20 Minutes with Rick Crawford

Monday 9 July 2018

Can you briefly explain the type of work you carry out at present?

As a sculptor, I use a wood lathe somewhere in the process of making most of my sculptures, but I spend a lot of time carving and piercing after turning. My current signature pieces are inspired by the sea shell fragments that I find while beachcombing, but I also find inspiration in other natural objects, such as seedpods.

What is your favourite timber to turn?

I only work with recycled materials, so I'm constantly experimenting with the wood that comes my way. Currently, I prefer working with maple (Acer campestre) or cherry (Prunus spp.), because I can achieve excellent detail with them, they take to steam- bending well, and I'm usually able to come across some on a somewhat regular basis.

What are your current likes and dislikes within the sphere of woodturning?

I'm really impressed with how artists are utilising the lathe as a means of personal expression in sculpture studios. That type of turning has inspired me to go back to my early sculptural roots and abstract expression. My only dislike in turning is the apparent reluctance on the part of some turners to go beyond just making basic turned items without any kind of surface decoration or enhancement. I did a club demo last year, showing how I go about my carving and texturing after turning. I tried several times to encourage the members present to join the website 'World of Woodturner', stating that there was much to be learned there. Nobody showed any interest in learning more about it! My host later told me that he experienced the same lack of enthusiasm from the club members each time he tried to encourage them to join the website. I'm not saying here that I think every turner should be a sculptor, rather I'm encouraging all turners to explore how they can bring what they do to a higher level of design excellence.

What direction do you see your work taking in the future?

I've been interested in abstract art since the 1960s, as well as the Art Deco period. My work will continue to evolve with those influences in mind, but I'm always open to exploring other influences, especially the design elements found in the natural environment.

If you could only offer one bit of advice to someone starting out turning, what would it be and why?

Explore! Take a class to learn basic skills. Read books on turning, and watch as many DVDs as you can lay your hands on. Look at others' work, and try to figure out how they did it and how you would go about it, and then see if you can. Look at other forms of 3D expression, such as pottery, glass, and metals, to learn about form.

What music and which book are you currently into?

I'm a huge fan of the blues and big band jazz. Most of my book reading these days is technical. I'm currently reading Foldforming, by Charles Lewton-Brain, a very informative book about fold forming copper. I was introduced to this technique by metal artist Lindsay Ruth Embree at CollaboratioNZ 2011 in New Zealand, and have been exploring how I can utilise the forms in my sculptures.

Tell us about the piece you are currently working on.

I am in the design process of combining a turned seedpod form and fold-formed copper to create a very organic sculpture. The turned form will utilise a piece of oak (Quercus robur) burl that will be hollowed out and then cut and shaped, along with my usual flair for texturing. The stem of the piece will also be turned, and then steam-bent. The copper will be utilised in the leaves and petals that surround the seedpod.

Which are your favourite items to turn?

As a sculptor, the lathe is just another tool in my studio, although an integral one. I use it to turn the basic 'canvas' that will later become a sculpture. As such, there isn't just one favourite item to turn, as each piece is organic in nature, and evolves as I work on it. I do occasionally turn a lidded box when I come across some intriguing materials.

Which turners do you most admire, and why?

Alain Mailland's work is very flowing and organic, and I see how I can learn to use his techniques of steam-bending to influence my work. I love the flowing forms and textures Christian Burchard derives from green wood when he works in harmony with Mother Nature; very flowing and organic. My work is all about texture, and his textures remind me of eroded rock formations. Alby Hall's work with seedpods has inspired me to pursue designs along those lines.

What do you think the best single development in turning has been?

The four-jaw chuck and the various accessories that continue to be developed for them. It certainly has been a great aid to my work.

What do you see yourself doing in five years' time?

Continuing to push the edge. It bothers me when I see an artist that does great work, but seems to get stuck in just producing their signature work. I realise that they are just trying to make a living, and that some collectors only want to collect certain signature styles, but I strongly believe that an artist has to evolve the work in order to keep on the creative edge.