Last week, I went to Wales to stay with my grandma for a relaxing holiday. Remarkably, the weather was cheerful and bright all week, so we spent several sunny and leisurely days on the beach in Penmaenmawr. On one of these days, we were enjoying an ice cream by the sea when my grandma noticed a man ahead of us arranging rocks. He was intently concentrating on the mysterious task at hand, and we were confused by what exactly he was doing, so my grandma suggested I just go and ask him. After some hesitation (I am quite awkward with new people,) my curiosity got the better of me, and so I approached the man and asked, rather timidly, what he was doing.
The conversation, which I expected to be brief, turned out to be a fascinating one. The man, Richard Hackett, told me that he creates Floating Stones. I was confused but nevertheless interested by his description, so we walked to the top of the rocky beach and he showed my grandma and me some photographs of his art, while he politely and patiently answered all of our questions. As I knew I couldn’t accurately remember all of his answers after our conversation, I asked him for his email so that I could get his answers in writing, which I have copied below.
First, I ask Richard how he would describe his art to people who have not heard about it. He explains that “I go to a beach or river and work from the background forwards, selecting a position to work in based on a background that will best showcase the piece I create. I then cast around for interesting stones, usually all of the same colour, to use in my sculptures. Looking for interesting stones is half the fun! I get ideas for pieces from the shape and nature of the stones and assemble them into temporary sculptures by balancing them together or arranging them. I photograph the sculptures and then take them apart, returning the stones into the landscape.” As for the title, “I call them Floating Stones because the stones are heavy when I pick them up but, at the moment they become balanced, they seem to have no weight in them at all. A sculpture can take minutes or hours depending on what is involved and may need to be picked up many times if the stones slide or shift while being placed.”
Next, I ask Richard how he initially got into creating Floating Stones. He tells me that “years ago I was watching my daughter, aged around 10, playing with stones on the beach by trying to stack them. It was something I had done as a boy and so I knew that balancing them was not easy as each would upset the stones beneath it as it was placed. I picked up a large stone which was smooth and teardrop shaped and held it upright in the air admiring it’s colour and form and then placed it onto a larger rock. Of course it started to topple but I placed it into a notch and the rock stayed upright. That was the light bulb moment.” Indeed, Richard demonstrated this art to my grandma and me at the beach with two small stones that he carefully picked. We found it magical how he could get the seemingly precarious stones to stand and balance on top of each other perfectly and without struggle. Somehow, he made it look easy.
As Richard gave his demonstration so aptly and quickly, I ask Richard how long it takes him to create his Floating Stones on average. “Sometimes I can take hours getting to know the stones before being able to achieve something close to the image in my mind and often the whole sculpture will crash down at the very moment it becomes balanced because the weight of a stone will overcome the friction from the small contact point holding it in place. Frustrating.” Richard also adds that “many times I get comments from spectators along the lines of, ‘I’d never have the patience to do that’ which is exactly the wrong way around, in fact the practice teaches patience because it forces one to focus all of the attention to the contact point between two stones, felt through the fingertips, to the exclusion of all else. I use it as a creative expression and meditation practice.”
As I met Richard on Penmaenmawr beach, I thought it only fitting to ask him where his favourite beach is. “My very favourite beach to work on is a beautiful secluded cove that is a bit of a scramble to reach but is no longer open to the public because it has become the home to a seal colony. I nowadays work in other places around North Wales, Church Bay on Anglesey is beautiful, lovely rocks and a sweeping cove beach but I mostly work at Penmaenmawr beach because it is close at hand to me and there is plenty of space for everyone with unobstructed views out to sea -no windfarm to break up the horizon.”
Finally, as Richard also creates other art work besides from Floating Stones, I ask him to tell me more about these other interests. “I spent a lot of time drawing as a child and studied Graphic Design Wrexham Art College, During the 90’s I specialised in painting murals but found it hard to find work and I prefer the directness of drawing so I nowadays draw in charcoal and graphite. I suffer from depression so there are prolonged periods when I am unable to do anything very much but being physically active and working outdoors helps a little so in the summer months I get out and balance stones as much as I can.”
Meeting Richard and learning about his artwork was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of my holiday. He was unassuming, friendly, extremely talented, and easy to talk to. So if you have time to take a look at what he does, then I really recommend that you check out his website and social media below.