Not very long ago, I went with some friends to Peter Burke’s new exhibition of sculpture, Earthworks, at the Victoria Art Gallery, Bath. I didn't know much of Burke's work previously - though what I had seen I'd liked. Earthworks delves into the soil to bring the visitor closer to their own clay, confronting them with a range of unsettling forms and figures – heads, faces, hands, feet, backs, and torsos – hand crafted in bonded earths, all drawn from land within a twenty mile radius of the city of Bath. ‘Of Landscape’, a series of steel-framed faces that blurs the delicate boundary between the death and the life mask (see the example in the picture above), beautifully reveals the diversity of colour and texture under our feet – the smooth warmth of Sandridge soil vying with the fibrous matter of Wansdyke and the bone-white chill of Westbury chalk. In fact, the works in chalk, each with their unique filigree fault-lines, are among the most successful and suggestive of the exhibition. An untitled piece, comprising over a square metre of bonded chalk, with a displaced chalk face-mask boxed into its depth, put me in mind of brain matter – the figure of a thought waking in some earth-bound sleep. There are shades of Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ everywhere – but, as in the piece ‘Of the Hills’, consisting of a chalk head, cracked, split and incomplete over a steel frame, Burke’s sculptures imply a more disturbed state of mind, that often belies the look of calm on their many faces. If his materials imply the fragility of the human forms into which they are moulded, however, they also touch on their metaphysical resonance: one piece, called ‘Ritual’, is formed of two dozen feet, formed of bonded chalk, walking, as it were, in a circle that leads out from the gallery wall and back into it. That sense of the ritual significance of our relationship with the earth - something close to my own work in poetry - pervades the exhibition.
Although the exhibition has now finished, it's well worth having a look at Burke's webpages, via the link embedded in his name, above.