Spindly, long-limbed creatures stand with unusual grace and elegance. Their delicate bodies graze soft sandy beaches, brush up against the cold stone of old castles and float through thick grassy meadows. They are effigies for the “huge elemental land spirits” in charge of guarding the ley lines that branch all across the earth. Many of these creatures close their eyes in a peaceful slumber, knowing that they are one with the earth beneath their feet. Others have their eyes wide open keeping a watchful eye on their sacred surroundings. According to Tach Pollard, these creatures are said to live in the liminal realms. However, on occasion, they can be seen between the mist and the sky at dusk.
Tach Pollard is an Oxford-based sculptor best known for his long-limbed creatures and who received an honourable mention in the 2020 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize. Born in the English county of Sussex, Pollard has always had a love and appreciation for nature, especially the trees and woodland that surrounded him during his childhood. As a child, he would often spend time collecting as many tree roots as he could carry. He would then lug them home in a wheelbarrow before compiling them into skeletal sculptures to be sold in his family’s shop in Brighton.
A mixture of Pollard’s love of wood and sculpting paired with his interest in European folklore gave birth to his iconic creations. He uses sustainably sourced boxwood and hawthorn wood for his sculptures often burning and blackening the wood and gilding with gold leaf to add another layer of intrigue to his characters. His work has been exhibited in places such as Coco de Mer, The Sculpture Park, Pashley Manor and Gardens and the Lucinda Brown Gallery. Pollard currently sells many of his sculptures over on his Etsy under his store name Surfing the Grain.
I feel really blessed to work with hawthorn with its connections to the fairy realms in folklore and mythology. When I carve hawthorn it’s kind of like a dance.
Interview with Tach Pollard
What is your first memory of carving something out of wood?
I remember on my seventh birthday I was helping my dad at a show he did each year at Michelham Priory, a beautiful old monastery with a moat around it. It was an utterly magical place to be as a child. He had a stall selling handmade leather crafts. For my birthday, he pulled out a large penknife with a wooden handle and gave it to me. He said I had to be very careful with it and only use it at home. Anyway, he then taught me how to carve by whittling away at a piece of wood and carving a basic animal. I was entranced by watching him at the time and tried to whittle something myself. I didn’t really have the dexterity and was a bit too young then so it’s something that I would come back to later on in life.
How did the idea for your creatures first come into fruition?
So, I have a wonderful friend called Hillary – she used to live in Oxford with her partner Cathy. They were Intuitive Dance teachers (Five Rhythms). Hillary had a townhouse and they each had a studio in the house. I remember Hillary’s was like a cabinet of curiosities having collected unusual and magical items from around the world. She had a shelf full of zoomorphic creatures some were stone carvings some were found objects that resembled weird creatures from the never realms. These were intermingled with old shamanic objects of carved bone etc., and an amazing collection of art she had collected over the years.
Each year they held a seasonal event to honour the solstice through art, and they invited me. I along with several other people were taken to an ancient woods just outside Oxford. We were asked to connect silently to the trees and walk through the woods until we were guided to pick up an object which in some way would be either incorporated or made into a piece of art. I found a piece of wood that resembled one of the creatures I now carve so I took it back and carved it. Eventually it morphed into a kind of badger with very long spindly legs. I then burnt it and watched it change into another creature through the burning process, it was like I had found some lost alchemical secret. At this point I was recovering from a back injury which prevented me from carving the large works I was commissioned to carve for woodland parks etc, and felt devastated that my dream had been stolen from me. Hillary noticed it in me and said, “you will never be able to stop creating it’s a fire inside you” and she was literally correct. I gave Hillary the burnt carving to honour the space in which she had provided.
Folklore and mythology play a huge role in the stories of your sculptures, are there any tales or creatures that you find particularly inspiring for your creations?
I love stone circles; I feel that they are kind of portals or gateways to reconnect with some primordial sense of being. We live not too far from one called The Rollrights in the Cotswolds. We try to go each solstice. On one occasion when my son was 5, I took some pictures of him riding on the back of one of the stones which looks like a megalithic horse. It was dusk and the sun had just gone down and so we left. Later on, whilst looking at the pictures, I was stunned to see this large shaft of white light which went up in a diagonal from him to the corner of the frame. We were a bit freaked out at the time but anyway it connects with one of the old folktales told about The Rollrights (for me at least). That beneath the stone circle is a faery city. The legend also says to be careful as the faeries like to kidnap children and take them down into faery land. So, I reworked the myth to include what I saw in the picture and feel he was touched by the faeries.
