For Lyme Regis artist Adrian Gray the Jurassic coast provides both the inspiration and the materials for his stone balancing sculptures
There was never a 'eureka' moment; as with many things, my stone balancing art evolved and developed over the years and is still changing and progressing as I have new ideas and envisage different stone balancing images and themes.
What is fundamental about the sculptures is their simplicity – two stones, sometimes more, balanced together to create a seemingly impossible composition. This improbable equipoise creates a sense of wonder in the onlooker and gives the sculpture a discernible, magical ‘presence’. What is constantly surprising is the amazed response of the audience when I create a new sculpture. During the summer months and when the weather is fair, I show my art on the town beach in Lyme Regis where I live. I use what I call my ‘travel kit’– two large base stones and a selection of stones to balance on them. Throughout the day I will balance different stones to create what I call a paradox of fragility and solidity in the sculpture. People are astonished by what they see: disbelief is their first reaction, the incredulity on their faces is a picture.
Then of course I get the questions. How do I do it? Is it glue? Blu-Tack? Steel rods? Magnets? Even velcro? But I always look forward to the more outlandish suggestions, such as holograms, magic and illusion. Even when within a few feet, people still cannot believe their own eyes, it is this quiddity of the sculpture that is so fascinating.
I’m originally from Berkshire, and moved to Dorset ten years ago, but in my twenties and thirties I worked overseas as a leader on adventure holidays and expeditions in the mountains, jungles and deserts of Asia and Africa. To supplement my income I took travel photographs that in some way led me to stone balancing. I loved to take pictures of the natural world, especially the obscure and puzzling aspect of nature, so to create my own mysterious sculptures is a continuation of that interest.
I had a limited art education – an ‘O’ Level at school and then a year at college and over the years I worked with wood and stone – but it was the fascinating geology and pure majesty of the coast here in Dorset that prodded me to create something unique. I believe that stone balancing sculptures are a new niche art form. It’s great that in the 21st century there is still something that is baffling, which challenges our perception and, most of all, gives so much pleasure.
My stone balancing art has led me in a new and unexplored direction including most recently being filmed for the BBC Coast series. This year I plan to take my stone balancing to London to see if the art establishment will be as wowed by it as people are in the West Country.
I live in a converted summerhouse built into the side of the cliff overlooking Lyme Bay. It has no mains electricity so I have installed a solar panel for a 12-volt system, but mostly I use lots of vegetable wax candles which give off a nice light and are odourless. I have mains water and a gas boiler to heat it, plus a wood burner to keep the place cosy. Even though I live in a landslip area, I don’t worry. Life is a balancing act anyway, mostly up or down; it’s a relief when we find ourselves on the level.
When I moved to Dorset the quirky, quaintness of Lyme Regis and the stunning surrounding coastline suited my lifestyle and provided inspiration for my creativity. The Jurassic coast with its folded and crumbling rocks, fossils and flints, lias and limestone is the perfect location for my photo shoots. I know my patch of coast very well and recognise individual stones rom previous outings. I look forward to the storms that batter the coast as they reshuffle the deck and give me a whole new palette of rocks to work with.
I like to wander the isolated coves, searching for stones that will lend themselves to the ideas I have for new sculptures. The process of balancing the stones requires great focus and has a meditative quality, this stimulates a Zen-like ambience in the audience and people have told me they become spiritually involved.
The sculptures are, of course, transient – the weather or waves will knock them over. Occasionally I used to leave them standing for people to admire, but after a close shave for a Yorkshire terrier I now dismantle them, so the only evidence of their existence is in the photographs.
The beaches around Lyme have an unusual selection of stones, some containing calcite crystals and sometimes large fossils, usually ammonites. I like the idea of reanimating the fossilised creatures by including them in a sculpture that seems ‘alive’. I strive for the smallest point of contact between the stone surfaces. This magnifies the vulnerability of the balance whilst still maintaining a state of equilibrium. It’s this anomaly that makes the sculptures and the photographs of them both perplexing and beautiful.