Elemental Compositions

This season we look to artists and makers creating dynamic objects using materials close to hand. Elemental compositions are formed from the surrounding environment – be it fired earth or hand-hewn wood – with little refinement. Each artist brings their unique patchwork of lived experiences, memories and stories. 

To celebrate this, we invited you to share your responses to our seasonal theme, Elemental Compositions, through a piece of artwork or photograph. We saw a range of wonderful, creative works that captured compositions and dynamic objects with raw, unpolished forms. 

The winning entry came from London-based artist Anna Bower. Anna captured one of her fascinating paper sculptures. Below, she gives further insight into her winning work, which will be displayed in the window of a TOAST Shop. We also talk to our finalists about the inspiration behind their pieces. The two runners-up, Nicoletta Aveni and Hannah Taylor, will also have their pieces displayed.

Elemental Compositions

Anna Bower - Winner

I work from my garden studio in south-east London. My creative practice is centred around walking, particularly through woodland. Being immersed in the natural world feeds my imagination and stimulates the work I produce when I return to my studio. Whilst out walking, I pause frequently – I have a fascination with the varied forms of tree bark, with lichen and fungi, and with decayed leaves and rotting timber. And as I walk, I take numerous photographs for future reference.

To me, Elemental Compositions embodies the processes of growth, change and decay that define the natural world. And the material I use, paper, is a product that reflects these processes. Paper has its own life cycle – from seed, to timber, to wood pulp, to paper – and I extend this cycle by using recycled paper for my artworks. It is important to me that my work is connected to elemental processes. Currently, I am experimenting with making my own paper and using natural dyes.

In this work, I wanted to produce a series of forms that reflect the way that rock formations are weathered and eroded by the action of water, wind, and ice over millennia. I always envisaged the pieces being arranged and rearranged in different ways, and, while I was working on them, images of naturally occurring balancing rocks came to mind, precariously defying gravity. This inspired the first combinations I put together, seeing how the pieces could be made to balance one upon another, but there are many other ways the pieces can be displayed. I like the variability of this work and the thought that whoever owns the pieces in future can choose to arrange them in whatever way they like.  

I made four separate but interconnected pieces. Each of the pieces started with many layers of paper bonded together. Before the paper set, I manipulated it in various ways, this process was partly driven by how the paper wanted to form. I kept adding additional layers and making modifications to the shapes before I started cutting and sanding into them. The patterns and colours that emerge are a result of the processes I use – there is always an element of chance – but to achieve the final effects, I work and rework areas until I am satisfied.

Elemental Compositions

Nicoletta Aveni - Runner Up

I’m currently based in Treviso, Italy and am part of a creative duo, navenietrussoni, operating between Treviso and Milan. I draw inspiration from everything around me, but I am especially attracted to raw materials, geometric shapes, rocks, volcanoes, the Mediterranean, as well as architecture, which is part of my background. I tend to observe, photograph, and compose with an architectural eye.

To me, Elemental Compositions means recognising and disclosing structures of basic forms in the natural landscape, or building artificial ones. They have to do with something raw, organic and essential, on which a slight human action is exerted, be it a rearrangement of the existing, a gesture, or framing a photographic image.

The selected piece is a composition I made with found objects and material samples from all over the world. I built a structure made of basic vertical and horizontal shapes, a small architecture of palm wood pillars and Brazilian marble walls. A flat river stone rests on the top, surmounted by a sphere of rock from a volcanic island. A fragment of tile, a shell and a piece of driftwood complete the composition, arranged as a whole to form another elementary shape, the triangle. I photographed this piece in different moments of the day in natural light, until I found the ideal conditions.

Elemental Compositions

Hannah Taylor - Runner Up 

I’m based in Oxfordshire and am inspired by the colours, textures and forms found outside. I have a huge respect for the natural world so I try to work consciously alongside it rather than against it when creating work. I work with seasonal plants or waste vegetable matter to create dye and, as much as possible, work with reclaimed material. I then react to the colours that emerge from the dye bath and the fabric remnants that are left behind. 

I find a lot of inspiration in looking for ways to allow every scrap to have its place as a finished piece. I am very conscious of the time and labour that goes into the fabrics construction (before it gets to me) and subsequent colouring with natural dyes and so every piece is precious. The dye emitted will depend on the time of year when the plant matter is picked, how quickly it is used, how long it is steeped or simmered for.

