David Nash was born in Esher, England in 1945. He lives and works in Blaenau Ffestiniog in North Wales where, at the end of the 1960s, he renovated a shepherd’s house with a chapel, and set up his studio there. Very quickly he turned to sculptures in wood, allowing the shape suggested by the tree to guide him. “Rather than coming up with an idea and trying to find a suitable piece, I have always allowed the material to seduce me. Everything comes from the tree, from its shape and its essence.” ¹
David Nash uses a variety of “tools” from the axe and the chainsaw to fire and water; he is also a skilled artist, drawing with pencils, chalk and stencils. He often allows the seasons to transform his sculptures, thus integrating them into the natural evolutionary cycle. Not only is he a sculptor, but David Nash is a sort of gardener: he plants and raises his trees, guiding their shapes with timely interventions. Indeed, an appreciation of time and a respect for nature are as important to his work as a saw or an axe. Like the Ancient Chinese, he considers wood to be the fifth element and he uses the four others to work it: land to feed it, air to dry it, water and fire to obtain the desired patina. David Nash started to make more frequent use of fire in the 1980s; according to Amanda Farr, “he realised that he could transform the vegetal into mineral, tree into carbon.” ²
His formal vocabulary is made up of cubes, spheres and triangles, as well as arcs, domes and columns. Colour is also an important element in his artistic work. “Of the minimalist generation that preceded his own [he] retained a taste for simple shapes and a rejection of decoration over a subtle use of proportions.” ³ For the artist, if the shape is to express itself, it must be at one with various parameters, namely the material, the space and the movement. These shapes can be found not only in his sculptures but also in his works on paper, the square giving structure to the material, while the triangle, space and circle provide movement. In his mind, each of the geometric shapes is linked to a colour: a red square, a yellow triangle, a blue circle. Nash the artist uses pastels and coloured charcoals, often bright red, which dialogue with the raw or burned woods and also with the bronzes. Some drawings are displayed in frames made from burned wood by the artist himself.
Another aspect of his output, the “living works”, are very revealing of his desire to insert his sculptures into nature. The most famous is the Ash Dome, designed in the mid-1970s. David Nash planted 22 ash trees in a circle and as they have grown, he has used traditional techniques to model the shape of their branches, in order to create a vegetal dome.
David Nash has been a member of the Royal Academy since 1999. His work, which is widely represented in the leading museums of America, Australia and Japan, has been the focus of retrospectives at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (2010), Kew Gardens (2012), and the Museum of Cardiff (2019) in the United Kingdom, and the Fondation Fernet-Branca in France (2018). In addition, he has produced works in situ in sculpture parks such as the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire (Thirteen Reds and Tumble Block, 2013).
¹ Marie Maertens, “Visite d’atelier: David Nash”, in Connaissance des Art, May 2018
² Amanda Farr, “Le vert et le noir”, in David Nash, Twmps and Eggs, Repères n°127, 2004, p. 13
³ Jean Frémon, “Le cinquième élément” in David Nash, Line of cut, Repères n° 108, 2000, p. 11