Swept Away

Dust and Shadows has arrived safely in New York and was installed this week.


“Dust and Shadows” was picked up today by the art shipping company Constantine, the first leg of its journey to New York. We are planning to go across to see the show in April.

“Swept Away – dust, ashes and dirt in contemporary art” opens at the Museum of Art and Design in New York on 7th February and runs until August.


We haven’t had much snow in the North East of England this winter, at least so far. This week there has been a deep frost with temperatures remaining well below zero even during the daytime. This has created a fantastic white hoar frost riming everything in the garden, even the “Garden Bird” and “Moondial” sculptures, in a fine layer of ghostly protoplasm.

Dirty snow

I have been reworking a number of winter paintings which I began two winters ago as a part of “The Moor” series. The paintings always seemed to naturally split into two groups, ‘stripes’ and ‘blocks’. I have extended and re-painted some of the stripe images – they are called “Dirty Snow” after a painting done in 2009 suggested by the heaps of mud-blackened snow piled up by snow ploughs on the road sides.

Dirty Snow  2009-12 ashes and smoke on burnt and rusted tin


We have had a cherry tree cut down. Up until two years ago it made pink blizzards of blossom in the Spring and cast a deep shade in Summer. Then it stopped flowering and the leaves disappeared, all it shed were broken branches and twigs during November gales. It was pronounced dead but it does live on in the form of a pile of logs which burn on the fire with a slow intensity, hissing and spitting at first but gradually settling to a steady glow. They burn down to fragments of crisp black charcoal coated in a thin layer of white powdery ash. I have been using this material in a new work provisionally titled “Fade to Grey”. The piece is about moth melanism, the tendency of certain moth species to develop a black form in response to polluted environments.

Fade to Grey – ashes and smoke on rusted steel

During the latter half of the 19th century it was noticed that a new blackened form of the predominantly white Peppered Moth had begun to appear with increasing frequency in and around the industrial towns of the North of England. It was argued that here was evidence supporting Darwin’s evolutionary theory of a species adapting to a new environment, developing a new dark camouflage to help it to hide on soot blackened trees and buildings and more successfully avoid bird predation. The story of the Peppered Moth and its role in the careers of prominent scientists is brilliantly told by Judith Hooper in her book “Of Moths and Men”.

Peppered Moth  Biston betularia (f. insularia)
(Photo © Paul Nicholas)
The reasons for moth melanism have still to be properly explained and the doubt and uncertainty has given ammunition to gleeful  creationists and intelligent designers. I have recently come across a collection of melanistic moths held at the Tolson House Museum in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. They were gathered together by George Porritt (1848-1927), son of a wealthy wool merchant who spent much of his time studying and collecting insects. He witnessed the rapid expansion of Huddersfield as a centre for textile manufacturing and recorded the accelerating effects of urban sprawl and attendant pollution upon the local insect population. His large collection of moths includes examples of 40 different melanistic species. “Fade to Grey” will consist of contrapuntal paintings of these species in ashes and smoke on the insides of the drawers of a rusted twenty-drawer cabinet.