We are so much in ignorance of our animal song. As an interior voice it is ours for the taking and germane, for we are of the same family and I think we could live in the rhythm of its language. The river when full takes all things into its flow - words, detritus, spirit even - and so I wonder if the stolen animal is the primary agent in our modern suffering, allied as it is to the emotional life. For I sometimes feel the empty and the lost to be palpable and earthy as the body is. The trapped flower of the brute spirit, it was speared by the rod of our bone, narrowed by our gut, but still we have not lost all sensation. These sculptures feel like a case in point: summoned by elemental spells, they claim by way of wood, soil and blood the unheard and forgotten creatures. I have imagined in them a fox inching from its earth, or a jay's flight come out from the dark with scansion learnt from valley and hill. Even now they are shy and ambiguous, but all this is incantation in movement.
At one time I had imagined a landscape populated by pagan idols; it was a binary world but they were wholly chthonic and androcentric for I was concerned with what it means to be a man in relation to the traditional maternal deity. The work originated from a small, enclosed space emotionally yet had this propensity to birth a widening circle of meaning. I thought perhaps that votive offerings might operate in this way: things made according to strict religious law and yet, in their ultimate function and when wed to earth, offering abundance and providence for all. Perhaps, too, our ancestors had no notion of the animal or the transcendent as things separate from or beyond their personal or physical worlds. As with these ritualised objects, whenever spirit enters the equation I would that it gained weight and density until it cannot but drop to earth as the dark bird that it is, wounded and bleeding, a fistful of dirt.
So I thought of these sculptures, in part, as divinatory objects; icons, blessed and cached, that you might find by chance in the overgrown and secret places rarely seen by human eyes. I am thinking of the road's verge, a fox run through scrub or the corner of the field where emotion shifts from its common acceptance. Here it is aligned rather to the tragic, the lost and the irrational; something akin to animals and their omens. I was often amongst briar in accidents of trial and ritual that tightened my range of feeling. I was angry at injustice done to land and its people, at how animals have been deprived of meaning and due veneration, and I wanted to make work with that voice of protest: to bear witness, yes, but intervene somehow through the noise and pain of a visceral making. Out in the wild this urgency and battle found some reprieve. I came upon the corpse of a ewe (escaped from the field, she had become ensnared by the briar) and it was a strange privilege then to have sole knowledge of her fate, that she had suffered and quite differently had she remained under human authority. I took much from that encounter but at the time the fundamental presence was one of death or, rather, I felt absolutely that death did not exist but was a journey eternal for all things.
In the brakes and hollows where these necessarily private rituals are evoked, I wondered: who really cares about death, for the regular, unknown passing of wild creatures? Who cares, if only my half-invented animal gods? For, after all, they will look after their own these uncommon yet pervasive kings and queens of thorn. They are removed from us, they are recondite and occult, but they transport their charge between those same extremes we chart in human experience and which brought the current work to life. Perhaps it is the shock and the trauma caused through violence done to the body that frees the sacrament. It is the same with these objects. The random and unexpected assault, I think it liberates, illumines the dirt in the body and its image, in the human and its familiar. For there is lacunae within all of us inflicted by the tragic which perhaps never will be filled or redeemed in the absolute, but exists to marshal the questing psyche.
It is in the nature of the revolutions of making that you keep tabs always on the binding agent, you seek to manifest it in each object, some ultimate principle you hold dear. The line runs through them of mercurial earth. They are animated by this substance alone, and thus it turns out that we care more for the living source regardless of its concomitant symbols. The owl and the ash tree, the fox and the man, these are among the constellations of the insular body. If they bring the symbol and it makes the work it is only to ask that we discard them at last in favour of tender beginnings.
Perhaps, then, our ambiguous or unknown kinship with the animal is a suture. This is among its values, a reminder that we are deprived and immature and must look to reform our wintered mortality. So I consider the narrative of this particular set of work a kind of Paschal cycle with reunification at its heart: of the wounded human in search of its androgyny, of communion with its hurt and healing animal and the old ideas that bring us alarmingly down to earth into the arms of repair.
At least this is a start, for animals are the magicians and we share we them this surrogate air and transient fire. The loss is mutual but through their bright emptiness we are witness to eternal presence. It is there in the woman and gelding of Hymn for Brute England. Both figures have been blemished, disfigured by means of an unremitting cycle of ruin and renewal, of burning and immersion. In the completed piece they have nevertheless achieved an unlooked for equilibrium, both for gender and species. The process is internecine and reflects a shared fate and internal struggle as well as some hint of personal conflicts. It is a strange thing, for the work came together just at that time a horse and rider appeared before me in the road. I had a gut feeling: the spirit, fully observed and polarized, had entered at last the simulacrum.
If there is ever an answer to such ideals - and in my experience it comes from a primitive space that must needs be wild and contingent - it is one that finds you when you are especially vulnerable, and in responding to the summons you become committed over time to what feels like its sanity and neutrality. It is a native wisdom that could inform totally your moral judgement and adjust how you see complex animal life, taking your vision on a corrective course. It will not cease in its labour this infant power, for the ghost must be worked into wood and clay, into blood and bone and remain within.
Perhaps in this alternate world there is room, too, to subvert the traditional image and uphold the brute by way of modern phenomena. All of these objects are cryptids in a very broad sense but they come ultimately by way of lowly creatures such as the crow, the bull and the dog; a taxonomy of the common animal from whom mystery and original myth have not been wholly subtracted. I sense, however, that we ourselves invented this notion of the thing hidden and obscure and if it returns to us then it is only from our own extremes of dispossession and insensibility. Eve is then the mediatrix and the survivor. A cornered animal, she recoils, marking us in such a way that she subverts intention and understanding. Grant me then that one wish, so far unknown to me, for a contrary movement: for the material to widen to earth or thin to air, to become the unimaginable body, deeper than this animal's sleep and higher than her waking.