AND REMAKING: THE ROCK WORKS OF STEVE THORPE
If travelling by car, train or plane shrinks the world, traversing
the landscape on foot re-expands it. Steve Thorpe walks –
and gathers rocks along the way. He records the landscape not with
sketches or photographs but by collecting pieces of it small enough
to fit in his pocket or rucksack.
Back in the studio he grinds them to a fine powder, just as artists
have done for centuries to make their paints. But instead of lapis
lazuli or cinnabar, he’s working with sandstone from Budleigh
Salterton or mudstone from the River Plym. The process reveals the
startlingly diverse and vibrant hues inside ordinary weathered rocks.
Having fast-forwarded the slow, natural process of erosion by wind
or water, he patiently coaxes the particles into grids on paper,
reasserting order through the application of geometry. But unlike
commercial pigments, rock dust is unruly. It absorbs the glue unpredictably;
it drifts, clots and smudges. This isn’t colour applied to
create an image, an illusion, but the real messy stuff of the world.
The rocks embody geological history, but Thorpe’s use of them
also evokes human history – ancient practices such as sand
painting or the use of tally sticks. A day’s walk might be
measured out in different pigments, a rectangle marking each stage
of the journey. The sequenced colours can also look like the legend
in an atlas – brown means mountain, yellow means higher mountain.
Except this isn’t an allusion to the land on paper; these
vivid, velvety squares are the land on paper.
They function both as a direct classification of the variety of
the world and as mementoes with personal narratives. Often places
with some resonant geographic connection will be sampled –
two river mouths or opposing coasts – but sometimes it is
simply a case of 'I was here and then I was here'. So for all the
paraphernalia of fieldwork – the maps, the texts, the timings,
the mileage – these are fundamentally personal journeys, more
akin to reflective pilgrimages than geological studies.
Through mere juxtapositions of dust, these works condense time and
space. Three days and many miles of walking might be summoned in
a few inches of pigment and text. Equally, they are a reminder that,
out in the landscape, millions of years of geological time can be
crossed with a single step. To look at these works is to zoom in
and out over time and space at dizzying speed.
As with walking itself, the process of grinding and gridding is
repetitive, meditative, sometimes laboured. It creates work which
invites contemplation, not just on the land as it is today but the
land as it was and as it will be in millions of years, when it has
eroded and reformed itself – with our bones ground up in all