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Published: April 2nd 2012
You can find creativity and adornment in the most surprising corners, in this case an abandoned stone quarry on the Isle of Portland in the south of England.
Who wants to traipse around stuffy art galleries looking at coloured lines on a canvas when you can get your dose of culture out in the fresh air and sunshine? Not I! If you've followed my blogs for a while you will have realised that I get a little bit excited and snap happy when I discover outdoor art, be it graffiti along my daily commute, exhibitions on Sydney beaches, or yarn-bombing in Kiwi towns. So when I found myself with a free afternoon on Portland the other day I wasn't going to turn down the opportunity to explore the sculptures hidden amongst the boulders in the redundant Tout Quarry.
Most people have probably seen some Portland Stone in their time, inevitably if you have ever visited central London or numerous other stately buildings around the world (it was used to construct St Pauls Cathedral, bits of Buckingham Palace and the United Nations HQ in New York, to name a few). You probably haven't seen it rough
hewn and lying where it was blasted from the earth, cunningly transformed into a menagerie of petrified animals and grotesque gargoyles. That is what you will find in Tout Quarry though. As far as I am aware anyone with a chisel, some spare time and a bit of artistic flair can chip away at a stone and leave their mark here. What is surprising is the standard with which they do so. Very few tags and scrawled I woz 'ere's defile or detract from the sculptures and carvings. As well as the amateur attempts and portfolio work of visiting art students, Tout Quarry exhibits work from artists as high profile as Anthony Gormley, without distinguishing between them. No signs direct hoards of tourists to the star exhibits, in fact there is absolutely nothing to indicate the provenance of each piece, or that the sculptures even exist within the walls of rock.
But that is half the fun of this sculpture park, it is one of those locals' secrets that I yearn to hear about when I am in distant places. Here you have to hunt out your artwork: explore down narrow paths, scramble over rocks and peer
around boulders, scan the cliffs for etchings. There is no fast track route to the top attractions, finding anything is down to luck and following your nose (or my Dad as he's been there a few times!), and this makes even the smallest carving all the more exciting.
One of my favourite areas was the Circle of Stones, two concentric circles of rock carved by a team of artists from Holland over the past ten years. In particular there are some fantastic animals frozen in the rock here, including a charging bull, a parading elephant, and a bear emerging from hibernation. After a couple of hours strolling around this Medusa's Gallery we had probably only see half the artwork, so I will have to go back another day and discover the rest.
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