News Staff July 24, 2019

Artist Dr Onya McCausland’s monochrome wall-painting Wheal Jane has been made from ochre – raw earth pigment – taken from the former Wheal Jane mine near Falmouth.

The mine, which closed in 1992, is now managed through a partnership between the Coal Authority, the Environment Agency and Veolia on behalf of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The new painting is one of 12 works featured in a group exhibition entitled Europe After The Rain, curated by Simon Faithfull at the Newlyn Art Gallery. Running until 5 October, the exhibition presents visions of dystopian terrains and possible landscapes to come.

The picture is the latest production in a unique collaboration between Cornish-born Onya and the Coal Authority that sees the artist using ochre deposits to create new ‘natural’ pigments.

The use of ochre as a pigment was identified by the Coal Authority’s Innovations Team several years ago with chemists working with the dried material to identify different uses.

Last year the authority worked with Onya again when she opened an exhibition of 5 wall paintings using 5 different colours gained from 5 different mine water treatment schemes across the former coalfields in Scotland, Lancashire and South Wales.

The Coal Authority designs, builds and operates 75 such schemes to deal with the water that flows from former collieries. Together they treat over 122 billion litres of pumped water each year – preventing 4,000 tonnes of iron solids from entering and polluting local water courses and drinking water aquifers.

Once treated, the water enters local watercourses clean but leaves behind iron solids, which stain the water courses orange if left untreated. This is the ochre – or ferric oxy-hydroxide– that Onya uses as the base for her pigments.

Onya’s PhD research – Turning Landscape Into Colour – looked into the use of mine water ochre as pigment for paint. It revealed optical and aesthetic distinctions between ochre colours from different mine water treatment sites.

These differences are due to individual geological and chemical reactions at each mine water treatment scheme. Various trials have been carried out by the Coal Authority on the ochre to develop a number of uses, including land remediation as well as pigments.

Onya said the Newlyn exhibition was very special because it allowed her to present work formed from Cornwall in her home county.

Over the year the Coal Authority has been very helpful and forthcoming, allowing me to visit many of their coal mine water treatment sites, where I discovered these beautiful ochres.

I visited the Wheal Jane site several years ago and have now been able to use the pigment from there within my latest work.

Jon Aumonier, Innovation Project Manager at the Coal Authority, said the collaboration project with Onya had proved to be exciting and rewarding.

Seeing our ochre turned into 100 per cent natural pigments has been a very different experience for the authority.

We continue to supply ochre to Onya but have also received interest from other artists and we are also exploring the large scale use of our ochre in the pigment market.

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