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UNITED KINGDOM

Dirt in Art and Guernsey


By Jheri


     “I have dirt that I make oil paint with,” says Scott Methvin, a Laguna Beach, California, painter and Festival of Arts Exhibitor. “Special dirt, special minerals. This is dirt,” he said, handing me a small jar of yellow dust. “Somebody just washed it, special ochre dirt. This is made of sulfur and mercury out of the ground,” he continues, showing me another of the many jars of colored soil in his studio.” Here is a man with feelings for “dirt” and understanding of its constituents, who has studied the properties of dirt as they relate to paint and painting.

     His trip to the United Kingdom in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 incident, coincided with the birth of the Common Ground 191 project, and his passion for soil as a paint medium made him an enthusiastic contributor. “I picked a very obscure island off the coast of England, called Guernsey, in the English Channel—the second biggest island. Offshore banking and Guernsey dairy cattle are their biggest industries. It was the only part of England that was occupied by the Nazi’s during most of World War II. Most people have never heard that.” He went on to describe the island—about the size of Santa Catalina Island off the coast of California, but with bigger ports—and the collections process in a foreign country. What it’s like to leave a cruise ship, be part of a very organized tour group, somehow try to find bare soil in ancient cities that are mostly paved, and then face the suspicions of locals when they see you digging up their soil to collect in a jar. “Let me tell you something, foreigners don’t appreciate you touching their dirt. I would have liked to have collected white dirt from the White Cliffs of Dover, but it’s like ‘what are you doing, touching my dirt?’” So it was no mean feat gathering up ten pounds of sandy crushed shells from the beach in Guernsey to UPS back to Gary Simpson’s studio. “And trying to explain to the concierge of the cruise ship, after you’ve given him a ten dollar tip, that you want UPS to come and get it, even that takes some explaining.” Gary attempted to get soil twice in Portugal and found there was none to be seen in the cities he visited. It was all paved; every inch was developed.

     He explained how the documentation process evolved after somebody brought back dirt from Auschwitz. “Common Ground 191’s goal at first was just any old dirt, but after Auschwitz, the goal became to find significant dirt and register the shipment.

     It seems significant that beach sand which was the floor of a Nazi militarized zone would be a part of Common Ground 191, restoring the DNA of that soil from warfare to the peaceful origins of Mother Nature’s plan, a colorful palette of the art of organic life on earth.

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