Playing with nature


Anne here, taking a slight detour away from history for the moment and into the realm of contemporary art, specifically sculpture. Nicola's blog on Wednesday, where she mentioned standing stones, got me thinking about one of my favorite artists — certainly my favorite living artist, Andy Goldsworthy.

Andy Goldsworthy is an artist from the UK, but he's worked in countries all over the world, creating artworks both timeless and ephemeral. I discovered him in the 1990's, by accident, while browsing through books in a bookshop, waiting for a friend. I bought that first book, and I've bought a number of his books since, and still prize them. They make wonderful gifts, too. I've never found anyone who his work didn't speak to, no matter what their cultural or educational background. Cairn

One definition of an artist is someone who shows us familiar things in an unfamiliar way. Andy Goldsworthy certainly does that.  For me, there's a childlike wonder in his work. He shows us nature as we never experience it, yet his art draws us closer to nature.

A reviewer in The Smithsonian said: "A new kind of poetry is created when Andy Goldsworthy works with stone, wood and water — our world never looks quite the same again" ~ "Searching for the window into nature's soul", Smithsonian magazine (February 1997)
He works mainly in the open air, in all kinds of weather, creating art from the materials he finds around him. He's made sculptures on the North Pole in freezing conditions, and in the desert in baking heat.

He doesn't use any of the normal tools of a sculptor — no chisels or hammers or glue or anything like that — he creates from the environment, using what the landscape provides, so he might sew leaves  together with thorns, or wrap rocks in autumn leaves, or use his spit in freezing temperatures to hold together confections of ice, or join reeds with thorns to make a delicate screen, like the one in this picture. He also stacks rocks in wonderful ways, using dry stone wall techniques, among others.  He's made cairns like the one above all over the world. There's even one in my home town of Melbourne. I must confess, I really love dry stone walls and cairns.

Icespiraltree He said: "I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and "found" tools–a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn." 

I've watched videos of him creating his sculptures and it's so impressive. He's amazingly patient, and his works are frequently spoiled at the last minute, by a breeze, a wave, an animal or by gravity, and yet he never seems to lose his cool. He just starts again. Leaves

Many of his works of art only last a few hours or a few days. Snow melts, leaves wither, tides sweep sand constrictions away. Other of his works will last for many years, but they are not always kept in art galleries or museums — many stand out in the wind and the rain and the hot sun.

Luckily for the ordinary person, he takes photos of his work and sells the best of them in books. (All of the photos on this blog were taken by Andy Goldsworthy.)

Sometimes puts a note about the work in the book with the photo. Some read like short poems. 
Iris blades pinned together with thorns
filled in five sections with rowan berries
fish attacking from below
difficult to keep all the berries in
nibbled at by ducks


Rowan leaves laid around a hole   Rowan_leaves
collecting the last few leaves
nearly finished
dog ran into hole
started again
made in the shade on a windy, sunny day

A portfolio of his work is listed at this website.
There's a rather beautiful video of Andy Goldsworthy and his work here. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

So, tell me, what do you think? Do you like them or not? Is there a piece of art or sculpture that really speaks to you? Or would you rather stay home with a good book? 

*Anne coming in after the post above was posted, to say how horrified I am about the news coming out of Japan. My thoughts are with the Japanese people at this terrible time.