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EXHIBITION

REVIEW

With the Grain: Wood Sculpture by David Nash At Lewes Town Hall, Sussex, daily until 10 June

What strikes you first about David Nash's show is the large scale, unusual for sculpture in wood. Some pieces are monumental, like the columns of a ruined temple; some, worked from boughs, look down on you triffi d-like; while others take their cue from everyday objects, upscaled to several metres high (Two Falling Spoons, Big Throne). This relation to the viewer is heightened by the proximity of the works, nearly 30 of them set close together. You walk between them as in a forest.

This visual meshing of diverse pieces doesn't always give you the repose to look at them that you would like, but it has another purpose. The show is taken from David Nash's own collection, spanning his sculpting life from 1976 to 2007 - it's an evocation of his studio chapel in the Welsh town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.

Nash often makes his pieces locally to an exhibition using native species. Many on show here come, for example, from France, Poland or the US.

But as Nash says, he is, like Brancusi, unable to let them go easily, and some that were sold he has since remade.

Above all, Nash is a man of trees, focused on what he calls the 'spirit' of them as much as their sculptural potential.

Long before sustainability was a common concern he would take only trees that were winddamaged or already felled for some other purpose. His sculptures always retain a strong sense of the tree - there is a palpable tension between the natural and the constructed.

And where pieces are more constructed, the sense of 'treeness' may also be intensified. So Cracking Box is a cube of oak slabs, deliberately cut end-grain rather than as planks, to intensify the cracking from drying.

Surfaces, debarked but mostly hewn with Nash's favoured tool, the chainsaw, retain a sense of the outdoors.

And while his recent works are often more abstractly sculpted, slicing the wood green allows the tree to respond as it dries, giving some of the individual tree's own character back to Nash's intervention.

He has also been intensifying the natural-form dynamic of trees, in works such as Multi-Cut Column, with the sweeping sculpting of the whole piece, as well as the surface patterning and localised movement from the cut timber drying.

While Nash celebrates the natural colour of trees, he sometimes goes further, adding a layer of abstraction to pieces by charring them intensely black, then sealing them using linseed oil. Some of these charred pieces are found shapes; others already abstract, like Cracking Box from his series of pyramids, spheres and cubes.

These are silhouetted in the exhibition by being placed before hung white fabric.

For architects this is a stimulating show of the expression of timber. And don't forget to enjoy the town hall's Elizabethan timber staircase on the way in.

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