Crossover States: Material Memory - David Hastie & Angharad Jones, Two Artists for the Year of the Artist (excerpt): lwan Bala
Some time ago David Hastie found a trunk of old toys in the attic of his mother's house and revisited his childhood in that dark and sheltered place. Hastie is a necessary artist. If art is a means by which society can look at itself and communicate with itself, then Hastie's work is an essential ingredient of our current society's dialogue. He makes work that is like no-one else's, whether consciously or unconsciously done, his work touches on some truths about the general and universal human condition, whilst utilising a vocabulary drawn (literally) from his own backyard. After completing his BA course at Cardiff he returned to the family farm near Swansea. The farm provides space for making work bit this arrangement also means that he has been forced to face his background head on. Many artists can leave this behind, pick and choose their environment. David Hastie has to confront it, explore it and use it.
I first saw Hastie's work in a derelict redbrick industrial space in Canton, Cardiff that used to be Vaughan's Laundry many years ago. The Artists' Project, who had studios upstairs, had appropriated the ground floor as a temporary exhibition space in 1997. The first thing I noticed on entering the room was the aroma of old wood, creosote and oil. In the gloom, I began to make out the source of this aroma. Rows of old railway sleepers were leant against both walls of the long room, the naked joists of the ceiling cast shadows across the old wood and the weak light from suspended bulbs lit lit the dark valley formed by the eighty leaning beams. Down the valley ran a small railway, with lead trucks placed along the line. The railway led nowhere and it was obvious that this train would never move again.
The material he uses, the creosote stained or weather bleached railway sleepers and timber planks, the malleable lead from which he fabricates castles and railway trucks, are redolent with direct reference and allusion to the industry of the past. A past recreated from a child's viewpoint. These material are hewn and nailed together much like the quickly put together structures that sprout around farmyards. Sheds and fences, stacks of hay bales, rickety sheep pens falling apart. As he says in the catalogue to the Superstructures exhibition at Cardiff's Centre for Visual Arts, "I share my studio with a tractor and a couple of horses. There are also 500 bales of hay in there and I think it won't be long before I put 500 bales of hay in the gallery". This indeed became his plan for The Secluded Stage, an exhibition in Swansea's Mission Gallery, his first one person show, the installation incorporating a stack of bales, wooden pallets and joists.
It is a necessary thing, this dealing with the material of a culture and then shaping something new out of it. Hastie does this with enough ambiguity to create a new order; his work is not illustrative but allusive and in that, it has an authenticity and maturity. These materials have such a physical presence that it is difficult to make them into vessels for 'meaning' or 'narrative', they are self-contained. Hastie succeeds in utilising these forms as a language for narrative by seeing them as a giant's toy box, full of wooden blocks and rusty 'mechano' bolts, giant toy trains and castles.
Works such as Keep and Crossover States suggest a world where human life is lived in the shadow of vast forces, structures created by us that now dominate us. His lead castle is dwarfed by the surrounding wooden structure of leaning stairs made from scaffolding planks, at once sheltering and threatening. Perhaps it speaks of the castles of Wales' history, dwarfed by events or protected by a need for links to our heritage. An acknowledged source for one piece is the series of wooden mooring pylons in Cardiff Bay, left there as reminders, they have long since become unofficial landmark objects.
David Hastie is a serious artist who produces work that can be monumental, but this monumentality is not pompously solemn, it is leavened by wit and humour. Without being an elitist intellectual exercise it yet manages to contain that core of truth about our condition, it evokes structures of feeling. Give it the time and thought that it deserves and it will reward you.
lwan Bala: Planet: 2000