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Thursday, December 22, 2011

A Wax Kaleidoscope for the Carboniferous

More than 300 million of years ago, during the Carboniferous period, humongous insects and gigantic amphibians populated vast, swampy forests. These inextricable habitats originated vast deposits of coal – from which the name Carboniferous – and, in much more recent times, they inspired the creativity of artists.
Among the artworks inspired by this geologic period, the wax habitats of Kenneth Parsons are some of the most awe-inspiring creations. Abstract but representational at the same time, these environments take the visitor into the intricate atmospheres of the Carboniferous period. Wax is the vehicle of chronological exploration and kaleidoscopic patterns are its language. In fact, the artist created a geologic narrative entirely sculpted in wax, and experimented with illumination to obtain a totally immersive experience.
More in detail, there are two Carboniferous forests - one is a wall in 'The Wax Room' which was exhibited at the Edinburgh Festival and Wolverhampton Art Gallery and one is a geodesic dome which was specially commissioned and exhibited, as part of a tour called 'Forest' at York, Nottingham and Newtown Art Galleries. The exhibition spaces were covered by thin sheets of wax, permeable to light, designed in 30 years of work.

I interviewed Ken Parsons about his peculiar and inspiring form of art.

At what age did you become an artist, and how did you know?
Made and painted a large box when I was 15 but I suppose it all started when I was about 8. My mother had to work so left me alone when I was off school with asthma. We had some very old lead toy cars. I would light a fire in the grate put the cars on a shovel and watch them melt into a beautiful silver puddle – then I would pour the molten lead into a glass of cold water and hey presto – lots of lovely shiny abstract shapes.

Wax sculpture is a very peculiar form of art. What career path did you take to get to where you are now?
Studied for a degree in Geography at Exeter University, dropped out and taught myself.

What inspired you to create the Wax Room? What were your goals?
Love stained glass windows – a room made of stained glass/wax seemed like something I would really love to see…

Why have you chosen a Carboniferous Forest?
Mandala type designs can easily be interpreted as trees and the wax comes from the Carboniferous era so hey!

Particular of the Carboniferous Forest.

Please give us some insight on your journey in making this artistic project.
Long hours (3000) tricky problems to solve, 2 good fellow workers, scraping up money to pay for it.

Carboniferous forests are not the only geologic element inside the Wax Room. What is the role of volcanoes and lava in your artwork?
They are part of the narrative from the big bang to the formation of the earth.

Sculpture, sound, vision... Please explain the narrative of the Wax Room.
3 narratives – one a philosophic concept of splitting and bringing together, another a geography lesson for kids and another about the creation of the Wax Room

The Wax Room. Picture from its official website.

Wax and Carboniferous Forests are the axis of your “Wax Room” and “Wax Dome”. What is the (emotional) role of these elements in your artistic creativity?
Very forgiving and plastic material, love gardening and nature.

The Wax Dome: What media, what artistic metaphors have you used?
Time in a day and stretching through countless days.

What is the concept behind the Wax Dome?
Rebirth of the dead material in wax to glow again with the light of the sun that created it.

A review of the Wax Dome, from the official website.

The Wax Dome as an experience: is it a progression or a static experience?
Progression through a day in the Carboniferous era using different lighting.

Do you think your work reflects a specific fractal look?
Mandalas are a favourite Jungian motif and his concept of the collective unconscious is reflected in the connectivity in fractal patterns in say leaves and deltas, ammonite shells and galaxies.

How important do you think it is for artists to know about geology?
Just as important as any knowledge

What projects are you working on now, and what do you have in line for the future?
Lampshades and trying to find homes for the Wax Room and the Wax Dome.