Are there any artists/sculptors who you find to be a big source of inspiration for you?
I love the work of Yoshimasa Tsuchiya each of his works have a powerful sense of grace and presence. I feel very inspired by the work of Souther Salazar in the way he creates these worlds by just kind of surfing the spontaneity. I am inspired by the graffiti of Herbert Baglione and the wonderful use of colour and fantastic beings conjured from the ethers by Jeff Soto, there are so many other wonderful artists that inspire me.
I’ve noticed that many of your creatures have peaceful expressions. They often look like they are in a serene slumber, what draws you to giving them this kind of expression?
I feel it’s what nature and the wood I carve invokes in myself, a peaceful sense of aliveness.
Sustainable sourcing is something that you highlight with your sculptures, is sustainability a big part of your work ethic as an artist?
Yes, I mostly carve sustainably sourced timber. In England, Hawthorn and Boxwood are grown as hedges. What tends to happen is that the hedges grow wild into small trees and are then cut through (halfway) at the base trimmed back to one trunk and layered into a course one leaning on and interwoven into the next. The trees are still alive and regrow in the lay. I buy, or am given, the off cuts. I love this as the trees are still alive and regrow into hedges with some being hundreds of years old.
I found a piece of wood that resembled one of the creatures I now carve so I took it back and carved it. Eventually it morphed into a kind of badger with very long spindly legs. I then burnt it and watched it change into another creature through the burning process, it was like I had found some lost alchemical secret.
Forgive my lack of knowledge on woodworking, but what draws you to working with Hawthorn and Boxwood? Are they more forgiving materials compared to other types of wood?
When I was forced to give up large scale works around 17 years ago due to a repetitive strain injury, I had to refocus on carving much smaller works. So, I started carving boxwood. Boxwood is very dense in grain – meaning it grows very slowly producing very small growth rings. This makes it amazing in the way it takes minute detail. Unfortunately, I found Boxwood too hard to carve at the time, so I switched to hawthorn. I instantly connected to the tree when I started carving it. It is also slow growing so has a tight grain and is able to take the detail but for me it just feels very magical and alive. It’s usually gnarly and covered by thorns.
I feel really blessed to work with hawthorn with its connections to the fairy realms in folklore and mythology. When I carve hawthorn it’s kind of like a dance. As I peel back the bark and start to take away the wood I see subtle shapes in the wood, contrasted through the grain and the imperfections. These are kind of like the wood narrating its story to me or whispering the direction I should take. When I get into the flow state the wood will sometimes release a sweet perfume. In my story I take this as an acknowledgment from the spirit of the tree.
What is your favourite thing about woodworking and making your sculptures?
When I was a child, my parents moved to a house in the countryside. Behind the house was an old woods filled with mostly oak trees. I used to spend most of my time in the woods and loved searching for roots to pull from the ground. It felt like I had tuned into some ancient form of dowsing as often the roots would be invisible apart from a small nodule peaking from the ground. I would feel drawn to a root and when I pulled it up it was a perfectly formed carving in and of itself. Later on, I would come back to these roots I collected as a child and learn to carve them. So being drawn to a piece of wood and the innate sense that I can feel what’s inside is probably the best part for me.
What do you find to be the most challenging part of woodworking?
Sometimes, when I’m not feeling the flow, it feels like a real test to carry on and persevere, essentially give over to trusting the process. Also, because I work with wood with flaws and imperfections sometimes arms or legs will fall off due to unforeseen cracks in the wood. Most of the time I will ride along with this and change its form into something else.
When you aren’t working on your sculptures, what do you get up to in your spare time?
I love doing art with my children. They are 9 and 12, and both a huge inspiration in the way they conjure up these magical worlds. I also love wild swimming. Occasionally, I manage to get to a local river and swim. Although, through the winter it’s more of a ritual of getting in and getting straight out as it’s shockingly cold.
To finish off this interview, do you have any exciting projects in the works that you can tell our readers a little bit about?
Currently I’m in the process of designing a carving tutorial, with more focus on some of the magical and intuitive aspects I have shared in the wonderful interview.