I have discovered so far that shapes from nature which hint at human form or gesture, together with a sense of mystery, can trigger  feelings of aliveness and joy.

About me and my sculpture practice

 

There has always been something magical for me about weathered wood – I’ve been collecting it for decades. When I discovered that the gnarlier it is the more beautiful can be the twists of its grain, I started using it in sculpture. I’ve been working wood for more than 50 years but it wasn’t until recent years that it has taken centre stage in my work.

An inner journey

Here is the context. From the mid-1990’s I started diving into books about the inner journey and I learned much. But learning was a roller-coaster of relief, deeper questions and confusion … and the building of tension for real change. I realize now that “knowing the path is not … walking the path” (Morpheus in The Matrix).

There was a turning point seven years ago; no more avoidance. That simple commitment unleashed a mystical journey of discovery into the core of me. And the realization that walking the path is not-knowing the path. It defines who I am and how I am, yet is completely mysterious. I feel it as an inner necessity; noticing what’s arising, simply being with whatever that is without judgment and following its lead from a place of not-knowing. Only then can I feel more deeply, and show up in my life as fully as I’m able to.

For a long time in my work, I felt something illusive driving me forward. I felt I was on the trail of something, in various jobs, however, I always eventually felt a deep restlessness. But now, with a focus on my inner journey and making sculpture full time that restlessness is gone and I feel more and more alive.

Sculpture

I make sculpture as an expression of the bubbling up inside. It comes out of me somewhere down deep and it’s always about making something very specific out of the wood in front of me. Being mindful is the process, i.e. being present to me and what is arising so that I can express what I need to express as cleanly as I can.

My sculpture practice is to do with aliveness. I have discovered so far that shapes from nature which hint at human form or gesture, together with a sense of mystery, can trigger feelings of aliveness and joy. My hypothesis is that these factors resonate with us as self-recognition of the deep being, the wholeness already existing within us all … wholeness despite and as a result of our experience of brokenness.

 

I mainly now use the roots of fallen coastal New Zealand native pohutukawa trees for my raw materials and inspiration. There is powerful symbolism in the way these roots are being exposed in increasing numbers, for our human condition and situation on Earth, and in the convoluted roots themselves, for our stories of life’s twists and turns.

 

Influences

I am inspired by American architect Christopher Alexander’s approach to creating wholeness and life in art and architecture. He proposes the use of fifteen properties as lenses through which to view one’s artwork, to help focus on the creation of the feelings of wholeness and life. They work for me!

 

A construction method I use has been inspired by Alexander too. I call it “uniting individuality” which is a purposeful not-sameness where each part is imperfect yet perfectly suited to its place.

Japanese design aesthetics really appeal to me, wabi-sabi in particular: perfect imperfection for me gives meaning to suffering and transience in the context of greater purpose. Shibui (subtle elegance), ma (empty space), yugen (profound grace) and notan (dark and light contrast) also are meaningful for me in my practice.

Sculptors I admire and whose work and thoughts I use for inspiration include Constantin Brancusi, Isamu Noguchi, Sir Antony Gormley, Barbara Hepworth and Emily Young.

Other things

I enjoy reading Joseph Campbell and integral philosophy. I have studied woodworking, art history, business and psychology. And I'm an identical twin and New Zealander with British and Samoan ancestry. I love yoga and try to surf as much as I can.

I  am a keen surfer - here's me surfing in the beautiful Maldives in July 2017, on a finless board.

© 2020 by John Allen