Darren Appiagyei

Darren Appiagyei is a woodturner based in London, UK. He graduated from UAL Camberwell College of The Arts where he studied 3D design. His practice is about embracing the intrinsic beauty of wood, be it knot, bark or grain. Photos by Will Hearle and Thomas Broadhead.

Describe the nature around you?

As I look through my window, the winds screams a violet scream, I see a silhouette of a branch almost human like, as the branch moves to and fro and a shadow reflects on to my window; there’s an array of bushes, greenery contrasting the still constructed building, a metropolis it is; full of a man made and nature structure.

How does nature guide your practise?

Nature is very much an inspiration to me when making - it’s the intrinsic beauty of nature in its raw state that truly amazes me. When making vessels/vases out of wood it’s the innate qualities/natural imperfections of the wood I look to enhance - I see working with wood a collaboration between me and the material. I take my time carving delicately, as the wood reveals its innate qualities such as a grain, a knot, crack or simply the bark of a tree. I love being surrounded by nature and being still and at peace, I get the same feeling when carving into wood using a lathe, I’m at peace and simply living in the moment.

You source the wood you are working with only from fallen trees. How did you first become interested in developing a sustainable practice?

I made the decision to understand where the wood has been sourced and why the tree has been cut down. I felt like it’s my responsibility to develop a sustainable practise. It saddens me to see places in London which once had beautiful greenery, and places of tranquillity and quietness, which no longer exist. I have been quite fortunate to develop connections with farms, tree surgeons and wood workers; which has enabled me to develop a sustainable practise.

How can we understand ourselves as part of nature?

I like to think of trees to be like people. Every tree is different and I get a first-hand experience of this when carving into a variety of woods from oak to ash. What’s interesting, even with the same species of wood, is that the wood can be slightly different - in terms of grain, shape and even certain features such as a knot, crack or tone. When collaborating with wood I simply embrace it for what it is rather than having a pre conceived view; even though I may have used the wood in the past. I believe when it comes to people it should be the same thing. We shouldn’t have a pre conceived view before speaking to them and like when I carve into wood, I take the person for who they are rather than who I think they are.

Which song, book or poem nurtured your relationship with nature?

I found “The praying tree” by Melinda Palacio very interesting, detailing a eucalyptus tree which is situated near a highway. For years its beauty is seen in all its glory, with a bird nest safely perched quite neatly on a branch. One day a fast car hits the tree which dies, and the birds flee. Quite sadly, what inspired me about the poem is the fact we should cherish nature as much as we can. We should cherish trees we see everyday and the birds we hear chirping so loudly as things can change so quickly, in a split second. Our usual settings can change and shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Name a TV series, film, podcast or documentary that blew your mind?

I really had to look into my childhood. One programme that sticks out for me is Pokémon. You have a Pokémon such as Trevenant, which is essentially an elder tree which devours anyone who tries to cut down trees - one of its skills is natural cure. Now trees do not repair themselves - they seal their wounds. The tree covers the opening by forming specialised “callus” tissue around the edges of the wound. However it’s the take on embracing nature in Pokémon that’s inspiring. And understanding how varied nature can be. You see someone like Ash, the main character, who roams around in nature using his surroundings to problem solve and find solutions - to become a Pokémon master. Ultimately Pokémon is a great example to children about how beautiful nature is and is a great introduction.

Name a sound in nature you love the most?

I love hearing birds singing and chirping. It’s a sign of life to me. It’s subtle, almost soothing and acts as a reminder to live in the present, and to be still, as the chirping/singing starts and stops in a loop. It signifies that there are other species, apart from human beings, and their voices matter - and I should do what I can do to preserve nature and its inhabitants.

Which rituals do you practice to keep you grounded?

For as long as I can remember I have been going on walks on my own or with friends. There’s something about walking and talking - gradually communicating what’s on my mind, my footsteps synced with my thoughts. Or simply just walking, observing nature such as the details of a tree, the bark, the branches and the fruit. It’s the little things. When you’re engrossed in your mind and feelings being surrounded by nature soothes and forces you to be in the present, to be still and simply listen as you speak to yourself: “everything is going to be okay”.

What kind of ancestor do you want to be?

I simply want to be a steward to nature, to look after nature - to serve and preserve. Serving is generally seen as an inferior act but it’s an honour in my opinion - to have a purpose to understand why you do what you do. When working with woods that have naturally fallen the aim is to honour the wood, to not refine or polish the wood into something that it isn’t. The goal is to enhance the beauty of the wood and allow it to shine, showcasing the natural essence of the material.

What initiative have you heard of recently and you’d like everyone to support?

I am a big advocate of the National Trust plant a tree scheme. Their aim is to establish 20 million trees by 2030. The scheme relies on donations with the minimum that can be donated being £5. It’s amazing to see a big organisation fight to make such an impact.

Could you suggest someone else or other organizations you admire that we could approach for #TheNatureKind?

Woodland Trust, Tree Connection and Trees for Cities.

You can find out more @inthegrainn

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