One of the more striking works on show at Jonathan Baldock’s solo exhibition ‘Touch Wood’ at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) is a cheeky, colourful character exposing their buttocks. It forms part of a series of new pieces in ceramic, textile and basketry that were all created especially for YSP by the British artist, whose work is saturated with humour and wit, as well as an unsettling, macabre quality that channels his longstanding interest in myth and folklore.
Jonathan Baldock comes up roses at YSP
Baldock was partly drawn by the medieval architecture and carved wooden figures of nearby Wakefield Cathedral, but his creations are less about religious iconography than they are about what lies beneath. As some of the 500-year-old carved figures were concealed under folding seats, known as misericords, and thus hidden out of sight, those who made them had the freedom to carve what they liked, and their subject matter often relates more closely to nature or mythical beasts.
Inspired by the idea that their makers found pockets of joy in expressing themselves freely outside of the rules, Baldock riffed on these characters, creating large-scale textile sculptures that include a sphinx-like creature and a Green Man. As someone from a working-class background, he connects with the non-authoritarian voice of the craftsperson. As a queer person, he sees the misericords as objects that have survived the repressive ideals of history – they are subversive outsiders hiding in plain sight.
Baldock also weaves in elements of his ancestry. Descended from generations of hop-gatherers and gardeners, his affinity with nature is deep-rooted, embodied by ceramic works that merge plant and human life, as well as four large textile panels, each representing a different season. From the pastel shades of spring to the rusty tones of autumn, they capture the natural rhythms of a year, and each is embroidered with designs inspired by sacred geometry – the shapes and growth patterns found throughout the natural world that connect all living things.
‘It’s exciting to see how Jonathan deftly weaves together influences from many different times and spheres, and interprets them through a contemporary, queer lens,’ says Sarah Coulson, senior curator at YSP. ‘The connection to the carvings in Wakefield Cathedral celebrates the history of sculpture and makers locally, while 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.’
Says Baldock, ‘The show deals with serious subjects, but with joy and humour. I believe these can be powerful tools of empowerment, which are very necessary today when we feel so numb to the very real crises the world is facing. My aim is not to create a space to escape in, but to create a space where we can refocus and better address our current realities.’
The multi-sensory exhibition is beautifully rounded off by an evocative soundscape, created by musician Luke Barton, which draws on and melds together the show’s myriad themes and motifs. It takes you on a journey through the seasons and features samples of Gregorian chants, medieval and folk songs, Morris dancers and recordings of plants growing and local birdsong.
‘Touch Wood’ is on show until 7 July 2024 at the Weston Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, ysp.org.uk
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Anne Soward joined the Wallpaper* team as Production Editor back in 2005, fresh from a three-year stint working in Sydney at Vogue Entertaining & Travel. She prepares all content for print to ensure every story adheres to Wallpaper’s superlative editorial standards. When not dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, she dreams about real estate.
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