Rock Works I
Rock Works II
|Article on Steve Thorpe's work - Excite Magazine July-August 2015
You may think of art as a sedentary activity, but last year, Steve Thorpe cycled 1,000 miles from his home in Topsham to Cape Wrath in north west Scotland to complete his most recent work. Excite asked one simple question. Why?
From an early age, Steve was interested in the outdoors and the landscape around his home town of Barnsley in South Yorkshire. Walking with his parents, and later, cycling, mountaineering and rock climbing with friends made a deep impression and proved the inspiration for much of his work at art college. He studied at Exeter College of Art from 1973 to 1976. Steve moved to work in the Fine Art Department at The University of Plymouth, where he taught for 32 years. He continued to create artwork and exhibit throughout this time, but it was a chance encounter with a piece of stone on a Cornish cliff that sent him in a new direction.
He says 'Rocky wild landscapes have always attracted me and about 10 years ago I became interested in the idea of using rocks themselves as art works. The main inspiration came from the way that rocks are part of the culture of the Far East where there is a sophisticated appreciation of rocks as objects of contemplation in forms such as Zen gardens and 'Suiseki' or 'Scholar's Stones'.
He continues, 'Having picked up an iridescent green stone in Cornwall, I wandered if it would have the same quality as a powder pigment. I broke the stone down in a pestle and mortar then sieved the powder onto adhesive brushed on paper. The effect was a square of coloured pigment that was colour, stone and the place it came from all at the same time.'
From there Steve made a collection of stones from the South West coast, discovering a range of subtle shades from greens and purples, pinks and browns to greys, blacks and whites. Steve says: 'The colours represented the places they came from, so I started recording the journeys I made to find them, usually by walking or cycling. The work developed by accumulating lots of small experiences into works that grew in the studio; some represented one place, like a mountain top or a holy site, and others were collections of many stones that took years to accumulate. One such, '100 Places Connected by Walking' consists of 100 stripes of colour from the coast of Cornwall. Here the distance travelled becomes part of the work.
Steve has also ventured further afield, and when he realised his stone collection included stones from three of Britain's extremities, he decided to complete the cycle by visiting the fourth. He explains; 'I had stones from Lands End, John O'Groats and Dungeness, and I thought it would be very cool to make a piece of work called 'The Four Corners of Britain'. `So last year I set off from Topsham and cycled 1000 miles to Cape Wrath in the north west corner of Britain to pick up a stone.'
He adds; 'I cycled for 13 days doing up to 130 miles a day, and when I got there, I couldn't see more than 10 yards in the mist. At that point I had to remember that it's the journey and not the destination that's important: I came back with a single stone, but that journey was full of interesting places, people and experiences from along the way. My stones seem like records of all those things.
Looking ahead, Steve has a few ideas featuring more stones to gather. 'I'd like to make a work using a stone from all the counties in England,' he says, 'and I have a box of stones and a list of counties being ticked off. I don't like to rush things and despite all the energy that goes into making them, it's the sense of calmness that comes fro these trips that gives me the most satisfaction.
If you'd like to see the results of Steve's unique approach to art, he'll be exhibiting for the first time in Devon Open Studios in September 2015, and it will be the first chance to see his work since the 'Gathering Silence' show at Moretonhampstead's 'Green Hill' gallery in 2013.