About Jonathan Baldock: Touch Wood

The Weston Gallery is open Tuesday–Sunday and bank holidays, 10.00–16.00.

Touch Wood by Jonathan Baldock is a sensory feast of colour, texture, sound and scent. It features new works in ceramic, textile and basketry that were all created by the artist especially for YSP. Together they take inspiration from the seasons, paganism, myth, folklore, and our deep connection to nature. There is also imagery drawn from the medieval art and architecture of nearby Wakefield Cathedral. Baldock makes his work using materials and techniques that have passed down through generations. These traditions are rooted in the histories of working-class people.

Four textile panels that represent spring, summer, autumn and winter hang in the centre of the gallery. They reflect the different spirit and colours associated with each season. Designs inspired by sacred geometry are sewn onto their surfaces. These shapes refer to recurring growth patterns found throughout the natural world, and similar emblems are also common in medieval church graffiti. Although the purpose of these symbols is unknown, they could be connected to ritual protection from evil spirits.

Humour and storytelling are important elements in Baldock’s artwork. Shapeshifting and hybrid characters allow him to explore a fluid, queer space without rules or binaries. For Touch Wood he has made new textile sculptures based on three 500-year-old wooden carvings in Wakefield Cathedral. The first is of a person exposing their buttocks. Although this seems an unlikely subject to be found in a church, bawdy images like this were common in medieval times. The others are composite creatures: a sphinx-like beast with an animal’s body and a human face; and a Green Man. This is an ancient, mythical figure associated with spring, transformation and rebirth, with a face made of leaves. Baldock’s imagination was sparked by the subject matter, freedom of expression and playfulness of the original carvings.

a ceramic head with green leaves surrounding it, sticking out it's tongue.

I’m excited to see how Jonathan is so deftly weaving together influences from many different times and spheres, and interpreting them through a contemporary, queer lens. The connection to the carvings in Wakefield Cathedral celebrates the history of sculpture and makers locally, whilst his interest in the natural world and the rhythm of the seasons resonates with the landscape at YSP. Jonathan is a dynamic, thoughtful and playful artist whose installations bring joy as well as challenge.

- Sarah Coulson, Senior Curator at YSP

Baldock’s affinity to nature is deep-rooted. He comes from generations of hop-gatherers and gardeners whose relationship with the land was physical, emotional and sustaining. Some ceramic works shown here merge plant and human life. Becoming Plant (a Hop) features the artist’s face on one side of a hop flower head and his mum’s face on the reverse. The sculpture celebrates Baldock’s mum as a central presence in his life and the person who taught him how to work with textiles. It is also a nod to the Green Man.

The soundscape in the gallery was created by musician Luke Barton. Plant Song draws together the themes of the exhibition and moves through a cycle of the seasons, capturing the feeling and rhythm of the year as it passes. Many of the sounds within it were recorded at YSP or in Wakefield Cathedral.

Discover more from Jonathan Baldock