David Nash, Ash Bark Dome, 2017. Ash bark, 41 x 87 x 76 cm. Photo: © David Nash, Courtesy Annely Juda Fine Art, London

David Nash


Annely Juda Fine Art

David Nash’s recent exhibition “Wood, Metal, Pigment” featured a range of large- and small-scale sculptures in wood, bronze, and iron, as well as a selection of pigment studies. The works were drawn from a period of almost 30 years, with the majority recent or newly conceived. Nash has consistently sited trees at the center of his practice, and his accumulated knowledge of their different characteristics and innate flexibility dictates the shape of each work. The process of charring adds a subtle variation to his forms because each tree species produces a unique brand of charcoal.

Nash’s sculptures, which are rooted in the life cycle of a tree, borrow their material from its sequence of growth and decay. For him, trees are fundamental to human existence. Imbued with deep wisdom derived from their longevity, they act as thresholds to the spirit world, as often described in ancient myths. Though drawing on this mysticism, Nash’s sculptures are more concretely configured to embody the particular physical qualities of a species or individual. Most woods range in color from light to dark amber; others, like sequoia, are red. Combining black and red in a white space, as in Red Around Black, denotes a potent triad important to many cultures while making full use of the material’s intrinsic properties. There is an immediacy to Nash’s wooden forms—a tactile warmth—and here, the groupings emphasized this quality to great theatrical effect.

King and Queen I, among the most imposing pieces on view, echoes a well-known Bohemian folk tale in which a king loses his way in the forest and is taken in by the family of a modest charcoal burner. The process represents a rebalancing of power: the charcoal burner masters the forces of nature by cultivating growth, only to cut it down and surrender it to obliteration by fire. Nash’s charred forms, including Tall Torso, Black Rib Column, and Ladle and Spoon, possess an enigmatic shimmer that endows them with great optical depth—an effect achieved by the penetration of the propane torch used to burn into the wood. Inside a white gallery, the charred sculptures act as voids, holes in space that absorb light to take on an otherworldly appearance. These charred forms also successfully translate into cast bronze, as in the distinctly humanoid King and Queen I, which imitates the texture of wood, but confounds the senses with its coolness to the touch. Low-lying configurations such as Tree Fern Dome and Ash Bark Dome take their inspiration from the turf-covered kilns built by charcoal burners when they find suitable trees; when they move on to new sites, fresh growth emerges in the vacated areas.

“Wood, Metal, Pigment” revealed Nash’s extraordinary ability to manipulate a wide range of materials and processes. His interest in metal stems from its origins in the earth and its transformative nature when heated. Iron, which he uses in Pagoda Column, Iron Column, and Three Cannonballs, is created by one of nature’s most rudimentary processes; harnessed by human hands, it is made fluid to be poured into a mold and returned to solid form when cooled. This quality of malleability and transmutability is key to Nash’s practice, whether using metal or wood. His complete mastery can also be seen in three column-style works—diagonally serrated beech pillars—and the immaculately coiled Serpentine Column II. These refined, self-assured works diverge from more animated pieces such as Fire Carved Holly, which emphasizes mutability by keeping its inherent lumpiness intact. In addition to a wide variety of sculptural forms, the exhibition also featured pigment drawings—powder color applied with a fleece pad—that reveal the effect of chlorophyll on leaves and the structure of branches. Adding these studies to the ensemble offered fresh insights into Nash’s sculptures, allowing viewers a glimpse into his conception of the arboreal world.