Equipoise / ek-wi-poyz. n. Balance of natural forces.
Only in nature is there balance, perfect balance.
In nature there is no such thing as imperfect balance: everything has its time and its place, its purpose the continuing function of the planet. In the 150 years since the start of the industrial revolution, man has been hell-bent on upsetting that balance, and has had some success. But fear not – nature will prevail eventually, because balance is continuous, with no exceptions. It’s just a matter of time.
My time, over the past decade, has been spent almost solely in the pursuit of the creative balancing of stones. The catalyst, a period of dark times and solitude, was to inspire in me an original concept: to build sculptures from naturally weathered rocks and stones that with an improbable composition and simplistic beauty are balanced in a state of equilibrium. For me it’s the simplicity of my work that makes it magical, and on making this discovery I also found a perseverance to achieve one aim – to create art that inspires a sense of wonder.
I have been fixated on this goal, knowing from my own feelings and the reactions and encouragement of others that what I was doing had meaning and value. To follow this path involved risk – financial and emotional, but risks are what make us feel more alive. The poet William Arthur Ward wrote:
To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams, before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow, but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, live.
Chained by their attitudes, they are slaves, they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.
OK, maybe that’s pushing the point a bit, but looking back to those early days I realise I had made a commitment to myself to achieve anything and everything with my art.
The process of balancing the stones is performance art in a very pure form. The audience can witness the creation of a sculpture, but the very process of balancing the stones has been called many things, some contradictory: calming, tense, therapeutic, mesmerising, beautiful, puzzling and even spiritual. It has a meditative quality, it forces you to ignore the continual chattering in your head and absorb yourself in the process of the balance. You ‘listen’ with your fingers, your focus targeted and complete. Fundamentally, you find the stillness inside yourself and become one with the stones.
For many, my sculptures seem alive, they have a presence. People react in different ways, in some cases with strong emotions. This, of course, can be the purpose of art: to disturb you, to leave you uneasy with yourself and wary of the world, to undermine your sense of reality to make you reconsider all that you think you know. The finest art should shatter your beliefs, devastate your intellect, leave you perplexed and make you doubt the conventions that bind us, weigh us down and drown us in a sea of conformity. If I achieve any of these, my job is done.
My work needs no elaborate explanation or complex deconstruction; I want people to form their own ideas about what it means to them. By its very simplicity, by the use of natural stones, by its rational abeyance of the laws of nature, it speaks for itself. If you were to ask me why the sculptures can have such an impact, I would tell you about the paradox. The paradox of fragility and solidity. The fragile nature of the balance versus the solid nature of the stones. This might be enough for some, but others would need more, they want the elaborate explanation. The point, however, is that my work is interesting and fun, because everyone and anyone can express their opinions, criticising or liking with equal justification and merit.
As my sculptures are transitory they have to be captured photographically so they can endure. The photographs can provoke endless scrutiny and controversy, admiration and awe, but mostly they are proof that what is static can also be alive. That what has lived will always die. (Except of course if you have one of the fixed sculptures.)
This 2012 collection of photographs was taken on the south coast of England over the winter and spring of 2011/12, in what can only be described as typically English weather. Most were shot at dawn or dusk, when the light is optimal, but crucially when it was still – no wind.
The weather never really played ball, so most of the balancing and photography was severely challenging. But because of the weather’s capricious nature I feel I achieved more when I had a good weather window, making the most of the conditions. There were spills and thrills along the way, high seas and dangerous tides. Treacherous coastal paths to navigate and slippery rocks to catch you unawares. Damaged equipment and sore bodies were common, but getting the perfect shots of the perfectly balanced sculptures was a goal worth striving for.
When not creating new sculptures to photograph, I searched the coastline looking for inspiration in the rocks. I am solely interested in shapes, not the type of rock, or size or weight. I envisage how certain rocks will work together when balanced, whether they will complement each other or be an imperfect match. The hardness of the rock is important. If it's too soft, because of the intense pressure at the point of contact it can crumble and all purchase is lost. For the geologists, the rocks I am using at the moment are limestone, blue lias, sandstone and sometimes flint and chert.
The explanations that accompany some of the photographs reflect my ideas and interpretations. Sometimes I had a definite plan of what to create and at other times I let the stones produce their own theme. What I had in mind should in no way influence your feelings of what these sculptures represent. I hope the innate beauty of each sculpture speaks to you in its own way.