Listening to Art

02.01: David Partridge, Strata and Craters

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Listening to Art, by William Denton.

Volume two, number one: Strata and Craters by David Partridge.

Hello, and welcome to Listening to Art. I’m William Denton.

Volume two begins with two recordings of works by an artist I knew: David Partridge. Mr. Partridge, as I will always think of him, was one of the greatest Canadian artists.

Mr. Partridge was born in Akron, Ohio in 1919, then lived in England for several years as a boy before moving to Toronto and later going to Trinity College, at the University of Toronto, where he met his wife Tibs. In 1941 he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and served as a flying instructor. After the war he and his family moved around, and he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London and with Stanley William Hayter in Paris, before returning to Canada in 1958. He died in 2006.

Mr. Partridge invented “naillies,” which, as Wikipedia describes them, are “works (sometimes very large) made of nails of varying sizes driven into plywood to different heights to form representational or abstract sculptures.”

The naillies he made at the height of his career could be huge, several meters wide by over two or three meters tall, and could contain tens of thousands of nails. They are beautiful pieces, fascinating both from a distance, where the individual nails merge together into a whole, and up close, where the nails each stand out and move separately and cast their own shadows as you walk in front of the work. Later in his life he changed to making more representational miniatures, which distilled all of the beauty of his earlier work, combined with added wisdom, into something just the size of a book.

Strata and Craters are a pair of works from 1969. They are beside each other in the same room, facing at a slight angle, in the central library at York University in Toronto. They were originally in the library’s atrium but were moved into a reading room a few years ago during renovations.

These are naillies, made of aluminum sheathing over plywood, with galvanized nails, each 671 cm wide by 366 cm high.

Now let’s listen to Strata and Craters by David Partridge, recorded at York University, in Toronto, Ontario, on 27 October 2017.

Waveform of the field recording.

Those were Strata and Craters by David Partridge. I hope you enjoyed listening to them as much as I did.

For more information and links to things I’ve mentioned, please visit

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All web sites accessed as of date of publication.

Wikipedia, s.v. “David Partridge (artist),”