The kind of botanical knowledge I wanted these works to celebrate naturally extends beyond the orchard and into the wider garden. I began casting pressed plants quite early on in my experiments with bronze, but it took some time to get the results I wanted.
My initial casts didn’t always ‘flow’ correctly, or some accident in the casting process obscured a delicate yet crucial form of the plant. Although practice makes perfect, this can still happen when I produce the Adpression pieces. It renders the entire work, and all the processes that have taken place up to that point, worthless if I can’t see the veins on a sea-pea leaf or the form of the tiny petals on a cowparsley. This is also one of the reasons I occasionally choose to keep quirks or unexpected outcomes of casting in these works; for me, the reliefs have to be immediate and honest. Putting the detail back in by hand can destroy the ‘print’. If the metal hasn’t run correctly in that instant of casting, I feel there are some details that can’t be chased back in the finishing. Keeping ‘feathers’ of bronze on the surface if they sit right visually, I hope, makes clear the immediacy and spontaneity of these pieces.
Spontaneity is at odds with casting on the whole! I realise it is also an odd choice for a series of works I’ve named after a type of fossil formation; petrified rock does not spring to mind as a spontaneous process. But I hope that the pressed plants do retain their energy in these works.
The Adpression pieces include an extra process — the plants are picked and pressed. A clay tablet is prepared for the plant to lay into and a mould made of this. It allows me to produce a wax that I can then check before casting. It’s more of a traditional approach to Italian or Renaissance Lost Wax Casting. I’ve enjoyed working within these additional stages again given so much of my work with Pomarius and beyond involved direct casting.
These pieces also allow for the combination of high and low relief effects in a single work. In the giant sea pea casts I created, the roots stood proud of the rest of the pressed plant. This felt particularly appropriate given the folklore surrounding these coastal plants — they were supposedly eaten by fishermen and their families in times of famine on the Suffolk Coast. They would pick the plant, discard the top, and boil the root.
These larger works were presented alongside paintings by Tessa Newcomb and Perienne Christian, and other sculptures by me. All works and approaches combined, the exhibition was curated to provide an array of perspectives and responses to the Suffolk Coastline. I realised, by collecting and pressing sea peas, marsh samphire, sea lavender and wild yarrow for the exhibition, how integral these wild and rocky coastal plants were to my vision of the north sea. That I’d not realised before the importance of their scruffy but year-long border surprised me. I’ve always preferred Suffolk coastlines when they’re part in decay.
The response to these works has been really interesting to see too. For some, they’ve been interpreted as a plant-based currency; others as following the natural preservation of plants falling into clay, preserved by time; and for others, they are another element in the garden or enable a particular time of year to be enjoyed outside of the normal perennial calendar.