In the spring of 1989 a treat came to the MPA Gallery, then known as ‘The Gallery Downstairs’, in Burnley. An exhibition of sculpture by Duncan Johnston.
What really stands out about this exhibition is its aim of inclusiveness to all. To make art available to be appreciated in many different ways not just your usual look but don’t touch attitude to sculpture. Instead Duncan Johnston seems very much to want to engage with people whose disabilities might make art seem irrelevant to them. A lot of trouble has been taken to emphasize that all are welcome, and can participate in whatever way is most useful to get the most out of the experience of sculpture. Including audio interpretation and the artist on site in person on six days.
One of the days when Duncan and some children were in the Gallery was photographed and the result is the pure joy of discovery.
I haven’t been able to find out much about Duncan Johnston (pictured left) but, I think the choices he made as an artist say a lot about him. The wood he worked with most in his career is Lignum Vitae or ‘Wood of Life’. It’s the national tree of the Bahamas and the national flower of Jamaica.
The wood of this tree is also known as ironwood due to its strength, density and toughness. Until recently it was used to make British police truncheons. So you can imagine it’s very difficult to work with and it would take Duncan Johnston a year of work to produce one sculpture. I think the importance of using this particular wood must be linked to not only its medicinal qualities and abilities to heal but also the mystical nature of its use in story. After all, only the most magical transformative wood could be used for Merlin’s wand.
As you can see from the photographs Duncan wasn’t just in the gallery giving a talk. He actively engaged with the public and enabled their experiences. I can only imagine what special moments these must have been.