To sound quintessentially English – Summer is a delight at Hestercombe. The gardens are in full bloom and the landscape is bursting with vibrant foliage and healthy flora. My recent stay was different to my previous experiences merely because now the house is officially open to the public. This means that as I work in the studio, or the grounds, anyone can walk into the studio and, if I am there, talk to me. I find this quite an amazing experience because of the potential for discourse with an audience, and at the same time terrifying! I am always willing to talk to people about what I am doing but as I promised myself to play around with materials it sometimes can be difficult to engage in articulate conversation. A varied section of people popped their heads around the door – some curious to know what I was doing and others unsure if they were allowed to be in the room!
The start of my visit was punctuated by – a conference hosted by Hestercombe and Visual Arts South West (vasw.org.uk). A room of arts professionals from the region spoke about the difficulties of hosting contemporary art in rural settings. The conversation made me realise that aside from making interesting artwork I should also really be focusing on bringing as many artists and arts professionals to see Hestercombe. It is an intriguing space and the newly painted galleries have an air similar to that of the grand houses at the Venice biennale. With the recent opening of Hauser and Wirth’s new space in Bruton Somerset, the contemporary art scene in the South West seems to be vibrating. Hestercombe has huge potential and has an active arts audience nearby but navigating this new arts program into a success story is a giant task. I feel Hestercombe needs to not replicate other institutions but instead find its own unique outlook and then expand.
Aside from plotting on how to get fellow artists to visit, most of my time was spent playing around with casting wax. I learnt to bronze cast 3 years ago and it has had a big impact on my practice to the point that I am the co-director of an artist-led foundry called Ore + Ingot (www.oreandingot.com). The alchemy of melting metal is fascinating and, since my first introduction to Hestercombe house was adorned with wiring, I inadvertently decided to use the copper to make some work. The details of this sculpture are still being tossed around inside my mind but first I must endeavour to strip as much cabling as I can! In the warm summer heat playing with wax forms was ideal and even though my initial plan of making horns has now been slightly altered, it was great to just think about the material and its possibilities.
On the last day of this last brief stay I had a tour of the garden with the head gardener Claire Reid. It was great to get another layer of understanding to the landscape. I was particularly interested to learn that the gardeners have old maps of the gardens that plot the different viewpoints across the valley. It will be good to reflect on this history as I think further about my first sculpture here.