Not Western Art, Human Art

I am often intrigued by the stories behind pop songs, but it never occurred to me that Pink Floyd’s ‘See Emily Play’ was based on a real person, Emily Young, or that she would be as fascinating and quotable as she is. This is from an article in the i newspaper by John Walsh. Here’s the song, a short fun piece of psychedelia:

The song was written by the tragic Syd Barrett in 1965 at the London Free School; she was drawn there because of the number of Beat Philosopers and poets there at the time. She went to a concert  by the band then known as The Pink Floyd Sound, Emily said, “I was more keen on poets than rockers. I was educating myself. I was a seeker. I wanted to meet everyone and take every drug.” She met Barrett, then taking far too much acid and knew he was in danger, but she found him fascinating, a natural poet and artist, “a creature of the forest, like Puck in A Midsummer Nights’ Dream”

Emily not only survived the hippie scene; she has for many years been hailed as Britain’s foremost stone sculptor, but is now the greatest without qualification.  Her pedigree is incredible. Her grandmother, Kathleen Scott, was a sculptor and student of Rodin who married Robert Falcon Scott as in Scott of the Antarctic. Her mother’s second husband was Wayland Young, 2nd Baron Kennet so she had a privileleged upbringing. She spent some time at Chelsea School of Art and St Martins, but learnt most of her skills from  travelling through India, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East in the 1970s. She said “I was very young and I saw wild nature – getting lost in the Hindu Kush and Afghanistan. when the rains came, you had to stay until the waters died down. It was so beautiful, so wild, and man had no place there, although there were people living in tiny valleys with some goats. But everywhere I went, there was art. And it wasn’t Western art. It was human art. ”

Walsh writes “Young’s art is a kind of mediator between humanity and nature in its most primitive geological form. Her astonishing heads have faces born from the rock but carved and burnished to a point of exquisite sophisitication. ”

Her sculptures are instantly recognisable, whetehr in quartzite, onyx, marble, alabaster which she gives a face, but leaves the rest of the rock raw, as if the face had grown out of it. In this, she seems the opposite of Michaelangelo who claimed to carve until he found the face, which belies her attitude to art and philosophy of life. Her work manages to look utterly modern, yet incredibly ageless at the same time. I canot come up with anyone whose work hers reminds me of apart from perhaps some of the best from the Ice Age Cave Art, so what she does fits exactly with her philosophy of art.

She says, “I’m not like 97%  of stone carvers. They’ll choose a stone to fulfil a preconfigured design, make drawings and a maquette, and sell the idea to a family, or an army or a business who’ll pay for it to be made, usually glorifying a person or a battle. What I do is, I go to the quarry and see these pieces sitting there, beautiful things in themselves. and I’m trying to say to the viewer, ‘LOOK AT THIS STONE, IT’S YOUR ANCESTOR.’

“I’ve been trying to tell a truth about the origins of human life and consciousnes. I’m studying the origins of life in stone – our little Big Bang, four and a half billion years ago, when we started off as dust, floating around the sun. the whole of life on earth is inside our own bodies, and stone is the solid record of the history of the earth. We’re both embodiments of the history of the world. ”

She speaks of how stones are not inanimate, but have electromagnetic forces within them, about the need for humans to stop and contemplate the universe, aboaut angels and Gaia and deep ecology, of how the qualities fo the Greek gods have counterparts in human hormones.  But she rejects the notion that she is talking of earth mother mysticism. “There’s nothing mystical aobut our relationship with stone; it may be mysterious, but it’s absolutely basic. I put how I feel while I’m carving into the stone, and bring out a little relationship between the stone and the person looking at it. ”

She works in her studio in Santa Croce, Tuscany and choses her stone from a local quarry.  She is small, but uses hammers, chisels, angle grinders, sand blasters, compressed air drills, and finishes the pieces with dentist drills.

“I try to find a place where I can be still in myself, and embrace it and say, this is what humans are – what do we have to be, to stop focussing all our desires on instant gratification and become more conscious of how we run our societies?”

Here’s her website. Enjoy.

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