Nic Webb cre­ates stun­ning con­tem­po­rary sculp­tures out of sal­vaged wood.

In a ru­ral East Sus­sex barn, Nic Webb uses sal­vaged wood, tra­di­tional tools and el­e­men­tal forces to cre­ate strik­ing, con­tem­po­rary sculp­tures

Homes & Gardens - - CONTENTS - WORDS ALI HEATH PHO­TO­GRAPHS ALUN CAL­LEN­DER

Highly re­garded for his brave, un­con­ven­tional and vis­ually ar­rest­ing in­ter­ac­tions with wood, Nic Webb is cross­ing the bound­aries of craft and fine art. With roots bound to her­itage and tra­di­tion, his use of air, wa­ter and fire-fin­ish­ing tech­niques are at­tract­ing a dy­namic fol­low­ing of buy­ers and col­lec­tors. I grad­u­ated with a de­gree in paint­ing from Brighton Uni­ver­sity in 1994, and have since fo­cused on wood and el­e­men­tal mak­ing. I started with a Princes Trust Youth Loan and have had var­i­ous stu­dio spa­ces. As a fam­ily we moved to East­bourne four years ago, and the ru­ral stu­dio lo­ca­tion gives me the creative free­dom I had craved.

Work­ing with lo­cal or­ganic wood, ev­ery piece has its own lin­eage, char­ac­ter, flaws and fea­tures, like a liv­ing fos­sil. I look at the raw lum­ber and ques­tion what is in­side: what shapes, form and ori­en­ta­tion.

Each de­sign be­gins with a chain­saw, then var­i­ous high-oc­tane, elec­tric an­gle grinders. I work on the re­moval of par­tic­u­lar ar­eas of wood with ex­tremely con­trol­lable fine tools – like chis­els and cab­i­net scrap­ers. Un­til you take out the lay­ers, you can­not fore­see the nu­ances and land­scape.

The ini­tial rough shape is my can­vas, ready for a more el­e­men­tal,

po­ten­tially chaotic treat­ment – sand­blast­ing, burn­ing, sub­mers­ing un­der­wa­ter, freez­ing or ex­posed out­door hang­ing. Ev­ery fin­ished piece is then ei­ther oiled or highly pol­ished.

The process of mak­ing is very per­sonal. It’s just you, the ma­te­rial, your en­vi­ron­ment, back­ground thoughts and tech­niques, all in the mo­ment. It

be­comes your life. With the man­i­fes­ta­tion of a phys­i­cal ob­ject I want to evoke a vis­ceral, phys­i­cal con­nec­tion. The marks I make in the wood are so sub­tle, they look as if they could have oc­curred nat­u­rally: this sense of hu­man­ity within the nat­u­ral world is the nar­ra­tive I am look­ing for. Only a few pieces get close to that for me.

Work­ing in un­char­tered creative wa­ters, with air, fire and wa­ter, you have to be pre­pared to lose a piece. In the ad­ven­ture of mak­ing, you don’t know where you are head­ing. You can read the signs, imag­ine and chal­lenge your­self, but when you dis­cover some­thing new, that is amaz­ing.

The buyer land­scape is chang­ing and there is a huge growth in the so­phis­ti­ca­tion of peo­ple’s un­der­stand­ing and ap­pre­ci­a­tion of made ob­jects. Peo­ple talk about the demise of craft and the loss of her­itage prac­tices. I am of the opin­ion that you can­not kill what is hu­man. As long as there is hu­man in­ge­nu­ity, hands and minds will al­ways pick up a tool and con­tinue to cre­ate.

I have spent time this year work­ing with a new young ta­lent, Luke Fuller, who has just won the Busi­ness De­sign Cen­tre, New De­signer of the Year Award. Help­ing to in­spire and ed­u­cate oth­ers is im­por­tant to me.

My head is full of new creative projects. Al­ways big­ger and bet­ter, never a pas­tiche of last year. I have just ex­hib­ited at Mas­ter­piece, and am cur­rently work­ing to­wards shows in the UK and Amer­ica.

Nic Webb, nicwebb.com. In­sta­gram: @nicwebb1. To dis­cuss com­mis­sions or projects, email [email protected] Nic’s work is avail­able through Sarah My­er­scough Gallery, sarah­my­er­scough.com.

Nic at work in his stu­dio, hand-build­ing and sculpt­ing a clay ves­sel, sur­rounded by his much-loved tools.

CLOCK­WISE FROM LEFT Nic chooses a piece of wood in East Sus­sex for his new work; a pit-fired ce­ramic bowl; wood-carv­ing chis­els that once be­longed to Nic’s great-great grand­fa­ther.

CLOCK­WISE FROM BE­LOW Oak Ves­sel is re­flec­tive of Nic’s pared-back style; an an­gle grinder adapted for pro­duc­ing his unique sculp­tures; built in the 1900s, this for­mer sheep barn has be­come Nic’s peace­ful stu­dio and the ideal creative en­vi­ron­ment.

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