For this piece, I added scraps as they appeared and slowly stitched them onto the base strip on car journeys, on sofas at friend's and family’s homes. It formed as I stitched. As it evolved, I would decide where the next piece should go and in combination with which other colours. Even the stitches evolved, becoming smaller and more closely packed as I neared the end and didn’t really want to finish. I didn’t refine any of the edges, leaving them raw and frayed, the whole fragment exhibited.

Elemental Compositons

Jane Stevens - Finalist (Above left)

I am a direct carver, an approach used by the likes of sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth as far back as the 1930s. I tend not to sketch my work or use a maquette model to form my ideas but let a shape emerge naturally and intuitively. Nothing quite centres me like working with this material. For this particular image, the piece became a shell holding the echoes of the sea. 

Each marking of the tool, the removing of the stone felt like a warm embrace of the natural world, a softer element, not one to challenge but to work with you, nature after all cannot be fought. Once the contours in the piece were formed I began to refine, and that for me is a moment of such joy. The work takes on a musicality and transmits a serenity to it which I hope can be felt by the viewer. Stone is not just for the eyes, it is to touch, feel and stroke, too. 

Wendy Bispham - Finalist (Above right)

I grew up near the sea in north-west England, and now work as a critical care dietitian in a busy London hospital. My love of the coast has endured and I am most happy when I’m exploring the coastline around the UK walking with my dog Milou. This photograph was taken on a walk between Bamburgh and Seahouses on the Northumberland coast during the recent storm Eunice. I took my eye off the horizon long enough to spot this natural composition. The image is of water, tinged pink by the sandstone rocks above the beach, etching out ripples in the sand as it winds its way to the sea. 

In the mixture of the running water, sand, strong sunlight, seaweeds and one tiny shell, I felt that these natural elements took on the look of other things – the sinews of a woman's body stretching out, a piece of silk-satin fabric where the pieces of seaweed are embellishments or lovingly made repairs, a skein of yarn waiting to be woven into beautiful cloth. Really looking hard into something that is seemingly ordinary and being able to find something remarkable is what inspires me most.

Elemental Compositions

Penny Booth - Finalist (Above left)

After unusually heavy rainfall, the clay earth cracks again under the sun. With the aftermath of water, a new landscape emerges. I use film to create a more tangible and painterly approach to photography through texture, light, and shape. This image is part of a series made in the Atacama Desert, which documented and captured the process of the artist Ffion Taverner. 

I watch as the artist observes, collects, assembles, and re-assembles; to then frame the images as paintings in the earth. An Elemental Composition in an ever-changing land. I choose a meditative approach to my photography. Whilst I currently live in the heart of Manchester, my practise tends to observe quiet and slow moments of the everyday. Having grown up in the Lake District, I am particularly inspired by patterns in nature. I am searching to creatively capture these aligning moments of the in-between, which can often be overlooked.

Naomi Hill - Finalist (Above right)

I’m based in Nova Scotia, Canada and my conceptual photography alternates between representations of an emotional response to a specific landscape and of domestic life. An Elemental Composition relates a quality or feeling found within the properties of the material. The composition could be seen as an understanding between the raw material and the artist. 

For this piece, I looked for a material that could be considered elemental within both household and making traditions and paired it with organic matter from the landscape that surrounds our home. After collecting samples of moss, soil and paperwhite blossoms, as well as dried hydrangeas from last year's garden, I covered individual lengths of masking tape with the organic material and positioned them over and under each other in a formation loosely resembling a continent. I photographed the piece in sunlight to cast distinct shadows, bringing the primary elements of light and shadow, into the composition.

Anna’s winning entry was selected from a thoughtful and creative collection of artworks and photographs. Thank you to all of you who entered and shared your images and inspiration with us.

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5 comments

Very beautiful work. Well done to all the artists, and thank you Toast for showing us their creations.

Anna 5 months ago

Some lovely images here derived from such natural forms. Really loved seeing these.

Catherine 5 months ago

Stunned at such talent and such beauty – all of these pieces are very lovely. Congratulations to all the finalists. It must have been a very tough decision to choose one from all of the pieces submitted. Thank you for sharing. So beautiful.

Stacey 6 months ago

Wonderful work and yes Art from Nature is the best. Thank you to all the artists, such good work.

Lotte 6 months ago

I find your Elementals Composition /Artistic Interpretations piece very relaxing and interesting. I particularly like Wendy Bispham’s photo and Anna Bower’s interconnected pieces.

Wendy 6 months ago