Background to Colour from the Coal Mines
During 2014 - 2016 Onya McCausland travelled around the UK collecting samples of ochre to take back to a UCL laboratory and her studio where through painting, she discovered striking differences between the colours depending on their geographic location. Working with an inter-disciplinary team that includes scientists from UCL, the Coal Authority, and paint manufacturers, the ochre was refined, milled and burnt, and then tested to examine its potential as pigment colour.
A Sustainable Pigment Factory
The focus of the work has turned to five sites where ochre is in formation - Six Bells and Tan-y-Garn mine water treatment schemes in South Wales together with three others in Scotland, Lancashire and North Yorkshire. These sites will become the first-ever functioning industrial sites to be associated with, and named as a sustainable source of colour: an incidental pigment factory. The sites and their colour will be recognised and acknowledged as part of the cultural, social and industrial history of the UK.
Water pumped from the flooding cavities of redundant coal mines inadvertently produces over 4000 tonnes of iron-oxide ‘ochre’ material as ‘waste’ ochre sludge every year. This largely untapped source of ochre presents an opportunity for the development of new earth pigment for use in paint that retains the identity of its material formation in the landscape. This is in contrast to currently available natural ochres from unsustainable unnamed sources across the globe.
The lakes of colour in the ground are the Mine Water Treatment Schemes run and managed by the Coal Authority. They inadvertently perform the production of ochre waste as part of the clean-up of polluting ground water and contaminated land. The lakes signify an event occurring in the post-industrial, post-carbon landscape and are defined and highlighted here as performing a cultural act and recognised as artworks.
The ochres are distinguished by the quality and indivudality of their colour that describes the particular conditions of their landscape context which are intricately linked to the history and legacy of the coal mining industry; to the hands that worked this industry. The use of the coal mine waste materials as pigment for paint recognises for the first time their position as part of the cultural landscape of the UK.
Over the past year we have been developing the project in consultaion with the particpants from the community at Ty Ebbw Fach / Six Bells Regeneration to collectively explore the value and significance of the materials for the people whose experiences are shaped by the mining landscape and its legacies. Beginning in January 2020 a number of public events have taken place, starting with meeting retired coal mine surveyors and workers who talked about their knowledge and memories of the mines.
This has been leading up towards the launch of the first ever mineral based wall emulsion paint and oil paint made in collaboration with two world class paint manufacturers local to the area.
The ongoing programme of work is developed through close collaboration with the Coal Authority.
Over the course of its evolution this work has had significant contributions from Dr. Ruth Siddall geologist and pigment analyst at UCL; Prof. David Dobson from the Department of Earth Science UCL, Jo Volley, Deputy Director (projects) Slade School of Fine Art and Spike Bucklow, Reader in Material Culture, University of Cambridge.
TLiC is the research site of artist Onya McCausland.
McCausland, O Turning Landscape into Colour 2017
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