Hands-on with art

East Durham College art teacher Phillippa Coad, sculptor David Gross and the college's director of creative industries Paul Wheatcroft.

East Durham College art teacher Phillippa Coad, sculptor David Gross and the college's director of creative industries Paul Wheatcroft.

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COLLEGE students and staff are being encouraged to get hands-on with art after a new sculpture took up residence at their campus.

The 6ft carved wooden hand has been installed at East Durham College, in Peterlee.

The piece, called Pukka, was created by sculptor David Gross, who says he likes to “think big”.

The 51-year-old is well-known for his large creations made out of chain-sawed wood, ice and snow – including six carved sculptors in Chopwell Wood in Gateshead and the Port of Tyne Whirligig, a large-scale wind-driven sculpture outside The Port of Tyne offices in South Shields.

The artwork is one of seven pieces in a series of hands.

Pukka was made from a laburnum tree which fell during heavy snow in Peterlee in 2009 and visually signifies the slang word Pukka – well used by Essex TV chef Jamie Oliver.

David, who is based in Seaham, said: “I believe it’s important that sculptures in public places should be meaningful and engaging to the people who see them every day, not just admired by the odd few with a special interest in art.

“The large carved hands I create are a celebration of manual work, and of ingenuity, as well as an investigation into forms of non-verbal communication.

“Tool marks from the chainsaw, chisel and grinder create a weather beaten surface that sometimes belies the hand’s signal. Knots and cracks in the wood become scars and calluses.”

The artwork has gone on display ahead of a full exhibition that the East Durham Artists’ Network (EDAN) plans to hold at the college.

Paul Wheatcroft, director of creative industries at the Willerby Grove-based college, said: “We hope to display all of David’s carvings in the Atrium as part of the EDAN exhibition.

“Also our art students will be working with wood for the first time, so I felt exhibiting ‘Pukka’ would be a great way to excite and inspire them when they come to use this wonderful material.”