Carving it up in Hikkaduwa

The wood carving project is progressing really well now. I have been working with Nalin for nearly two weeks and we are becoming good friends; he has a mad side to his personality which I can easily relate to! One of the main aims of this collaborative project was to exchange ideas and skills. Watching Nalin carve is a delight. He has a really good eye and has been careful to copy the plastic objects that I found washed up on the beach to perfection.

Nalin starting work on first carving challenge

We worked together all day yesterday with the rain lashing down outside and rattling on his shop’s steel roof. It was really amazing to see the dramatic change in the skies as the clouds swept in from the ocean. By the end of the day we were both pretty tired, partly due to the change in weather and the fact that we had carved for nearly seven hours in the heat. As I was about to leave he said that he had learnt so much from working with me and would never have imagined himself making carvings like this before. I replied and said that I too had learnt so much from working and spending time with him. I smiled inwardly, delighted that we had made this connection so quickly through our shared love of craftsmanship and that he was gaining equally out of the project.

We have visited other wood carvers in the area and spent several hours looking in the beautiful galleries in Galle, the large town near Hikkaduwa; even allowing ourselves time out to saviour a delicious lunch in the very elegant Maison de Raux Hotel – best iced coffee I’ve tasted in years!

Traditional carving – amazing detail.

The aim is still to make upto ten carvings which will be exhibited alongside the plastic objects. It will be difficult as each one can take several days to finish, but fingers crossed we have enough time. I’m still debating in my mind how this will work, but early thoughts are to have two circles on the floor of the gallery; one of the carved sculptures and one of the plastic objects found on the beach.

Kaduru [Balsa wood] carving of plastic container

Three objects carved in Jack wood and Kaduru

My wife Susan emailed me a picture of an island of floating plastic bottles and waste out in the Ocean that was on the news back home. Perhaps this would be a good reference for the final shape of the installation and help draw parallels to the growing awareness of the damage being done to the delicate ecological balance of the world’s oceans.

First week in Hikkaduwa

I have now been in beautiful Sri Lanka for four days and have settled down into a good balance between developing my work and taking time to relax and absorb this amazing place. Perhaps allowing myself this rare time to reflect and explore new ideas is the very reason for being here!

I am on this residency with some fantastic artists who have all shared their art practises with their inspiring slide shows. I’ll come back to each of them as the weeks progress and point you to their websites. It has been such a bonus to sit and chat about each others experiences; although we are all very different it has been interesting to see how some of our thought processes and methods cross over. As our collective ideas blossom there’s an infectious buzz of excitement! I’m looking forward to collaborating with them in the last two weeks of the residency.

Siripala Nalinda, a traditional wood carver in the area, introduced me to his son in law Nalin who has his carving business in Hikkaduwa. I am pleased to say Nalin has agreed to help me carve replicas of found rubbish washed up on the beach. At first he was rather taken back! Can’t say I blame him, odd Scottish fellow asking a skilled craftsman to make a copy of rubbish found on the beach. Fortunately after spending some time together we are forging ahead with the collaboration and I think he is now embracing the idea, which is exactly what I had hoped for with this particular project. It is really important for me that they also gain new skills and understanding from this project.

I want to give these throwaway objects a new value by intricately carving each one. Spending days creating them celebrates their design and redefines their purpose and aesthetic value. I am interested in how as a society we differentiate between objects and materials, some thrown away and others cherished and protected. Hopefully this idea will not only reflect the intrinsic beauty of these objects, but also question why we discard such interesting objects, often to the detriment of the natural environment, particularly the ocean and its marine wildlife.

I hope to make ten different carvings of varied sizes and shapes, these will then be exhibited in a gallery space at the end of the residency.

Siripala Nalinda in his workshop

Found objects from the beach front

Starting work in Nalin’s workshop in Hikkaduwa

First challenge for Nalin