Rebecca Newnham FRSS
Glass plays a significant role in Rebecca Newnham's work. The sculpture is concerned with the natural and botanical world and scientific ideas about how it functions. Following the pandemic, this feels even more urgent to communicate because we sometimes take it for granted, nature and our understanding of how it works demands respect and appreciation.
The glass skin is painted with glass enamel and then fired to make permanent. The colours cannot fade as they become intrinsic. The surface is then cut up and collaged, literally wrapping the painting around curved forms, playing with pixels of the image and facets of refracted light.
The structure of sculptures for the interior are created in timber and for exterior works since 2017, a durable system which incorporates stainless steel with a marble dust render, which is kinder to the environment than alternatives.
Recent work 2020-21:
Quercus has a new glass skin, added in 2021. The glass was painted in response to experiencing ancient woodland. +At winter solstice 2020, at the end of a year like no other we had ever known, I visited Kingley Vale, an ancient yew forest on the South Downs. The limbs of yew entwined and grew together as if they were a single organism, and created primitive vaulted spaces which are natural shelters, cave like. It had been raining and the wet boughs glowed in the rays of the end of the day, mid-winter, warm sunshine. The rainwater had revealed vibrant tones in the timber, not usually visible, the lighting and weather enhanced the magnificent, benevolent, bold, raw, earthy, natural cathedral of wood. I took tree rubbings on paper with pastil, and when back in my studio added inks in the vibrant tones that I remembered. These drawings informed the way I painted the glass for Quercus. I tried to capture the rich and dazzling energy. Since then, I have listened to podcasts, online talks and read about the landscape in England, and how it has changed increasingly rapidly, since the introduction of farming. I am more aware of the composition of soil, and the desertification of huge parts of the world because of farming intervention. Please see links at the end.
Quercus demonstrates my preoccupation with energy and the language of botanical form which unites academic scientific analysis, the soothing order of mathematical patterns in particular Fibonacci and the Golden Section with joyous spirituality.
The pair of sculptures are 5m and 6m tall, and spiral skyward in a celebration of the oak. They consider the proportion of the oak leaf. I asked ‘what characteristics makes an oak, an oak’ during a residency at The Hillier Gardens, which has a world famous collection of oaks. Oak trees have lobed leaves and acorns with cups. Many trees have lobed leaves, but the oak is distinctive; it has a unique proportion, which Quercus celebrates. The bodies of the pair are in sections, which have the proportions 1,1,2,3,5 from the Fibonacci sequence of numbers, and the angle that they turn through is the Golden section angle, found by dividing the circumference of a circle by the golden section proportion and seen repeatedly in the natural world. The golden angle is often the angle at which branches join a central trunk or stem, to maximise exposure of the leaf surface to sunlight. The physical presence of the sculptures are essentially tree like, in minimal or skeletal form.
The Rise sculptures are a series of works developing from an interest in how matter and energy moves. They are an attempt to reflect our grasp of the laws of physics which govern our understanding of the world. These forms expand from waves of energy ascending from the earth into space, , whether waves are electromagnetic, heat or sound or waves of communication through water or air.
Sculptures are systemised into regular, ordered, graph like representation. The rythym of the form is regular and yet they are hand carved so there are irregularities, which are human falibility. The process results from research into a more sustainable practice, employing durable materials such as stainless steel, marble dust, and glass.
Rise 4 was commissioned for a private sculpture garden in 2020. The collection includes work by Barbara Hepwoth and Naum Gabo. Research into the processes and thinking of these artists has informed the way I work. I am using modern materials but the same mesh system that Hepworth employed to create her sculptures to be cast in bronze. There is a display in the Hepworth gallery in Wakefeild detailing the different grades of aluminium mesh she employed, this led me to find different types of stainless steel mesh to work with. Naum Gabo embraced engineering and technical process and what was then radical transparent plastics to communicate mass and incremental movement. I share a facination into his love of both art and science.
The glass skin is hand painted with red glass enamels. The colour suggests energy, and is applied with a brush and is concentrated in some areas, with sctatched lines and texture evident. The glass is cut by hand and the undulating wave like lines echo the curved form. The combination of hand painted glass, hand cut to wrap a flat surface around a three dimensional form creates the faceted surface which reflects available light.
The sculpture has conceled bearings which allow the whole to rotate in strong wind, to respond and adapt to natural forces rather than stand up to them. This results in a strong but light form, made efficiently to minimise waste to respect the environment, and celebrate systems of the natural world.
Oceania is a series of 30 wall panels which respond to a trip to Japan and New Zealand just ahead of the Covid wave. Convex wall panels represent the curve of the lens of the eye, requiring the viewer to stand back and take it in the whole, whilst simultaneously reflecting the viewers ambient environment in some polished tiles and representing an aspect of the world in the painting visible in other areas. The surfaces are cut with regular geometry to highlight numerical patterns and rhythm of the natural world. For example, in a series of underwater wall panels, slanted rays of refracted light are represented by lines cut diagonally. Other works in the series look at raked gravel in a Tokyo Zen garden, koi in Senso-ji temple garden, and Happo-en’s lakes, flanked by tea houses which reflect surrounding modern buildings of the financial district.