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Simon Allen on Nature & the Influence of the Cornish Landscape

As international art consultants, Artelier specialises in curating art for luxury residential, hospitality, yacht and aviation projects. Artelier's feature wall collection – Artist Walls – presents a collection of artists whose originality of ideas and dedication to their materials makes them true contemporary masters. Through collaborating with Artelier, they have created large-scale custom art commissions that reinvent the concept of the mural for the modern age, pushing the possibilities for feature wall art.

In a two-part instalment of Artelier's In the Studio series, curator Alina Young talks with Simon Allen about the evolution of his sculptural practice and the influence that nature has on his work. Here, Allen shares how his studio's proximity to the Cornish coast inspires his practice, as well as the techniques he uses to evoke nature in sculptural forms.

In the context of your studio, how do you feel about being so close to the coastline, and what effect does it have on your work?

It's absolutely crucial, it's the source of all the inspiration. I regard myself as a landscape artist. Being here within the landscape is what feeds the work, feeds me. We live in a farmhouse with studio barns on the edge of the moorland, you go down onto the cliffs, and there's the sea. It's an elemental and raw environment to be in, which is vital. I've used Jackson Pollock's quote in artist's statements in the past, where he said, "I am nature." As an artist, you can assimilate your environment, you can assimilate all the forces the natural world has, without needing to depict them in a literal way. They can come through you, and manifest in the kind of marks and forms you make. I see myself as an assimilator.

Do you feel that the elemental comes through in the physicality of creating the artworks?

Definitely; a couple of years ago, I came up with a way of working where I carved the surface against the grain of the wood, and that brought up a random, genuinely chaotic, but very intricate and delicate surface. That was a key point; until then, I only had a flat or smooth surface. This new way was like a sculptural equivalent to what a painter has in a gestural sweep, where the paint brush would sweep across the canvas and it would get all that energy within the texture and detailing of the paint. Finding that unlocked a whole host of forms and imagery. It was Expressionistic; I'm a huge admirer of American Abstract Expressionism. I love the way they used their bodies' gestures to mirror what happens in nature, or to communicate a more spiritual or emotional way of working. It's all in the gesture.

What's strange as a sculptor working in a reductive way, carving, is that the ‘gesture’ is actually everything I don't do. What's left – it looks like a gestural sweep, but actually I've taken away everything that isn't that. So, over the years I’ve developed this strangely inverted way of thinking. I like the implied danger, in that once it's gone, it's gone. There is a kind of tension when you start working, which brings its own kind of focus.

But, you also have to let go. It's a strange balancing act because I work with power tools, which allow me to achieve the fluidity I'm after. I'm able to work into a resistant material like wood with tools that go into it like a hot knife through butter. Chipping away with a mallet and chisel just wouldn't get me where I want to be. There's an embrace of modern technology, modern ways of working.

Do you find you go to your natural surroundings when you need to be inspired visually?

Always. When I lived in London, I was fairly "in there" in the commercial gallery art world. But also, ever since I was a young boy I've gone around the museums and public art galleries in London and just absorbed all those amazing artworks. Yet, there did come a time when I was standing in the National Gallery in the Sainsbury Wing looking at these incredible Renaissance paintings, and I thought, "You know, I'd far rather just be walking on the cliffs towards Land's End." In a way, I've absorbed as much as I need of those artworks. I can close my eyes and conjure up in some detail most of them. It's more important to me to be in nature rather than in culture. For a lot of artists it's the other way around, and I respect that, just personally I feel I need to be stimulated by the natural world rather than art history.

Perhaps nature has more variations compared to culture, whereas

it can take a long time for culture to have the same effect?

Yes, and your stimulus can be based upon somebody else's stimulus, but unless you're very careful it's a closed circle.

You find you start where they ended, and then you end

where someone else started, and round it goes. Whereas

with nature, it's just so open-ended and enormous. There's no limit, it always has more to offer, and that's just wonderful.

Does taking inspiration directly from nature help your response to be authentically yours, rather than being through someone else's lens?

Absolutely. When I read art historians' books, they tend to want to contextualise everything, seeing how one artist is influenced by their predecessors or their peer group, and creating a nice, neat lineage. That's not always the case. Sometimes things just come randomly at an artist, and it's not through another artist's work, it can be the materials that inform that. Or it can be a walk along a cliff in a gale, and just seeing the power of the sea thundering against those rocks, which makes a certain sort of mark seem right when you do it.