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Artist Derek Finch retells stories which make up Devon’s culture past and present

PUBLISHED: 16:14 14 April 2015 | UPDATED: 16:14 14 April 2015

Derek Finch's Speaking Volumes

Derek Finch's Speaking Volumes

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Old books are re-imagined into artworks retelling the stories of the people and places that make up Devon’s cultural past and present. Artist Derek Finch explains why to Carol Burns.

Derek Finch's Speaking VolumesDerek Finch's Speaking Volumes

For any artist with a skill at creating narrative work, Devon is very rich pickings. And for Totnes-based artist Derek Finch his love of old books and his desire to tell some of these stories has led to his Speaking Volumes series.

From his studio in Totnes he has created 12 Speaking Volumes which retell the stories of seven famous Devon people and five stories which will form part of the permanent collection of libraries across Devon.

Funded by an Arts Council Grant, Derek’s work is a permanent reminder of the people and places that make Devon so unique.

His work begins with a book – his collection of old hardback encyclopaedias and geographical reference books usually date from the early 20th century. The books are often read and the open page used to mount the work will often refer to the story or people it will be used to tell.

Derek Finch's Speaking VolumesDerek Finch's Speaking Volumes

For this latest work he has chosen well-known Devon faces as well as lesser known. His work on Agatha Christie features images of her working as a chemist between the wars – where she developed her expertise with poisons as well as Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Plympton’s own Sir Joshua Reynolds. He includes Alfred Wallis – a Devonport-born man who has become more associated with Cornwall – as a fisherman - but more specifically – despite only beginning at the age of 71 – as an artist.

“I get the books from charity shops and auctions – they are really solid books, but the type of mass-produced encyclopaedias and atlases made 100 years ago – so in a way it is a process of upcycling,’ explains Derek, who trained at Dartington Art College.

And there is also a purposeful synergy between material and subject.

‘When I am working on a subject I will look for text in the book that relates to the subject. For example the Alfred Wallis one is about 1890s artists and the page I chose was about artists in St Ives.”

Derek Finch's Speaking VolumesDerek Finch's Speaking Volumes

Each work is painstakingly created – the book mount prepared by making them into a solid form (to a secret recipe) and research into the stories and people to find images and text that will visually tell the story of the characters. He will often whittle down a hundred images into just a handful and the books are cut into to create a three-dimensional artwork that can hang on a wall. He has created thousands and his commissions hanging on walls all over the world including Japan, Switzerland and India.

One of his most fascinating works tells the story of Hallsands – the village that was lost to dredging in the late 19th century and where today destroyed houses can still be seen beneath the cliffs.

As well as the dredging his work retells the story of Ella Trout, who was awarded an OBE for rowing out into the sea to save a sailor, as well as the lost community.

“I like looking for stories that have almost been lost – and people don’t know about,” says Derek. “I want people to go away and think about it and perhaps be inspired to explore the people and places further.”

Speaking Volumes will be on public display in libraries across Devon from early April...

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Where to see the work

Beryl Cook Plymouth Central Library

Alfred Wallis Totnes Library

Sir Joshua Reynolds Plympton Library

Sir Francis Drake/Drake’s Leat Peverell, Plymouth

Agatha Christie Torquay Central Library

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Kingskerswell

Sir Robert Falcon Scott North Prospect, Plymouth

Dr Mabel Ramsay Efford Library (Plymouth)

The tragic story of Hallsands Bovey Tracey Library

The Witches of Bideford Chumleigh Library

The First Humans at Kent’s Cavern Torquay Central Library

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