Back in October 1987 “The Great Storm” hit the south of England. What measure of nature’s ferocity qualifies a storm as “The Great”? Many will remember. Britain’s worst storm for 300 years was a devastating and for some a fatal night. My google search informed me of some incredible facts. That night an estimated 15 million trees were destroyed. A colossal four million cubic metres of timber, experts calculated. The story of David Nash’s 5m high, corten steel sculpture “Lightning Strike” began that wild night. One particular tree, an ash, on an estate in Sussex was uprooted in seconds. But for the sculptor this lost ash became his material.
David Nash is a sculptor with a profound relationship with wood; an intimate working relationship. This dynamic work was carved and shaped with the authority of a maker who truly knows and loves his material. The cross hatched chainsaw marks that etch the surface tell the story of it’s making. But it never loses its shape.
The main structure, the skeleton, remains, as if honouring the natural, organic form of its living growth. A tree unexpectedly turned upside down. No longer a tree but reanchored to the earth again.
The sculptor has worked a lot with ash. He has formed ash trees into living sculptures. But ash is not a timber that lasts well in the elements and over the next twenty years nature continued it’s destructive work; at a far slower pace now, the storm replaced by woodpeckers and insects. The concerns for this completely unique work gave David the idea to create a metal fabricated version of “Lighting Strike” in corten steel. Also known, appropriately in this case, as “weathering steel”, the material was chosen both for its aesthetic qualities and durability.
The original “Lightning Strike” arrived at the foundry in sections. The shape and surface were mapped out. Templates were taken of each plane and numbered. The sculpture’s twisting form was deconstructed into a two dimensional jigsaw puzzle. The templates were marked out on the 5mm corten sheets and plasma cut by hand.The plates were tacked together and piece by piece the puzzle came together. A new lighting strike was born. From nature, but industrial. A transformation. A piece of natural architecture; an organic but firm footed tripod. The form still there but the surfaces smooth now. The edges and angles crisp. A captured spark made solid.
We have cast a number of David’s carvings into bronze. A transformation from wood to metal; more a process of reproduction or even preservation. Our work is to capture the detail of the natural grain, the saw marks or the crazed surface of charred wood. Often patinated black, like the burnt wood we are painstakingly trying to recreate, it is only by touching or tapping the surface that you realise this is metal not wood. We cut in the texture along the welded seams to make them disappear. To hide them, to keep it’s making a secret. To not let our process get in the way of the artists. If we have done our work well, it’s impossible to see. The pursuit of an unseen perfection that only the craftsman truly understands.
“Lightning Strike” contains none of those secrets. It is made of steel. It is what it is. The surface is treated with chemicals to speed the rusting process that gives corten its glorious orange glow. Its “natural” quality exposed.
David Nash works in wood; and metal. He works with nature. The narrative of “Lightning Strike” is the story of transformation; the evolution of an idea. Those templates have been well used. Five copies have been fabricated; each is slightly different. Each handmade and installed in different locations around the world. The interconnectedness of nature and art; of people and places. The story of an artist’s personal interaction and connectedness with the natural world.
I’ve seen “Lightning Strike” in a number of locations. Most “striking” for me in the yard of David’s studio in Wales, not on show but stored, amongst other works; some finished, some in progress. It stood surrounded by a forest of wood sculptures, some charred with fire, the corten glowing orange hot in the winter sun. Bright blue sky, dark grey mountains. Rightly, one is now publicly site nearby.
The last “Lightning Strike” has recently been completed and shipped to Colorado. I hope to see a picture once it’s installed. High in the Rockies, in a region famous for electric storms, exposed to natures elements. What, I wonder, will she make of this one?