresistible.

“The site immediately caught my imagination,” says Newdick. “It’s a remote area of woodland that has a lot of history to it. The National Park wanted to have something that would interpret the ancient history of Yearsley Moor to raise awareness of the history of the area.”

The five benches are made from English Oak and each represent a different era in the moor’s history. “For me, sculpture has to be connected with the past in some way,” says Newdick. “I like to have a dialogue and respond to something – whether its history, or the materials I’m working with.

“Some of the earliest sculptures ever made did that – they responded to the materials. I think they are very basic sculptural concerns that I have.”

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One of the benches draws on the ancient history of the moor, marking the area’s Bronze Age roots. The seat echoes the shape of a large double axe-head. “Archaeologists had unearthed ancient bronze from around 6,000 years ago, so I created a bench for that area in a huge dagger shape which actually points to the original archaeological site,” says Newdick

Another of the carved benches takes its inspiration from the area’s rich mining heritage. There are many bell-pit mines in the area which were formed by miners digging a shaft down to a coal seam, and then digging outwards in the shape of a bell.

“I wanted to show these coal mines within one of the benches,” says Newdick. “I did this by charring a section of the bench black to look like a coal seam, and carved out these bell shapes.”

A bench reminiscent of a chaise longue has also been produced to represent the era that the Fairfax family owned Yearsley Moor.

“The thing that really intrigued me about the 18th Century was that women had to wear incredibly tight corsets,” says Newdick. “They had to invent furniture which women could lie down on because they tended to faint a lot – so the chaise longue was actually invented for women to faint on and I knew I had to make one to represent that era.”

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Unlike regular works of art, the benches are made to be sat on and used. With this in mind the National Park have not given the benches labels describing what they are and what they mean. “I quite like that idea because it’s more about sculpture,” says Newdick. It’s a sculpture to sit on, and as you sit on it you can investigate the bench’s surfaces and shapes, and maybe ask questions about why the seat is there.”

The experience of working on the carved seats has inspired the artist to produce a new bench which will be a part of the 175th anniversary exhibition at York Cemetery which will open on September 13.

“I’ve developed a meandering bench that has this double curve which was originally from the tree. I wanted to make something that people could sit on and contemplate the nature of the landscape,” says Newdick.

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Also on display will be a large abstract sleeping head carved from oak. “I really wanted to get across this feeling of peace and tranquillity,” says Newdick. “It’s actually going to go in the temple of the cemetery, which is a beautiful building. It’s been refurbished over the last few years – it was in a terrible state of repair, but they’ve done a marvellous job with it.”

The life of an artist. 

After training to be a sculptor in Gloucester and Edinburgh, Newdick received his first commission in 1983 to carve a cat sculpture for a York rooftop, and has since carved a further 14 which are found around the city.

In 1989 Newdick was commissioned to produce a bronze fountain depicting a pig’s head on York’s Swinegate.

In 2006 Newdick transformed the remnants of a felled lightning tree in Kirby Sigston into a stunning carving of the legendary Lady of the Lake.

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All photographs courtesy of the artist. Visit: www.newdicksculpture.co.uk


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