8th July 2020
Hi Stephen, thanks so much for being our Highlighted Artist. Can you tell us about your practice as an artist?
As an artist I often infiltrate odd and abandoned places, noting changes in the complex relationship between manmade and natural environments.
My projects are rooted in research that explore related themes in a variety of media by merging historic, geographic and environmental content in a social and personal investigation of the meaning of place.
I’m interested in the idea of an urban acupuncture and the idea that a little pinprick of action can unblock tension and create a flow again.
What was your journey to becoming an artist?
Formative childhood experience in Dewsbury was important. The slum clearances of the Flatts in the 1960s created both a huge playground to adventure in as well as a longing to go beyond.
I went to study BA in Fine Art at Leeds University and then got a Commonwealth Scholarship to study for an MFA in Visual Art for two years in Canada and then a Fellowship in Painting at Exeter College of Art & Design.
Two Worlds (Apart), Crow Nest Park, Dewsbury, Digital Video 2020 – Stephen Turner
Whereabouts in North Kirklees are you based? Does it have an impact on your work?
I have recently moved back to Dewsbury where I now live and work close to Crow Nest Park. I walk there most days since COVID-19, and though I prefer wilder places it’s still good to compare and contrast the changes of a fleeting moment, day, season or year in a public park where nature is contained within tightly managed bounds.
What else inspires your work?
A reproduction of a painting by Paul Gauguin has been with me on my travels in the Exbury Egg since 2013. Its title and the narratives behind it are very important: “Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?” Gauguin made the painting in Tahiti in 1897 and these questions are even more relevant for our society (and individually) today.
The different places where I have worked have also been inspirational, such as the environmental conservation organisation Common Ground.
Also, two years running, North Kent’s adult education art and craft programme – for teaching me that we all have important stories to tell, and the ability to share them.
What would be your dream commission?
I don’t think I have ever thought in terms of dream commissions. Art is simply an obsession that I have to do all the time and then find headspace to justify making so many objects in a world already over full of things we all keep making.
Has COVID-19 and the lockdown restrictions affected the way you work?
COVID-19 has had a big impact on where I work. I am usually involved in projects in other parts of the country. With the restrictions on travel and social distancing, this has stalled an important element of my creative practice. I have been able to do more research and writing which is very important, as well as developing small sculptures and drawings in the studio. It’s a chance to re-evaluate where I am going too, and to reappraise the value of solitude (which over the years I have explored extensively in my work) versus being a part of a community.
What are you looking forward to and where might we next see your work?
I look forward to the sunrise every day. It keeps me in touch with nature and the natural timetables which often get overlooked in the imposed 9 – 5 structure of our working days.
I am writing a book called ‘Everything from the Egg’ about my experience living and working in the Exbury Egg over the past seven years. This will be published in the Autumn and I will put details on https://eggman.site.
An interview with Stephen Turner aboard the Exbury Egg.
And finally, if people want to follow your example and harness their creativity, what would be your top tips on how to get started?
I’m walking in the park a lot, so here are some suggestions:
- Repeat the same journey at different times and note down the changes.
- Start at the end and go backwards.
- Carry a small mirror to invert what you see.
- Look from a different eyeline.
- Take binoculars and a magnifying glass or use a phone camera to look closely.
- Clear up as you go – I wear gloves and pick up litter as well as natural things that I sometimes photograph or wash and keep.
- Start a collection (carry a gathering bag).
- Be a faux archaeologist/naturalist and categorise finds creatively.
- Be an alchemist, not a chemist.
- Focus on boundaries and what’s happening at the edges.
- Don’t create a mosaic – make a tessera (don’t build a wall make a brick).
- Walk in the rain and get wet.
- Synthesise things.
- Slow down – go deeper not further.
- Make your own materials and tools (gather plants for pens or inks).
- Invent your own words for things you see.
- Don’t keep to the trodden path.
- Look for the unexpected.
- Make a daisy chain.
- Press a leaf.
- Feed an obsession (this is what art is art is – not a vocation or a profession).
- Pause frequently.
- Lay down and watch the sky.
- Write down an important word or phrase.
- Make a sketch.
- Take a photograph of a favourite thing over time.
- Taste something (but don’t poison yourself).
- Record a scent.
- Listen and note down what you hear.
- Hug a tree.
- Start a conversation – people have all kinds of tales to tell.
- Make something and add it to the walk (a homage to the park).
- Reflect and summarise on the day.
- Spend a half-hour online or with any books you may have, researching the things you have found or been thinking about when you get home.
Seafort Wecam sequence, Shivering Sands, 6 miles off the Kent Coast 2007 – Stephen Turner