Steve Thorpe: Rock Works
Steve Thorpe: 'Works Of Fiction'
Works of Friction
Art Terracina Gallery, Exeter Quay, Devon UK • 1st - 16th September 2007
Home Steve ThorpePaul Ramsay
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Latest news:
Steve Thorpe's next show is: 'Gathering Silence' at The Green Hill Arts gallery, Moretonhampstead, Devon UK
opening 8th November 6.30-8.00 pm and runs 9th November to December 18th 2013
Opening hours are 10.00 am - 4.00 pm, Tuesday to Saturday

Steve Thorpe image 1 Steve Thorpe image 2 Steve Thorpe image 3 Steve Thorpe image 4 Steve Thorpe image 5

ST: One of the rewards for us as we have worked on this collaboration, are the new conversations that have opened up as a result of working together. Each time Paul and I meet we find ourselves discovering new things in common, and a fresh sense of how we are thinking about our work. We felt it worthwhile to note down the results of some of these conversations.

Rock Works

Rock Works are produced from ground up stones that I have collected from the landscape (beaches, streams, cliffs, mountains etc.) Each stone provides a distinctive hue, but my main interest in this material lies in how each pigment belongs to a particular place; collecting each rock is part of a journey. There is a precedent in medieval and prehistoric artists who were involved in the alchemy of discovering and making their own pigments in order to create images. Some materials are local, but others come from distant locations - often highly prized for their beauty such as Cinnabar from Spain, and Lapis Lazuli (Ultramarine) from Persia*. My materials are not precious in the sense that these substances are, but take on significance because of the places they come from. Each piece is made in relation to geography as well as colour.

* I prefer to use the old term of Persia, which has different boundaries to the modern countries and is free of the usual connotations of media references to Iran etc.


Working with rock dust, one of my first concerns was how to fix the material to a surface in a permanent form. There was a tension between the quality of a very raw and volatile material and my desire to fix it into a stable order of simple geometry and straight lines. My attempts to do this were frustrated, as the dust generally resisted the techniques I developed to get it to settle into some permanent order. One colour would gently drift over another, new marks appeared, and edges would start to blur together. I started to think of these changes as 'migration' and instead of frustration, I began to view these natural changes as one of the most exciting aspects of the work. Once 'finished' a purple dust might fall across a green surface and lodge in tiny specs on protrusions, a yellow ochre and red sienna could merge along an edge producing a third colour sensation that wasn't there before, fine dust could adhere to white paper around the edge of a solid shape, like vapour rising off a rock in the heat of the sun, new marks appear from nowhere, like animal tracks.

All Rock Works contain areas of blank white space. This 'empty space' is an important part of each work, and has been manipulated in much the same manner as the physical materials. The white areas influence the dynamic of each work. They could be synonymous with silence or emptiness. They could be a spiritual or contemplative space that the 'material' floats in. They also provide space for text that is important to the reading of many of the works.

White borders on the square works are areas to place factual information such as the mileage between the places the rocks came from (another kind of space). The text and the whiteness have a relationship with the centre that allows an extended reading of the whole, in much the same way that the information around the edge of a map enables a clearer and wider interpretation of the ciphers on the map.

In the piece 'Three Days Walking' white space occupies a larger area than the coloured materials do. There are three dominant elements that make up the piece, which are, place names, a rock from each place, and a time, in the form of hourly intervals when the rocks were picked up on each day. The white segments on the sticks represent hourly intervals [a time space measure]. The white of the surround creates a 'spaciousness' that plays an important part in our sense of size and scale in a work. Space is as much a part our experience of the landscape as the ground we feel under our feet. I am trying to call up those two responses as starting points for developing work.

'Distance' is a theme that interests me in relation to all art dealing with landscape. Our sense of distance and time was once linked with the capability of our bodies, and in how far we could walk in a day. Beyond that the imagination had to take over.... the distance beyond a mountain range, over an ocean to another country, or to the moon and stars. With cars and aeroplanes, distance doesn't have the same implications for our bodies or for our imaginations. But there is still a deep sense of reality and satisfaction to be had in getting back to this earlier state, where we cover the ground more slowly, and our minds and bodies feel something deeply familiar. A few hours of walking gives a strong sense of how distance and time exists within ourselves. I have taken 3 days to walk a stretch of coastline that takes 2 hours to drive. At a slower pace the destination becomes much less the focus of attention and the experience of getting there assumes a larger place in our psyche.

Maps contain this mystery of how our minds can switch to different concepts of distance - a small piece of paper makes a clear correlation between inches on the map and miles on the ground. We can pour over a map and enjoy attempting the mental bridge to the real place. If I cut out a strip of map it is both 3 inches long and 3 miles long. A strip of map limits our vision in a particular way, But even 3 inches of map may allow us to view things over a greater distance than we might on the ground. All views are limited, by the size of our bodies and the limits of our perception. I enjoy the thought processes that arise when making work, but the physical experience has to be there too. Building time and distance into the work seems to be a way of doing that.

Steve Thorpe 2007