Twisted Monkey

Morpeni roots, Spalted Dartmoor Birch, velvet.

110cm x 110cm x 25cm (max depth).

For sale at £3,800.

An encounter with a Dartmoor farmer who had planked up some of his fallen spalted Beech trees, and a telephone call with an old mate, who wanted to know if I was interested in creating a cover for his band’s new single… et voila! A somewhat twisted, cheeky, and quite powerful monkey peaked through from the pile of wood in my workshop.

When I initially spoke with Damien Mahoney, from the band Caulbearers, he invited me to create a cover artwork for their forthcoming single Twisted Cord. Being old mates, the conversation warped and weft, and by the end, I had managed to talk myself into not only creating the cover artwork, but also into filming and directing the video to accompany the release. I did explain that my filming experience, beyond stills photography, was zilch, but Damien is a gem, who has the ability to coax and collaborate in a way that allows people to accomplish more than they might think is possible. How hard could it be, I thought. Thats another story, but really really hard as it goes – big up the cameramen and women of the world!

When i first heard the song ‘Twisted Cord’, I felt like I was listening to a dark fairy tale being sung (think Brother’s Grimm). It felt like a good match for my work! I initially suggested we use an existing piece as the single’s cover, but it didn’t have the visual punch we wanted. So over the course of several evenings, I rounded up all my favourite bits of driftwood and forest finds, and wooden madness ensued. It became like a demented game of Twister, climbing over and under various branches, planks, seed pods and roots, shuffling pieces around and around, pausing when some potent combination of bits came together, putting them to one side, and continuing on.

Sometimes something would begin to emerge, only to become lost again as other combinations flitted through my imagination. The beginnings of two other sculptural pieces came out of this process, their spirits also manifesting through the mayhem. And then, a week or so later, and feeling exhausted by all the time spent crawling around on the workshop floor, this Monkey spirit cheekily puts in an appearance. Who am I to decline, despite how many pieces of heavy wood he demands be assembled to show his form. I capitulate and build a sculpture that takes two people to lift and has protrusions in all directions making it hard to transport. Its twisted, off-square form, gives a deliciously odd and off-kilter feeling when placed in a house full of square edges. Brilliant. Nice work Monkey!

Want to see the video that came off the back of this commission? Starring Damien Mahoney, Ruth Blake, and a Twisted Monkey…. Co-directed between Damien, myself, and James who edited it, filmed by me, in beautiful Dartmoor. I really like this song, which, after listening to hundreds and hundreds of times whilst making this, is no small compliment! Ladies, gentlemen, and theys… i give you… Caulbearers, and their single, Twisted Cord…

When testing out ideas, prior to deciding what and how to film, I spent a couple of nights having my first go at stop-frame animation, playing with a camera, a Monkey and a lot of string, yarn and other cordage. An enjoyable process, but, as we all agreed, stop-frame has an inherent ‘Take Heart’ look (it’s a reference to a kids TV programme in the 80’s. It’s where Morph first carved out his TV career, if that helps instead…) so we moved on. Another bright idea was to film in my studio by firelight. After setting off fire alarms at two in the morning, and skirting the limits of my own brand of Health & Safety procedures, and most importantly not obtaining any good footage, we moved on again. But I do like a spot of recycling…. so, stitching some leftover bits, with some stop-frame, and searching high and low for a royalty free bit of music to accompany… Gentleladies, Aggressive Men and Everyone in between, I give you…

Stop-frame Monkey Madness!

So… what is ‘spalting’ or ‘spalted Beech’ I hear you ask.

It’s the word used to describe the process of fungal spread through a tree’s sap and heartwood. Spalting occurs when fungal spores meet the conditions necessary for colonating a piece of wood – an opening past the shield of a tree’s bark, moisture above 25%, and oxygen. The fungus will then send strands out into the wood, beginning the process of rot and recycle. If moisture is removed, and the wood is dried out completely, the process becomes suspended, and the wood will not decay. I have been drawn to the patterns caused by these fungi for a long time, and will continually scour the riverbank when I’m walking, looking for the distinctive black and white patterns that form on the outside of a branch.

In previous works, I’ve used spalted branches as picture frames, or as integral parts of sculptures.

Spalting looks cool from the outside, but when the internal wood is cut open, it reveals different patterns, as the grain and colour of the wood contrast with the blacks, whites and greys that the fungi leave behind.