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find: Visual Arts U.K.

Peter Randall-Page  

sculptor, visual artist, U.K.

Beneath the Skin, 1991, Kilkenny limestone
by Peter Randall-Page, U.K.

excerpts from:
In the Realm of the Senses

Paul Nesbitt in conversation with Peter Randall-Page, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, June 1996

Peter, could you tell me how the idea of this exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew came about?

Well, in the first place, it came about because of my long-term interest in working from natural form in general, and botanical forms in particular. Specifically, however, it came about because

I was approached a couple of years ago to exhibit sculpture in the Gardens. Shortly after this, I was asked to be artist-in-residence at the Tasmanian School of Art and invited to make drawings at the Botanic Gardens of Adelaide. All the plants were so new and extraordinary. I was struck by seeing things which obey the same laws of growth and form but with incredible variations on the theme. Some of the differences are simply a matter of scale; the seeds and fruits in Australia seem so substantial and extravagant. Some have evolved to deal with extremes of drought and heat, for example, fruit which only release their seed when exposed to fire. I came back from Australia with a lot of drawings and the idea grew from there...

Paul Nesbitt: In the late 1980s you began working predominantly, although not exclusively, with plant forms. But you have been interested in natural forms (fruits, seeds, fossils) since childhood. Can you remember how your fascination first began?

I grew up in the country and always found the natural world deeply engaging. Later, through my work, I became particularly interested in seeds and fruit. They embody the potential for growth and can be sensual, even erotic. They detach from the parent plant, becoming separate entities full of energy to develop into full-blown plants. I have also always been fascinated by the relationship between outer appearance and internal structure, between surface and volume.

Decayed Gum Nut
1994, red chalk, 76 x 56 cm

1994, charcoal, 75.5 x 56 cm
by Peter Randall-Page, U.K.

Fruit and seeds, with their promise of new life contained within, naturally lend themselves to this kind of investigation through volumetric sculpture.

Paul Nesbitt: Ananda Coomaraswamy said that one step to enlightenment is the study and the meditation of natural found objects, but beyond that, Meister Eckhart, the 14th Century visionary, said that to find nature herself, all her likenesses have to be shattered.

Yes, I think that s a really important issue for me. You were right to say that much of my work is derived from botanical and other natural things, but it s not entirely true because there is quite a strong strain running through the work which is pure invention.

For example, I have often used a continuous coil which can be folded and knotted in many different and expressive ways. Fundamentally, I want these works to have the sense that they might exist in nature, to have kinship with natural form but not to be a representation of anything specifically identifiable. The importance of this, in terms of the response of the viewer, is that when one comes across something never seen before, one has to work at it in a different way. If you can see immediately what it is based on you can file it away and the perception stops there.

The analogy I have used before to describe this is that of poetry. You can sometimes be more articulate and specific when trying to evoke a feeling, by putting disparate images together. The sparks that fly when things are juxtaposed can amount to more than the logical sum of the words. I think the same is true of sculpture. Some of my sculptures look a bit like a fruit, a bit like intestines, a bit like a snake, like all sorts of different things and I'd like to think that this could work in the same way as I described with poetry.

You have to work at the gaps between different images; it s not quite this and it s not quite that and hopefully it can evoke a feeling rather than stopping at the identification and naming of the object itself.

Paul Nesbitt: Your previous answer also reminded me very strongly of the axiom: ‘Form is the envelope of pulsation.’ Those seeds, for example, have their own lives and you have described them as ‘little bombs’; they have such energy and capacity for growth inside them. An acorn will grow into a tree if it s given the right conditions and space of time. One element of your work is the translation of that sense of the unexpected - from the original source through to the sculpture itself. I remember walking through the Botanic Gardens the very first time you came here, when we were working on your exhibition in 1992, and we walked past a Cypress tree. It was festooned with little green fruits which I didn t pay particular attention to, but you immediately noticed them and, ever so gently, pulled one off and carried it with you throughout our walk across the garden. Their form must have attracted you, because it was unexpectedly geometric. That sense of finding something unexpected is presumably one of the driving forces behind your work.

Secret Life III, 1994, granite, left: 114 x 113 x 65.5 cm, right: 114 x 113 x 76.5 cm, carved for an exhibition in 1994 in the ruin of Wenlock Priory.

Secret Life IV, 1994, granite, left: 126 x 129 x 67.5 cm, right: 126 x 129 x 67.5 cm, carved for the same exhibition in 1994 in the ruin of Wenlock Priory. These images come from the catalogue entitled: Boulders and Banners.

Secret Life II, 1994, one set of a number granite boulder sculptures in the setting of Cathedral ruins with the Wenlock triptych paintings, also by Peter Randall-Page.

