Turning Archive 2008

Subject:
Two Evenings With Graeme Priddle

charlie belden
>Context and Understanding - Two Evenings With Graeme Priddle

I’d always thought of pyrography as the refined, genteel, branch of what I’d previously known as “wood burning”. Basically, you start with a soldering iron, maybe with a “temperature control” and even changeable soldering tips, and burn, or more accurately - scorch - lines into the smooth surface of a piece of wood. The difference between a “wood burner” and a “pyrographer” was not only a matter of skill, assuming some artistic ability, but also the refinement and the range of shapes and forms, of the “tips”, as well as the body of the soldering iron. The analogy of butcher's knives and surgeon’s scalpels comes to mind.

Finer, more delicate, line work combined with subtle shading could take “plane old” flat 2-D line drawing up a dimension, more accurately, up a HALF dimension - to 2 1/2 - D, providing the illusion of 3-D. In the right hands, a pyrographic pen could produce images rivaling fine black and white photographs of landscapes, portraits or even feathers, or leaves, with the nuances of any other art medium.

When I think of woodturning and pyrography I think of Andi Wolfe’s evocative pieces.

Then I spent two evenings watching Graeme Priddle do his magic - with a home made “soldering iron” and “some bend it to the shape you want” Nichrome wire AND - a disguised 10 AMP battery charger - with a ligth dimmer rheostat “temperature control”!

Let me put that in a more understandable way - that’s a One Thousand, One Hundred Watts (1,100 watts) of power. Think of the heat of a 100 watt light bulb, multiply it eleven times - then think of the light they produce being kept as heat, glowing red hot heat.

This was NOT pyrography. This was BRANDING. Not the Cowboy Round Up Branding either - no red hot branding iron and a puff of acrid smoke. This was Flash of Light Vaporization, leaving behind an embossed pattern in the wood, albeit a now blackened wood.

When Graeme burns his patterns into his pieces he reminds me of a kid playing - in a tree - no infinitely adjustable carver’s vise to hold the work, mounted on a dedicated carving bench, no special flex necked lamps, with special DayLite Bulbs, no OSHA approved Fumes Extractor, no special ergonomic, infinitely adjustable chair or carver's stool. It’s just him, the branding tool and the piece he’s working on - the piece resting/held on/by his knees and his free hand, his feet up on whatever will get his knees where they need to be to support the piece in a rock solid position so the next flash of light, small burst of flames and puff of smoke can be created to get the next element of a pattern onto and into the wood.

At home in New Zealand, he uses an old exercise machine to provide a host of feet positioning supports, and a window fan on a chair, blowing sligthly past him rather than AT him and the work. He’s worked out not only his tools, but everything else that enables him to do what he does - to a T. On The Road, he’s adaptable - a folding chair and a place or two or three or four to prop his feet- an electrical outlet and he’s set to BRAND.

For Graeme, turning merely provides the starting point for his pieces - the canvis on which to place magic. The magic comes from where he lives, on the northeast coast of the northern tip of New Zealand - close to a nice surfing beach - with a point break. The magic comes from the place - its terrain, its forests, its beaches - and its people - the Maori, their history, their approach to life and their symbols being significant elements of his works.

You see, he began his demonstration talking about and showing “slides” of where he lives, the history of New Zealand and how it broke off from what is now Australia eons ago and what makes the place so unique - and special.

And he talked about the people who found the islands and made it their own - or more accurately - adapted to it - very well. He told of The Seven Canoes in which the original people came to New Zealand and how, in so many ways, their descendents maintain a link to The Seven Canoes which brought them to where they are today. He noted that the Maori , unlike other cultures conquered by the British Empire, worked out a treaty with Britain - BEFORE they allowed them to “colonize” New Zealand. He went into a bit of detail about the Maori tattooing - noting that it wasn’t actually tatooing, but rather carving of the skin - the designs proclaiming, if one knew how to interpret the patterns and their placement, who the person’s ancestors are, what they’ve accomplished in their lives - so far - and their status.

Initially he seemed to be doing a New Zealand Tourist Bureau presentation, even handing out books with colorful photos from around New Zealand. Only later did I understand that he was providing the background on which the work he’d later show us was based - and an understanding, in a small way, of WHY he does what he does, and not just HOW he does what he does.

Knowing a bit about where he comes from, where he lives, a bit about his family and friends, the place, the people and the history of the place and people makes for a deeper, broader understanding and appreciation of his pieces.

So when he later passed around one of his “canoes” with their branded patterns - it wasn’t just a canoe shaped object with interesting patterns on its surfaces - it was a beautiful post card memory of a fantastic journey in open boats acrossed vast stretches of unknown ocean - to a very special place - many many generations ago.

And when he brought out the carved piece titled Point Break, his earlier discussion about surfing and the special qualities of a Point Break - to surfers - the audience had a better understanding and appreciation of a Point Break - and of the piece titled Point Break. (If you’ve seen pictures of a few of his pieces you’ve probably seen a piece with a flowing carved surface - reminiscient of waves)

I learned a few tips and tricks and about a few New To Me mediums and techniques from Graeme Priddle’s two evenings demonstration. I got to hold, VERY carefully, several of his pieces, examining them very closely, seeing and feeling details no photograph can convey. His pieces are, in addition to being visually interesting, with details that can’t be understood unless you can examine the piece - with your eyes AND finger tips - are only part of what I came away with. Understanding, just a bit, the man who created the piece and how much of where he’s been, what he’s done and WHY he does what he does - THAT is what he branded, just a little bit, into me. The HOW was icing on this cake.

If you get to spend some time with this man, don't be impatient to get on to Show Me How YOU - he'll get to that and answer your questions and show and tell you about HOW. Listen and watch carefully to his "introduction" so when you see the HOW you'll see and understand a lot more about the WHY.

charlie belden

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