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Looking through the magazines in the recently renamed Keats Library (now run by volunteers after Camden’s closure of the Hampstead Library) I happened upon the journal of the Anthroposophical Society which had an interview with the artist David Nash. I remembered I was meant to be doing a follow up post (my first post is here) on his year long exhibition at Kew Gardens (on until 14th April) and read on with interest. Apparently Nash had set up and help run a Steiner school in Wales and although not a follower as such he has been influenced by Rudolph Steiner‘s ideas and philosophy. I have for a long time been interested in Steiner myself without really following up on it, knowing merely (from my days as a teacher) that the schools run on his principles pursued an active interest in the creativity of the child. Now might be the time to have a look at his work….. Coming back to this I have been distracted by trying to sort out my ideas which is taking longer than I anticipated! I shall just put down a few of my thoughts so far relating to Nash particularly.

Anthroposophy, as established by Rudolph Steiner in the early 20th century, is seen as a path of knowledge and self development, bringing together the intellectual, emotional and spiritual; an awareness of one’s own humanity through a holistic attitude to human creativity and the environment, including the supersensible or spiritual world as well as the physical world. He said in 1924 “We have to grow together with the world.”

David Nash said in the interview above “Meeting Steiner’s work gave me the confidence in my own original thoughts. It affirmed things for me; where I thought I was on my own I found I wasn’t, it was part of a proper evolution of consciousness.” He sees his work as an evolving process and each exhibition or project is a new stage to be considered anew. As he says “I am a responding artist. This idea from Lao Tzu ‘Wait until you’re asked’ is similar to Steiner asking ‘What’s being called for?’ When I get an invitation for a show I go and feel for what’s being called for.” This depends on the location or site, particularly true in the case of the Kew exhibition.

By working with the material of the place itself Nash is drawn into the subliminal feel of the place. The memory living in the material comes out through the narrative of the events of the project. His earlier Ash Dome and Wooden Boulder projects also exemplify this idea of narrative, ongoing and although conceptual in origin taking on a life of their own, over time. The idea takes on its own life or moral authority. This does seem to tie in with Steiner’s emphasis on nature spirits, to be responded to in the natural world. Nash also responds to Steiner’s emphasis on the elemental nature of the world, earth, air, fire, water. His use of charring of wood, fire, as a natural process, reflects that of forests burning as part of the life cycle of the ecosystem.

Steiner placed great emphasis on teaching, giving over 2000 public lectures in the last 5 years of his life and used coloured chalk on black paper to visualise his ideas. Nash has used this visualisation method in his work. Several examples of drawing sequences can be seen above. Interestingly this pedagogical approach, was an aspect of Steiner also picked up by Joseph Beuys, another artist heavily influenced by Steiner’s ideas. Beuys often used chalk on blackboards and talks to put forward his ideas. Ideas on the forces of creative thinking and education as a part of development and indeed of social renewal are important to all of them.

Goethe‘s work was an influence on Steiner and his famous colour theories, including ideas on the psychology of colour, were one aspect taken up by Steiner who wrote “Natural science sees darkness as a complete nothingness. According to this view, the light which streams into a dark space has no resistance from the darkness to overcome. Goethe pictures to himself that light and darkness relate to each other like the north and south pole of a magnet. The darkness can weaken the light in its working power. Conversely, the light can limit the energy of the darkness. In both cases color arises.”

Goethe writes “Yellow is a light which has been dampened by darkness; Blue is a darkness weakened by light.”

Nash’s work Blue Ring is one of his few works using colour as a central idea: “an observation of blueness” as he calls it.

I went to the Gotheanum in Dornach in Switzerland, the home of the Anthroposophical Movement, some years ago, fascinated by the Expressionist style architecture and remember also some rather strange artworks and colour schemes.

Steiner’s architectural ideas have since influenced the development of organic architecture including the work of Imre Makovecz in Hungary, with recent followers including Eric Asmussen in Sweden, Christopher Day, author and architect for many Steiner schools but no longer working, and also Camphill Architects.

Many of his other ideas continue to be influential and some are still controversial. Biodynamic agriculture, a concept developed by Steiner has many followers.

The Vitra Design Institute recently held the first exhibition on Steiner outside the anthroposophical community.

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