The outdoors has always pulled me in, away to somewhere else, a place of possibilities, a space for my mind to wander. It comes from childhood holidays on the raw Donegal coast and afternoons playing in the local forest, acting out imagined stories and dreaming wildly. My imagination fired by fairytales, the Narnia chronicles by C.S.Lewis and the dark fantasy of Tolkien.
One of the great things about being in Northern Ireland- nature is never that far away.
Now I’m a practicing artist, attempting to capture that sense of landscape and a sense of being within it, interested in shapes, textures and a sense of wonder at the everyday. Within that I collect, photograph, draw and make objects, often combining the things I find with other materials to create artefacts – abstractions of tools and utensils, familiar but not fully understood.
Walking is central to what I do now, whether through the urban streets of Belfast or a few steps away from the path in the surrounding hills and shoreline. Photography, initially just on my phone, was a way of training my eye on these walks but since then it has developed into the documentation of both my finds used within my work and the character of the environments I travel through.
Its not about distance, its about depth of experience- usually just one specific spot on a walk will give me a wealth of images – sometimes it is objects, finds and materials, at other times it will be textures and shapes. Often I’ll struggle to record it all – faced with the sheer size and scale of the landscape it can be overwhelming, changing moment to moment with the light and weather. I attempt to build up a portrait of place by capturing small moments – the light on the water, the line of grasses against the sky and the varying textures on different stones on the shore.
Drawing the Outside
Collecting materials is the primary drive for walking, gathering small, physical embodiments of a place – certain twigs, cuttings of grasses, leaves, driftwood and beachcombed treasures. These I take back to my studio, lay out, sort and arrange into compositions looking at the lines, forms and physical rhythms. I then make in response – looking to compliment the found with my fabricated forms of small boxes, cylinders and squares, forks and blades, the language of making and the made.
Manipulating the things I collect, working other materials like silver, steel, thread, using whatever compliments or contrasts my gatherings. The scale is small, to maintain the feeling of the intimate and the personal. I try to push the connection with the hand, placing the human presence strongly in the persona of the work, a point of connection – both mine to the landscape and the observer to the work.
One of the great things about being in Northern Ireland – nature is never that far away. My haunts are actually quite close to Belfast- ten minutes outside Belfast and I’m in the Holywood Hills, the same woods I played in as a kid. It has an old beech forest with scatterings of remnants from the old estate which once stood there.
Ten minutes further up the road, park up and take a right and I’m on the shore, houses set back behind me but left, right and straight ahead I’m in another world, looking at the flotsam and jetsam washed up on the beaches, clambering over limpet covered rocks, catching glimpses of seals, cormorants and solitary grey herons out hunting. This closeness means exploration is an everyday occasion- and repeated visits bring a growing wealth of information, a greater description and the discovery of new things.
About Stuart Cairns
Stuart Cairns is an Irish artist whose practice is concerned with investigating the environment and his relationship with it through walking, photography the collection of found objects. Working as a silversmith Cairns combines natural materials and found objects alongside precious metals to create artifacts in the tradition of tableware, tools and domestic objects. He graduated with a Bachelors Degree In Silversmithing and Jewellery from the University of Ulster in 2000, returning to complete a Masters degree in 2006. He is a member of the British Designer Silversmiths and a part-time lecturer at the University of Ulster.
Cairns has exhibited widely; selected exhibitions include Side to Side, The National Craft Gallery, Kilkenny, Ireland 2015, Setting the Scene, The Craft Study Centre, Farnham, England , Collect , The Saatchi Gallery 2012, Fit For Purpose, The V & A, London (2012) and the Linen Diaspora and the 4th Biennale Internationale du Lin de Portneuf, Quebec (2011). His work has been purchased for both public and private collections including the University of Ulster, The Arts Council of Northern Ireland and The Ulster Museum. Recently he was the first recipient of the Rosemary James Memorial Trust Award for Craft.