Coal Tree Salt Sea

You can purchase a copy of the book in the shop on this site.

Sarah's project "Coal Tree Salt Sea" was exhibited at Abergavenny Museum early in 2017 then onto Oriel Q, Narberth until 2nd September 2017. The installation 'Allah Chemia' is currently been shown at RWA, Bristol until Dec 2017

Coal Tree Salt Sea is an inter-disciplinary body of work which began as an Arts Council Wales funded research and development  residency in partnership with the Josef Herman Art Foundation Cymru in Ystradgynlais, near Swansea in 2015 (originally called Coal Tree). This started as a response to the area around Ystradgynlais, the place that Josef Herman called home for eleven years. Herman was mainly a figurative artist, yet he sought out the wild desolate places to walk and as I found, Ystradgynlais is in an extraordinary, dramatic and culturally rich landscape. I walked alone and with people that know the place intimately, I also befriended an amateur archaeologist who had exhumed an amazing collection of items from the area. Some of these will be shown in the exhibition, displayed alongside some of my responses
Ystradgynlais was part of a very significant coal mining area, rich in seams of anthracite, central to people’s lives. The main piece of work that I made was an installation in the landscape. A hollow oak tree filled with three quaters of a ton of anthracite, sited on a hill in Cwmgiedd nearby. The tree is ‘birthing coal’.


Coal Tree. Photo credit Sarah Rhys 2015

I arranged a local May time event around the tree with Welsh folk music, poetry and a picnic.
There are ritual uses of coal as well as salt, both are symbolic materials which were carried to a new home when moving. Salt has a mining culture that has parallels with that of coal. This took me to Poland to explore the salt mines of Wieliczka.
Salt (once known as ‘white gold’) is the Albdeo, one of the triad components of alchemy and has deeply symbolic connotations to do with purification and substantiation. It has been used in ritual processes over the millenia and coal  (black gold) , born of putrification from drowned forests is for me an aspect of the Nigredo, it expresses deep geological time and metamorphosis.
I am interested in the geological time of the forming of seas which in cycles turn into vast salt pans,  creating extraordinary salt landscapes, both above and below the ground.

 Exhibition at Arcade Cardiff 2016


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Allah Chemia’  ArcadeCardiff 2016. ( 24 salt and coal  phials). photo credit Sarah Rhys


Coal Tree Salt Sea

‘Charcoal Tree’. Sculpture park at Kampa Museum of Modern Art, Prague. 2016. Sarah Rhys


Sarah has recently returned from visiting salt mines in Poland and then from Czech Republic where she made an installation in the grounds of Kampa Museum of Art, Prague, the ancient city of alchemy.

Black Gold, Nigredo and White Gold, Albedo
Exploring symbolic meanings in both Coal and Salt
“ Alchemical salt, like any other alchemical substance, is a metaphoric or ‘philosophical salt’
Coal has alchemical characteristics; born of putrified matter; it can metamorphically transform again to the next stage which is diamond.



Ritual Archaeology . Sarah Rhys

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“Allah Chemia” 24 salt carbon phials. Abergavenny Museum 2017


Arcade Cardiff  hosted ‘Coal Tree Salt Sea’ in 2016, Abergavenny Museum held the exhibition in early 2017. It  then toured to Oriel Q, Narberth in Summer 2017

The installation ‘Allah Chemia’ was shown at RWA, Annual Open Exhibition in 2017

There is an artist book to accompany the exhibition. See Shop for details

Coal Tree Fruit Machine 2017. Digital Print

Coal Apples 2018. Porcelain and coal