Fruits of Mythological Trees, 1992
Kilkenny limestone, water and gilded pebble,
tallest element 117 cm
Photographed at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, U.K.

One could speak of different species as each having its own song, tone or note. There s a sense in which they are all akin, each playing its own particular tune. I would like my work to have something of this same quality. For me, when a sculpture is ‘right’, when the form has coherence and the object seems at one with itself, it has an almost audible hum, each part having a harmonious relationship with the whole.

Paul Nesbitt: Making sculpture is obviously a very physical process, but could you say something about the physical process of drawing?

My drawing has always run parallel to making sculpture. Sometimes the drawings are preparatory to sculpture, sometimes they stand on their own. I did a set of drawings a few years ago called ‘Fruiting Bodies’ which were of an architectural scale. I drew them with charcoal attached to a long pole, and they were very physical to make. I like drawing from the shoulder rather than wrist. For me the problem with working from the wrist is that the brain locks into the mode of writing, of putting down information in a coded form; that's why I use charcoal such a lot; you tend not to hold it in the same way as a pencil.

There are also linocuts in the exhibition and they work in a slightly different way. It's more of a sculptural process. The resistance of the material is critical to me; the friction of the tool on the mo, or the charcoal on paper, determines the feel of the drawing. Many of the drawings have a lot of black in them; it's a bit like carving, starting with a block and chipping away the bits you don’t want. I approach drawing in a similar way, starting with a white piece of paper and blacking in all that I don’t want to remain. Particularly on big drawings, it's a process of whittling away at the white.

Paul Nesbitt: Your drawings and sculpture look as if they re all very carefully planned out, but I'd like to know how they evolve, and especially the role symmetry plays in this.

Symmetry is important. Almost all the sculpture I make is, broadly speaking, symmetrical but not absolutely so. The lack of mechanical symmetry is important because absolute symmetry has a coldness about it and the same applies with the drawings. They tend to have symmetry but it isn't a measured symmetry - it's determined by the eye...


Paul Nesbitt: What attracts you to plant rather than animal forms in your work?

I’ve never been interested in making sculpture which implies frozen movement or ‘a moment in time’. I’d like to make things which are at rest, where the energy is internalised. Perhaps plant forms, particularly fruit and seeds, lend themselves to this sense of implicit life. They may have the feeling that they could burst into life but from the inside rather than in an obviously animated way.

Paul Nesbitt: There is also the treatment of botany and zoology as separate subjects. We’ve always had the difference between the animal and plant kingdoms emphasised, whereas in actual fact they both evolved together. All higher life forms begin as a cell which divides and multiplies and yet there's this very deep-rooted division which exists in society between the perception of animals and plants. But what you re actually doing is going to the core of things; in fact, some of your work is quite disconcerting because of this ambiguity

I think we have a much closer connection with other living things, both flora and fauna, than we realise. We are all part of the same biological system and my desire is not only to know this intellectually but to feel it in my bones. The blurring of boundaries between zoology and botany in my work is, in some ways, an expression of this desire to lose a sense of alienation from the rest of the natural world and to experience the reality of its intimacy...

Excerpts from Arts Dialogue, February 2000, pages 16 - 18
Excerpts from the catalogue, In mind of Botany, produced for his exhibition in the Kew Gardens Gallery, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, U.K. in 1996.

The catalogue illustrates 50-60 drawings and is for sale for £5 plus £2 p&p from Peter Randall-Page, P.O. Box 5, Drewsteignton, Exeter, Devon, EX6 6YG, U.K.

Font, 1991
Kilkenny limestone, water and gilded pebble, 94.7 x 82.4 x 73.4 cm

Zai-Fuzai (Presence - Absence) 1992, Granite, located in a wooded headland near the village of Aio-cho, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan. by Peter Randall-Page, U.K.

She-Bull, 1995, Kilkenny limestone,
by Peter Randall-Page, U.K.

See Peter's site for more about his work at:

  • Sculpture: Secret Life II, 1994, Arts Dialogue, June 2001
  • Sculpture: Zai-Fuzai (Presence - Absence), 1992, and She-Bull, 1995, Arts Dialogue, February 2001
  • Sculpture: Still Life, 1988, Arts Dialogue, June 2000
  • Article, sculpture and drawings: In mind of Botany, Arts Dialogue, February 2000
  • Sculpture: Beneath the skin, Arts Dialogue, December 1999
  • Sculpture: Fruit of Mythological Trees, in Arts Dialogue, September 1999

Arts Dialogue, Dintel 20, NL 7333 MC, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands