DAVID England’s stunning installation at Hereford Museum and Art Gallery, An Alchemy of Stone, explores and celebrates the idea of memories held within the stones below us and around us.
Inspired by the fact that 25 per cent of the planet is made of silicon, the whole exhibition is, he says, “a story, based on the fact that the land has a memory of everything that has ever lived.
“So every time you take a surface off a piece of stone you are revealing something that’s hundreds of millions of years old.”
It’s an exhibition he has wanted to put on for at least 10 years.
Entering the gallery, a corridor of muslin hangings leads to a willow cage containing a collection of stone sculptures, while sepia drawings on the walls are accompanied by text that expands on the idea of memories locked into stone for millennia.
Three dimensional ‘drawings’ are suspended from the ceiling.
“They’re ancient gods, gods that might have existed before man invented gods,” says David.
Sewn to the muslin hangings are illustrated stories, written by David, telling imagined tales remembered by the stones, then released and re-experienced.
Intriguingly, the wall paintings will be rubbed down and painted over when the exhibition ends, lending them an ephemeral existence.
And the stories have an equally fleeting existence.
“I could have framed them and hung them on walls, but decided not to. They were actually an afterthought but they’ve worked really well. Everyone at the preview evening thought they were great and said they’d prompted all sorts of memories.”
The exhibition is complemented by a soundtrack, composed by David, that adds another element, creating an atmosphere in which to take the time to read, enjoy and consider the text, written in a Bayeux Tapestry-style font.
“It’s a style that I use often as it can’t be skimmed over, it invites you to take the time to read it,” he explains.
Apart from a couple of diversions, one into window dressing in Liverpool and another working in a bakery, David’s life has been all about art.
“I’ve always painted and drawn, since I was about six. If you’re good at something and relatives are telling you you’re good at it, you don’t give it up. He is entirely self-taught. “As Frank Zappa, a hero of mine, said, ‘You know all the books in the library are free?’”
For about 20 years, he also made greetings cards. “I made the cards I would have wanted to buy,” he says. Although drawing remains a great love, a series of twodimensional box collages prompted a friend to suggest he explore sculpture. “So I went to Ross quarry and got a bit of Bath stone and started working on it with a chisel, as I didn’t have any stonecarving tools. I was hooked.”
The idea of stored memories is one that David plans to expand on in a graphic novel he is working on. “Glass and ceramics are made of silicon, too, so what happens if you can re-experience the memories of someone who drank from a glass before you? It’s an openended resource for stories.”
An Alchemy of Stone runs until June 19, open Tuesdays to Sundays and bank holiday Monday. Admission is free.