Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Stone Art - Wallin' and Waffen." By Sean Adcock

The Creation of Thea Alvin

"I thought of Thea's work when I added the Jackson Pollock comment. (see previous post)  And just to be clear I quite like abstract art !  Yes, AL does indeed really dislike Thea's work. We have 'agreed' to differ. 

The problem with such criticisms is that they are trying to make out it's something it's not. Thea's work is not pretending to be anything other than it is. Those that criticise it see it from a very, very, blinkered perspective. They attribute more to it than there is and then criticise/knock it down on these (their) terms. You might as well complain that the works of Shakespeare are a terrible abuse when it comes to assessing the beauty of a tree. After all a book (at some point) came from wood pulp which comes from a tree. Just because its stone does not mean it is a wall, and arguably not at all if it's actually trying to be art. It's a bit like Pat McAfee's dislike of Oatmeal Stout because it's not Guinness. Neither is it Guinness or pretending to be so, neither is it red wine, both are what they are and ought to be enjoyable in their own right. 

 If you cannot appreciate this diversity your life is probably the less for it. You might as well criticise an elephant for being grey but not being a dry stone wall. Thea's work is technically flawed, but it is artistic and I'd defy any of the naysayers to produce anything nearly as good at the rates she does and so there is I think more to her work than meets the eye of these naysayers. If Goldsworthy did it and photographed it as art it would be lauded.

It is easy to be negative about things, far more difficult to stand back and work out why something might be good and work out why others might appreciate it even if you don't. The British art galleries have contained Gainsborough, Turner and piles of bricks at the same time. It is unlikely that everyone likes them all, but even if you dislike one aspect, if you cannot realise why others might appreciate it, it is probably you that is at fault or at least missing out on something. 

Those that criticise everything that is not 'pure' or 'correct', walling are the equivalent of the Nazis when it comes to stonework.  If you want to defend Thea within your art theme blog (and I would suggest you ought to) please feel free to quote any of this... 'proper walling' according to whom - the wallin' (Waffen) SS?, pah !!!!  Rant is concluded. " Sean Adcock


  1. Good words Sean.
    About ten years ago, I remember being kind of lost somewhere in Vermont, looking for a place that sold Genee Cream Ale, well aware I was terribly late for a meeting, and suddenly passed a series of crazy dry stone loops on a property. I hit the brakes and turned around. What a treat to discover such a wonderful and playful folly, right here, in the middle of… wait..where the hell am I?! Now, at that time I was a religiously traditional stone guy and understood the rules of dry stone work to be the only appropriate behavior, but seeing Thea’s coils of Vermont schist sprawling amongst the “Fresh Eggs” signs was such a cool and crisp and refreshing glass of water, I will never forget it. They reminded me of those “Black Cobra” fireworks from my youth that, when lit, grow from a little pill into a random coils of black hissing carbon snarls (see . Calculated but organic. I’m pretty sure when a sculpture portals you back to your childhood then, not only has art happened, it was successful. I said “COOL.” paused, and sped away. Years later I would meet Thea at a Canadian event and watch in amazement at her excitement and seemingly limitless stamina as stones leapt from her mind into their new homes.. like the Energizer bunny with a sweatband and a hammer. Meeting Thea will change your life. And I mean that. Is her work as refined as the tidy, coursed, Victorian work that is praised as the pinnacle of rock-taming? Certainly not. Does it have to be? Maybe, but I see the same errors in stonework a thousand years old. I see running joints and all kinds of violations, but it’s like driving when a really good CCR tune comes on the radio and you crank it up… you know damn well it’s not good for the speakers or your ears, but fuck it, it’s good for the soul. Sure, you might miss your exit and stray completely off course, but it’s amazing what you discover on those side roads. Either way it doesn't affect my personal goal to improve my skills and spread the word. Personally, I like it when someone builds something that challenges the accepted policies and proportions of comfort. If it is successful then we can analyze why and use it for good. If it fails, we can take comfort in knowing our rules are worthy of re-election. Either way, we all win. What if someone gets hurt? Well I’ve seen people get hurt just walking down the sidewalk or skiing into a tree. Let’s leave that up to the engineers and the insurance people… life’s too short. Did this work loosen my take on stonework? No, I’m still a huge fan of politely coursed work (among a variety of bond choices of differing ancestory) but I have allowed room for “art” into the vocabulary of my concept of the world of dry stone. I wonder if carpenters have these discussions.

  2. Shame we didn't get to talk at JSRs last festival in Hudson. You're alright Mr Adcock. (I was the guy asking about dams and weirs, Brett McBirnie)

  3. It's not just walling. I've come across this in every profession I've been involved in. There are those who define their work, themselves even, by 'the rules' and judge everyone else on their ability to stick to the straight-and-narrow defined by the duly accredited 'masters' of the craft who've jumped through all the hoops, the examinations and competitions, and reached the pinnacle of that particular path. And there are those who like to skip through the fields oblivious to all of that and work it all out for themselves.

