I NSIDE a cosy log cabin in the garden of his home next to Wark forest, Luca Serra is concentrating on his latest wood sculpture.

“It’s from a silver birch tree that was in our garden but had been dead for three years and it seemed a shame to burn it,” he explains in his lyrical Italian-English.

Luca is using a little file called a rasp to add definition to the Celtic spiral he has just created. The totemic sculpture will form part of the opening exhibition of the new Tower House gallery in Seaton Sluice in April.

Perhaps the flowing, wave-like aspect of the design has been inspired by the music emanating from the workshop’s sound system – in this instance the angelic incantations of Lisa Gerrard.

“Music is an influence,” Luca muses. “If you’re listening to aggressive music, you attack the wood more, with classical, you are more soft.”

He likes to work to music, but it’s nature that is Luca’s key inspiration, and living on the edge of Wark forest, which is literally across the road from the house he shares with his partner, Carole, could not be a more apt location for his art.

He’s surrounded by trees and deer regularly come to the edge of the conifer plantation. It has to be said that it’s a long way from his birthplace on the Italian island of Sardinia, and one wonders why anyone would swap a sun-drenched Mediterranean isle for an often midge-infested, damp and isolated corner of Northumberland.

Love, of course, is the answer. Carole is a Geordie and, romantically, the two met at the world famous Carnival of Venice. He followed her back here and, after living on Tyneside for nine years, they moved up to their cottage between Wark and the Forestry Commission-founded village of Stonehaugh 11 years ago.

“One day we saw the advert about this house, so we came for a drive and loved it straight away,” Luca recalls. It’s actually the old school house for the Warksburn area and dates back to 1858.

“We wanted to try and live self-sufficiently, but it’s not possible,” he laughs. However, he and Carole do grow their own vegetables and have installed solar panels.

Luca is a trained dry stone waller and helps out farmers locally, but he spends as much time as he can working with wood.

Born in the south of Sardinia in a province called Lunamatrona, meaning ‘mother of the moon’, he was always artistic, perhaps taking after his mother who was a seamstress. Luca grew up amongst the standing stones or ‘menhirs’ of Sardinia and remains fascinated by totemic structures in the landscape.

And despite the marked difference in climate, he maintains there are striking similarities between the place of his birth and the North-East of England.

“There are mines in Sardinia, like there were here, and my grandfather was a miner. He would work all day in the mine and then have to ride home on his bicycle. The people of Sardinia are also very friendly and very proud of their region. Also it is not very populated, which is why I like it here. I don’t like cities very much.”

Although he always enjoyed painting, Luca did not study art until he came to England and enrolled at Newcastle College, where he gained a diploma in art and design in 2003 before going on to do a foundation degree in fine art.

His tutor recognised Luca’s talent with clay sculpture and suggested he do his placement with well-known sculptor Gilbert Ward, who lives at Fourstones. Gilbert, who is now in his eighties, is a former head of sculpture at Newcastle Polytechnic and member of ‘The Newcastle Group.’

“He taught me to carve with wood and I loved it straight away,” says Luca. He and Gilbert became very good friends and they still see a lot of each other. “I often ask his advice,” Luca says.

As well as being influenced by Gilbert’s approach, Luca also admires the innovative work of Andy Goldsworthy, who creates impermanent outdoor sculptures using natural materials from the landscape, such as tree trunks, stones or leaves, even snow.

You may have come across some of Luca’s sculpture if you have visited Dilston Physic Garden, just outside Corbridge – home to his ‘Spiritual Henge’ comprising eight railway sleepers that he has hand-carved with spiritual and religious imagery.

More recently, he was commissioned to carve a bench for the community of Stocksfield and spent three months analysing drawings and models created by Year Four children from the village’s Broomley First School before bringing them to life.

It’s carved from an oak tree that was donated by a Riding Mill resident and features sculpted creatures, including a badger, otter, heron and salmon. But aside from local commissions, Luca has undertaken pieces for people as far and wide as Dubai and Australia.

Luca uses the analogy of cloud spotting to explain his approach to wood carving. “It’s very instinctive. Sometimes the wood guides you, sometimes it breaks in one place and it makes a shape. The best way to describe it is when you are a kid, you look at the clouds and see all the shapes – with wood, you think a little bit more, but it’s the same game you play when you are a child with clouds.”

A member of the Network Artists North East group, Luca has taken part in the Northumberland Art Tour and says he finds fellow artists in the region a huge support.

As well as the forthcoming exhibition at Seaton Sluice, he currently has work on display at Hexham’s Robinson-Gay gallery and is going to be at the Music on the Marr event at Castle Carrock, Cumbria, this summer.

“For me, carving a piece of wood is like giving a new life to the tree which has been felled. The tree still lives, but in a different form,” he says.

l For information about one-to-one classes in sculpture with Luca, you can contact him at lucaserra@btinternet.com