Artist-maker Joel Parkes on the shed where he does 'all the big work'…
Photographs Elena Heatherwick
For Joel Parkes, creativity comes from finding dead space where gravity brings everything to a halt – as long as it’s ‘the right kind of messy’…
A ‘hole-and-corner’ is an old English term meaning a secret place: somewhere you go to escape, to be inspired, to contemplate and create. Where is your ‘hole-and-corner’?
I’ve had many locations to which I could ascribe this title, but currently its some ephemeral place between my mind and a page, whether I’m writing, drawing or reading. Not being able to work in a conventional way can have a really positive effect on your work. But I suppose if I had to pick one, it would have to be the big shed where I started it all and where I still have to go to do all the big work. It’ll always be the heart of my making work.
Can you explain why it is so special to you?
Being an artist is about becoming increasingly adept at cloudy, miasmic thought and catching liminal glimpses of gold in the sandstorm of creativity. So the place where all this dust settles is important. A dead space where gravity brings everything to a halt and you can see what you have and what you can fathom and create.
Is it important to you to have somewhere to escape from the hustle and bustle of life?
I think in the past I may have been more in need of that escape – we all of us need to have a tidy room and tidy mind before we can concentrate on the job in hand – but I think if you can escape the bustle through concentration and focus, this is the quiet place we seek, and you can drift in and out of it.
What do you like to listen to when you’re working?
It varies, the movement of carving is a great opportunity to go into a kind of meditative state, so it seems a shame to distract yourself from it with entertainment. If I’m drawing, I’ll listen to a lot of acid or electro music, there’s a kind of maths and resolute structure in the music, upon which it’s easy to hang creativity. I like to have a boogie while I work too. If it’s hours of sanding, I’ll listen to Brain Science podcasts and audiobooks about modern philosophies of craft and Art to keep myself up to speed.
What elements do you think make a perfect ‘hole-and-corner’?
Anything that facilitates you doing your best work, or restricts you in such a way as to affect your work. They’re so different: I like makeshift ones, the sunny day trestles, going out on the bike and carving by the river or on Wormwood Scrubs. I had a great summer stone carving at a friend’s studio, in the sunset, covered in marble dust. I’ve had to carry the workshop to the wood many times, dragging generators through the forest and working in the ‘big green cathedral’. I like everything to be to hand, so my workshop has everything on hooks – and needs tidying a lot.
Is it private to you or do you let other people visit?
I love people visiting, and I try to visit other new people in the same field as me. I think we should all be more open and collaborative – and I see a future in studios being far more conjoined and syndicative. Opening yourself up to criticism and new ideas is essential nourishment and it keeps your feet on the ground whilst broadening your mind.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Ironically I think it’s probably to say a lot less or to not give yourself away. My work is all about knowing and showing my faults and flaws and expressing the nobility of the vulnerable bits. I cherish advice and seek it out from people I respect. I am also pleased to give it – it’s the rare time where we can show how we have learned something through our mistakes. It’s important.