    I live half way up a terraced mountainside in southern Europe. Nobody knows how old these terraces are. Some say as much as 1,000 years. On an idle summer's day I look at the walls and try to work out just how many different people were involved in the building of them by the different walling styles evident. Some are much better than others, but none of them abide by today's 'rules' in the dry stone walling world. There's no batter for starters. Yet here they are still standing after all these hundreds of years, some 4m high, holding back tons and tons of wet soil after a long wet winter.

    I love Thea's work; its creativity, its exuberance, its fearlessness and its willingness to experiment. As Charles Rennie McIntosh once said "There is hope in honest error, none in the icy perfections of the mere stylist."

  4. Well said John. The only time I met Sean was in Gualala when you all were working on your friend's sculpture park. He really didn't have a word to say to me and i got the feeling he didn't approve of me or my style of stonework. So it's no surprise how he feels about Thea's work. At the time, I asked myself what the problem was with this uptight bloke.. and now I understand a little more. When you close yourself off to what's different and may not be your way, you miss out on some good parts of life. cheers to you, John...

  5. Nice thoughts from both the author and the commenters. I like that this blog often helps me "see" things from a different point-of-view. As a recovering Engineer-aholic it helps broaden my thought patterns and keeps things positive. Herman Melville's quote in Moby Dick comes to mind: "Heaven have mercy on us all, Presbyterians and Pagans alike, for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head and sadly need mending."

  6. If Sean didn't say much, it's because he doesn't speak English.

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. This comment was deleted by Rob himself , not me ! It was quite a funny and thoughtful comment and I would have liked him to have kept it here, but anyway thanks Rob for joining in, if only temporarily.

  8. Innovation and Tradition. They clash sometimes. Tradition tends to be the aggressor--as in this case. Anyway--well said, JSR

  9. Or rather, well said Sean--my mistake.

  10. I had a very wise professor once tell me after a gruelling cram session to earn a horticulture certification; he told me "plants can't read books". I'm sure this stands true for stone as well.
    There are basic fundamentals and then there is the hands that make the trade magical and awe inspiring. ... If we all work together we can screw up the system.

  11. Interesting subject(s):
    Creativity and structural integrity,
    Liberty and propriety.
    (Notice I used 'and' not 'versus')
    It's too easy to call critics nazi's and haters.
    Too easy to disparage the work of artists and amateurs.
    Too easy to claim artistic license as absolution for sub-standard work.
    Too easy to insist on conformity to formulaic standards
    This issue may be explored in Stonexus Magazine.
    Don't be surprised if you, yes you, are asked
    to answer a few questions.

  12. All good, sane, well thought out comments here. Thank you.

  13. dear Sean and JohnJohn
    whenever i try to build something light and natural it seems too loose. when i try to build something structural it seems too tight. what do i do. my rocks either seem uncared for or beaten up.
    Desperately Seeking Which Approach ...brings a smile

    unruly basalt has confounded me

    John, I erased because ot appeared all garbled when it showed up on my phone...anyway it was something to this effect

  14. Thanks Rob. Yes basalt is very challenging to work with, I know . It seems it doesn't want to be bashed around and shaped into squares and put into the kind of uniform walls you see all over Yorkshire. Nor does it look good (or seem structural enough) placed in randomly in a wall. There is an Art to using it, for sure. I suggest you look at the work of Alan Ash and see if there are some clues there. He does great work with it. Maybe try contacting him and asking what his thoughts are.

  15. @ rob Hoffman. Was good to see you're comment Rob, always a worry when you think you might have unwittingly upset someone, as this one seems to have done elsewhere. I've been keeping my head low. I had another potential blog to follow this one but have put it on the shelf, I might be able to resurrect it and address your query too when I pluck up the courage to stick by head above the parapet. Keep up the good work - and everyone else thanks for the comments and you might want to check out Rob's site

    1. one more frustration is when something is being advertised to be as good as a Guiness but the skill involved and the lasting valie of the product is nothing like a Guiness, yet it is being consumed by people who dont know they could have gotten a Guiness for virtually the same when i see someone building a "stone wall" that is more concrete and mud than stone that has ostensibly a nice face but of course no strong stony heart...a product of our culture of instant gratification i suppose..homogenization...etc.

  16. Sean,
    Your post helped to clarify things for me. it is very relevant. we need to let things and people be what thirstthey are. Let the Guinness be a Guiness and the something that wil quench your thirst. i still have a lot of trouble accepting veneers, and visible mortar, but hey somebody must like it out there