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Peter Randall-Page talk

PeterRandallPage_portraitPeter Randall-Page is next up. He very kindly allowed us to display some of his artwork on the stage this year.

He is speaking on theme and variation, commonly associated with music, but he is applying it to nature. It is ubiquitous but hardly noticed.

At 6, the Natural History Museum sent him a box of fossils. He was dyslexic, so learnt through means other than words. He found lots of patterns. Patterns in nature are generally created through opposing processes, and there is a limited book of patterns, which could be understood as driving the evolutionary process itself. Without an organising principle, what would randomness look like?

He is showing some wonderful images on screen. The latest are the Giant’s Causeway and a hornets nest. Both have hexagonal packing. Neither are perfect because geometry only exists in human imaginations. And yet we intuitively understand this. We enjoy the dangerous unpredictability of variation, and the common underlying theme.

Variation is not a singularity. In art it implies playfulness and expression. So Peter work often uses sequences in his work – e.g. images of walnut kernels – to build up expressions of qualities through comparison. As an aside, we seem to respond to bilateral symmetry, probably because our bodies are symmetrical.

The shape of pine cones and pineapples is to do with efficient packing, relating to the Fibonacci Sequence and the Golden Ratio, and is very pleasing to the eye. Peter used this principle in his work ‘Seed’ for the Eden Project.

The underlying principles of the microscopic pattern generated by two chemicals that don’t mix reminded Peter of playful improvisational music. The phenomenon produces the camouflage patterns on zebra and mackerel. The resulting artwork – a combination of painted canvas and boulders – Peter called Rocks in my Bed, after the song by Duke Ellington.

Variation also implies an element of chance. So Peter often uses the random, e.g. a weathered boulder, and a structuring principle, e.g. an overlaid geometric net. Compare with fish-net tights, which help us to see and appreciate the form of the leg more clearly!

Fundamentally, Peter is interested in what makes us tick, and subconsciously tries to bring it out. He shows a piece using a random boulder and a continuous line – ref Paul Klee ‘taking a line for a walk’. Another is based on the Platonic solids, sculptured from a chaotic material.

Back to spirals, and an image of a galaxy, illustrating the different scales of theme and variation. We need both: theme without variation is monotonous; variation without theme is chaotic. Together they can create beauty in nature, music and art.

Peter Randall-Page biography

Peter Randall-Page BWPeter Randall-Page (born UK, 1954) studied sculpture at Bath Academy of Art (1973-77). He has gained an international reputation through his sculpture, drawings and prints; undertaken numerous large-scale commissions; and exhibited widely, including a solo show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2009-10. His work is held in public and private collections throughout the world, including Japan, South Korea, Australia, USA, Turkey and Germany. In the UK, his public sculptures can be found in many urban and rural locations, including London, Edinburgh, Manchester, Bristol, Oxford and Cambridge, and his work is in the permanent collections of the Tate Gallery and the British Museum amongst others.

News about Peter Randall-Page

The One and The Many

fitzroyplace-byThomasRandall-Page-croppedPeter Randall-Page has a new monumental public sculpture now on view in London.

Way back in August 2014, Claire and I visited Peter’s studio and were privileged to see the work in progress. I have no idea how the stone could ever have got there through the high-edged windy lanes of deepest darkest Devon, or how it got out again. What I do know is that it is a stunning complement to Peter’s talk at TEDxExeter 2015 on “Theme and variation in nature and culture”, truly taking the long view.

The website for The One and The Many is beautiful, and extremely informative. And yesterday, Peter was on Radio 4’s Start the Week talking about the sculpture and ideas behind the project. The program is now available as a podcast.

Here’s a snippet from the publicity around the unveiling:

Commissioned for the recently opened Fitzroy Place, The One and The Many is primarily a celebration of human ingenuity and imagination. Embracing many cultures, the sculpture is situated in the heart of Fitzrovia, an area with a rich and vibrant cultural history and thriving creative community.

Carved from a 25 tonne, 3.5 metre high naturally eroded granite boulder the sculpture is inscribed over its entire surface with marks carved in low relief representing writing systems from the earliest cuneiform script (active 5,000 years ago in ancient Mesopotamia) to those still in use today. The texts themselves are creation stories from various cultures, each conveyed in their own writing systems.

The One and The Many powerfully expresses Peter’s passion for the way in which we imbue the world with human meaning through our creativity and imagination and the mark making which has been fundamental to the way we communicate our thoughts and ideas from our ancestors to the present day.

A scholar from Exeter University checked the classical Arabic, lines from Ibn al-Nafis’ Theologus Autodidactus.
Carving of the Braille text in progress, lines from ‘The God’s Script’ by Jorge Luis Borges.

Theme and Variation

Peter Randall-Page spoke beautifully at TEDxExeter 2015 about “Theme and variation in nature and culture”. He has now created a new ceramic frieze, called “Theme and Variation” for the façade of the Bramall Music Building at the University of Birmingham.

The abstract design of the frieze is derived from the visual interpretation of improvisation in jazz music. It is constructed from over 900 unique hand made terracotta tiles using the ‘Sgraffito’ technique. There is an accompanying exhibition on the making from 8 October 2015 to 27 January 2016, which looks well worth a visit.