SARAH SINGLETON meets a sculptor bringing internationally acclaimed works to a garden near you

IN summer woods and grassy glades, a multitude of sculptures stand in dappled sunlight and shade.

Stone and glass, ceramic and bronze, marble and scrap metal, these extraordinary pieces seem to emerge from the landscape. Made by internationally acclaimed artists, with an eclectic mix of representative and abstract art and more than 150 pieces on display, there is plenty to admire.

This is the aptly named Elemental exhibition, at the Cotswold Sculpture Park, at Somerford Keynes. Sculpture fans from around the country are descending on this annual summer exhibition on the 10-acre site know by the Hartland family as the Land.

They bought it 24 years ago, a field of thistles, and transformed it into a woodland garden, full of trees and birds and shining pools. And for the third summer, owner, curator and sculptor Dave Hartland has set up this extraordinary exhibition.

“I try and get the right work for the environment,” Dave says. “It’s not a stately home, it’s completely different from that. It’s got to compliment the landscape. They have got to work together. We built the Land up from nothing, but when the sculptures are taken away at the end, I do feel that something is missing so it does work incredibly well.”

His own artistic path was not the conventional one: he attended public school but left with one O level, trained as a mechanic and welder, had various jobs and occupations and took up creating art from scrap metal without formal training.

“I never could stick at anything,” he says. “I was always moving on or wanting to do something different.”

What has endured is his attachment to the Land. The process of creating the sculpture park, an on-going project creating ecosystems and an environment for wildlife, has been a naturally evolving process. It has a mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, through which paths wind and meander. Along the way, you encounter the sculptures on a variety of plinths – wood, stone, ivy-covered breeze block, random vintage machinery – as well as emerging from the trees and lush vegetation.

The first piece you see is Dave’s own giant structure, Carbon Neutral. A striking piece, towering over you, it’s like a prop from a Mad Max movie, a tree constructed on scrap metal in which rests a Morris Minor. Last year this comment on carbon emissions, climate change and the demise of our forests was displayed at Glastonbury Festival.

“It didn’t look so big there,” Dave says dryly.

Dave’s own creative process moves slowly, he explains. Over many months he gathers pieces of scrap metal that might suggest something – a head, a bird’s torso – and when finally, he has accumulated the pieces, he welds them together. As well as Carbon Neutral, Dave’s Eagle on Hare has its place in the exhibition. Another has cars submerged in the earth, and a man rowing away. Much of his work has an environmental theme.

He selects his fellow exhibitors from sculpture parks and online research, and invites people to submit pieces.

“At first it was just my work, and people coming in for various reasons gave plenty of positive feedback. So I thought, why not involve other people?”

What makes this collection so interesting is its eclecticism. While Carbon Neutral has an anarchic rock festival vibe, many of the pieces in the exhibition would indeed look perfectly at home in the gardens of stately homes, such as Stuart Anderson’s elegant bronze horses or Mel Fraser’s stunning The Three Graces. Kendra Haste’s Bear, made of galvanised chicken wire, emerges from the woods on the Land but this piece was displayed at Kew Gardens last year. Some pieces are decorative, others invite interpretation and conversation.

A particular highlight is the work of Andrew Lee. His piece Shoal (there are three with the same name) uses light tubes of stainless steel in a mass, which turn with the wind, responding to the lightest of movements in the air, reflecting the light as they move. He is inspired by the natural world and particularly by thousands of miles travelled by sea, contemplating the restless quality, the continuous movement, of the air.

Mel Fraser’s graceful Angel Wing, made of Carrara marble, is translucent in the sunlight. Liane Lang’s Lenin – a pile of seemingly broken pieces of a once-iconic statue – seems to be crumbling back to the earth. It is elemental indeed.

The exhibition attracted more than four thousand people last year, and Dave expects even more to attend this year. Sculpture aficionados, tourists visiting the area or staying at the Cotswold Water Park as well as local people all come to see this amazing place, with its beautiful sculpture trail.

Elemental at the Cotswold Sculpture Park, with the Poppin tearoom and gallery, runs till 30 September and is open from 10.30am till 4pm every day except Tuesday and Wednesday. Admission to the exhibition is £5.