Last night we sat down to watch my favorite artist documentary about Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy creates site-specific land art primarily from material found at the site. He will use leaves, stones, twigs, moss, hair, clay, water, ice, sand, snow, anything that the site provides and allow the work to be derived from the materials available and how the site speaks to him.
The first time I was exposed to Goldsworthy was during an art history class in College. Much of the course was dedicated to studying the Naturalist/Artist relationships and imitating those relationships in our art. We worked at a small-scale first with studying principles of art such as space, order, perspective, and so on while viewing the Rivers and Tides documentary in class. Then we increased the scale and as a class constructed a large labyrinth deep in the woods behind the college. It was a great experience and my only regret was that I was not exposed to an art style like this before.
The whole time we were growing up my brother and I were experimenting with natural materials much the same way that Goldsworthy does, usually on a smaller scale and with less patience. Collecting, analyzing, sorting, arranging, only falling short of photographing. We were not aware we were creating art. It is my belief that if more young children were exposed to this type of artist, who essentially makes his living by playing in the woods, than I am confident that they would reflect more positively their time spent growing up in the woods. Goldsworthy primary skills with which he creates his fantastic artworks is patience and observation. Many of the ephemeral works he creates require hours of study and construction. The final work is not predetermined but derived from the location.
The reason I admire Goldsworthy so much is I envy his ability to become so consumed in nature such that it seems to be channeled through him. The ability to enter a location in the environment, a stream bed or cow pasture, and not only perceive the natural beauty that exists but to be able to enhance it through the reconfiguration of materials. I wish many times I had the patience it would require to produce one of these fantastic natural sculptures. One section of the documentary depicts Goldsworthy attempting to create one of his signature egg-shaped stone piles on a beach with the intention of the sea rising to envelope it at high tide. Goldsworthy took hours to build up a few layers of stone only to have it collapse not even half-way completed. He began again, still racing the tide. This repeated four times, each time gaining a little more height with an increasing understanding of the stone he was working with. Ultimately, he was unable to complete the sculpture within the allotted time before the tide reached his location, but the next scene flashed to the completed work with an approaching tide in the distance. I don’t know how I would feel if after a full day of toil I had absolutely no progress to show for my efforts, and still have the resolve to return and compete the work, still facing an innumerable amount of possible failures. I would wager many of us would have long since gone home and not return.
I have had the opportunity to visit a few of Goldsworthy’s installations in the past, both at Kentuck Knob Sculpture Garden during a college Architecture Club trip and more recently at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. when my wife and I went on vacation there last year. I did not expect to see it but was able to recognize his work immediately as it stretched the entire length of the ground-level garden and broke into the building through the glass curtain wall. The low stone domes are meant to resemble the numerous architectural domes throughout the city. I do expect to visit another of his famous installations in the coming years though, the Storm King Wall, at Storm King Sculpture Park in Mountainville, NY down in the Hudson Valley. This work was detailed brilliantly in the Rivers and Tides documentary.
Storm King Sculpture Park, Wall
If you haven’t yet seen Rivers and Tides or even heard of Andy Goldsworthy or his art then be sure to check both out!