Si Homfray - Living Art in Hathersage

PUBLISHED: 14:29 28 April 2010 | UPDATED: 15:45 20 February 2013

Tangboche Monastery

Tangboche Monastery

Bringing together the best photographers and artists to present a 'big picture' of the natural world.

Si Homfray is a man with a mission. His aim is to use highly innovative displays of art to help us appreciate the enormity, diversity, importance, texture and pattern of the living world, so that we will be inspired to do everything in our power to preserve and protect its beauty.

Si's vehicle for this noble venture is Living Art, which harnesses the creative talents of the best photographers and artists, together with the computer capability at Hammer Design, his own design and marketing agency, in order to produce touring exhibitions and video presentations that have one thing in common: they present a 'big picture' of an aspect of the natural world.

The venture first took off - quite literally - on a late summer's day in 2005, when Si persuaded a friend to take photographer John Beatty and himself on a helicopter journey that would zig-zag across the Peak District. While John took a series of aerial shots covering the entire national park, Si composed a poem dedicated to the beauty of the landscape.

Within the space of just 24 hours, John's photographs and Si's words had been assembled at Hammer Design into a collage measuring eight metres by two metres. This complex composition conveys a simple message that the country's first national park is a miniature example of how we can live and work in balance and harmony with nature. Versions of this aerial portrait of the Peak District National Park are currently on display, under the title 'Heath and Heaven', at the Pavilion Gardens in Buxton and at the Heights of Abraham in Matlock Bath.

In 2007 Si made a similar bird's-eye-view portrait of the entire Lake District National Park. On this occasion, he was not only the wordsmith and navigator, but also the man who hung out of the helicopter to take photographs throughout the journey. The resulting collage, entitled 'Rugged Reflections', is on display at the Lake District Visitor Centre at Brockhole and is also reproduced in twelve instalments as a 2009 calendar available from Living Art.

Si's love of the great outdoors began when he started climbing in the Peak District at the age of fourteen. As well as walking and climbing in the country's most beautiful areas he has always loved running. He says: 'I absolutely love to run. It clears the mind and body, and gives me clarity. In equal measure I hate racing. When you race everything becomes part of a goal and the end is all that matters; I want to enjoy everything I see at my own pace.'

These are the sort of sentiments that inspired Si to set up his innovative venture. He explains: 'Living Art is about slowing down; it's about showing the beauty of everything you see when you stop and look. We all need to take a deep breath, clear our minds and be touched by what is out there.'

Four years ago, after clearing his own mind and taking a deep breath, Si decided to sell his Sheffield advertising company and set up his Living Art venture alongside Hammer Design, a new design and marketing agency that would be heavily involved in web design, as well as in the production of brochures, leaflets, posters and visual displays.

One of his clients was a young physics graduate called Ben Carpenter, who asked Si to print digitally seven photographs he had taken of a Greek island, so that they could be combined into a single framed panorama of the entire island. While studying for a research degree at Sheffield, Ben had taught himself the elements of web design and had decided that a career using these skills would be more enjoyable and of more value than carrying out scientific research in a narrow field. He now works full-time at Hammer Design's office in Hathersage. Years earlier Si had made a similar decision to abandon a career that would have used his university qualification, which in his case is a degree in Medicine, so that he could satisfy his creative urge.

Si needs the revenue from Hammer Design to support himself, his partner and his two young children, as well as Living Art, which is not designed as a profit-making venture. While he has been given generous help by the national park authorities in both the Lake District and the Peak District, he has had to find his own funds to support many of his other projects, which include Living Landscape, Inspired by Nature, the Big Picture of Natural Britain and Symphony for the Mountains.

Living Landscape was an exhibition launched at Si's own gallery on the ground floor of his Hathersage offices. It celebrated the beauty of the Peak District through the eyes of several professional photographers who work within it. Framed prints of pictures from the show, taken by the likes of Karen Frenkel, Bridget Flemming, Ray Manley and many other top photographers, are now available for purchase from the Living Art website.

Inspired by Nature is a selection of John Beatty's photographic work which has been digitally printed onto canvas. The pictures result from a lifetime spent photographing remote and wild places, as well as the people who live there and their indigenous cultures. In praise of John's work Si says, 'His pictures illustrate the colour and diversity that make our planet such a privileged place to share.'

The Big Picture of Natural Britain is Si's most ambitious project to date. Through his website he is asking people to contribute images taken anywhere in the UK or Ireland of the landscape, flora and fauna, or simply photographs of people enjoying the great outdoors. When sufficient of these images have been collected they will be used to create a gigantic mosaic map of Britain and Ireland, which will be printed onto a banner. Illustrator and calligrapher Sarah Coleman has already contributed some of her artwork to border the mosaic which Si plans to put on show at prominent landmarks across the country.

Hoping to express the emotions felt by people who have ventured onto some of the world's highest mountains, Si has also devised a three-part Symphony for the Mountains, an audio-visual presentation with contributions from respected mountaineers, climbers, outdoor photographers, painters and writers.

When the first part of the exhibition, entitled 'Odyssey and Expectation', was shown at the Rohan clothing and sports shop in Guildford, some members of the audience were moved to tears by the emotional impact of stunning images from some of planet's most inaccessible regions. As Si says, it is reactions like that which drive him on to devise yet more ways of 'shouting about the beauty of the world'.

Living Art is based at Hathersage Business Park, Heather Lane, Hathersage

Tel: 01433 650555

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