My work is an exploration of my physical and cultural relationship with the land using materials foraged from my surroundings and processes historically grounded in the space I inhabit. The birch tree provides sap in spring, leaves to midsummer with wood, bark and tar throughout the year as well as perennial mushrooms such as fomesfomentarius which was found in the possession of 4000 year old otzi the iceman and was still in recorded use in church rituals through to the 18th century in Ireland. The fire lighting capability of this tree and its associated fungi helped our ancestors to colonise Northern Europe. The roe deer is one of few animals never to be tamed that has also adapted to live alongside humans. I am fascinated by their ghost like ability to melt into shadows and thread their lives through our movements. Historically their bones turn up mainly in ecclesiastical sites where they may have been preferred for their pious reputation. I produce parchment from their skins using techniques familiar to the monasteries of the Celtic Church which encircle my route through life from Bangor and Nendrum in Northern Ireland to Jarrow and Lindesfarne in Northern England to Tarbot and Rosemarkie in North East Scotland. The Celtic Monasteries acted as a centre for learning and the preservation of culture, valued time spent in the wilderness and oversaw the creation of the greatest insular art.
Explanation of work
This series of work has been produced on deer skin parchment impregnated with birch smoke using a technique developed by the artist. Parchment is created by curing a skin in lime to remove hair and mucus membranes before drying it under tension on a frame to create a smooth, strong, translucent surface. The image is built up in layers of birch wood smoke and birch tar smoke which is dry distilled from the bark. The deer skins are from road kill and waste from game dealers and the wood is wind fallen birch.
For more information please visit the artist’s own website Thomas Keyes