Monday, March 1, 2010

"Our World through Andy Goldsworthy's Lens" - an (gushing) essay by Jaime Lyerly

All works in the post are from artist Andy Goldsworthy
Images from Morning

In my attempt to put some "quality" content on my blog, I am going to share with you an essay that I just completed for my "Contemporary Issues for Studio Artists" class.

My essay is about the land art work of Andy Goldsworthy. I think he is an amazing artist and have to admit that I gushed a little (or a lot) in this essay. His work is jaw-droppingly beautiful and he is one of those artists that when I discovered him a few years ago, I couldn't imagine how I got along without knowing him before. So a little gushing may be in order.

To break up the monotony of the essay format, I am interspersing YouTube clips of Rivers and Tides, which is documentary about Andy Goldsworthy that I base my essay on, and photographs of his work that I captured from Morning The DVD is available on Netflix's Instant view, if you have that or seek it out through your local library.

I hope you are as moved by his work as I am. Enjoy! ~ Jaime Lyerly

Our world through Andy Goldsworthy’s lens
© 2010 Jaime Lyerly

Andy Goldsworthy’s (b. 1956) contemplative sculptures made of natural materials connect to the viewer on a visual and visceral level. Goldsworthy’s artwork is usually simplified into the term of “Land Art.” To use the term “Land Art” puts Goldsworthy in the same category as Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer, which is rightly deserved yet completely wrong at the same time. Smithson and Heizer did work in the land, but they used large machines to make monuments that engulf and almost intimidate the viewer. Their work is about the largeness and spaciousness of the structures. Goldsworthy’s work is more personal in scale and use of ephemeral materials and thus his appeal is unmistakable. In the documentary film Rivers and Tides, viewers get to share in Andy Goldsworthy’s work with nature and see how this quiet man makes sculptures in the land that draw our attention to the beauty that was always there but we have never seen it. That is the power of Goldsworthy’s art and Rivers and Tides gives us a rare glimpse into his magical world.

Andy Goldsworthy’s states that he began doing art in the land while being in art college, where everyone was forced to create in little cubicles. One day he went down to work on the beach and found that the beach had an “energy, breathlessness and uncertainty” which was missing when he was working inside. He states in an interview in Wall Street Journal that “when I went outside and realized art is also a way of feeling, of being nourished, of understanding, of looking and being aware of things” . It is this energy is what has brought him out into nature ever since. In the spirit of Goldsworthy statement “words can do their job, but what I am doing says a lot more,” his actions are what defines him as an artist. In the film Rivers and Tides, Goldsworthy is speaking of his work while he is piling flat stones into a round shape. He is building a cairn right where the where the tide is going to come in. According to Encarta Dictionary, a cairn is “a pile of stones set on a hill or mountain to mark a spot for walkers and climbers, or as a memorial to somebody who died there.” There is no explanation about why the cairn is built there.

Rivers and Tides - Cairn

Goldsworthy and his assistant gather flat shale-like stones and he is carefully placing them into a stone circle, stacked on each other. Goldsworthy puts on a large stone, and the sculpture wobbles. He tries to steady it with his hand, but it crumbled from beneath him. The frustration is apparent on his face. He starts building again. Later the piece falls again, and again. He says that each time it falls, there is an “immense disappointment,” but that each time he “understands the stone better” and it gets closer to completion . It takes him four attempts for the cairn to be built, all while the tide is rising higher and higher, threatening to flood the area before the work is complete. Goldsworthy takes photographs of the cairn as it is engulfed by the high tide and remains standing when the tide rushes out. When the cairn is taken by the sea, Goldsworthy states that it is not like destruction; “the sea makes more of the work than I can.”

The seed like shape of the cairn is an image that Goldsworthy likes, and states that its connection with the seed is “full and ripe, ” which seems in contrast to the stone from which it is made. However, the stones are from the land surrounding the area, and there is still life in the stone, which makes it have energy of its own. Goldsworthy has made cairns all over the world, as place-markers for where he has been. They are present in museums, sculpture parks and most importantly, in the village he has made his home for the last fifteen years – Penpoint, Scotland.

Icicle Star, joined with saliva, Andy Goldsworthy

Goldsworthy was born in England, but he has made his home and family in Penpont, Scotland, which is a picture of rural life. Growing up in England, he belonged to a farming family, and was raised tending to the land. According to an article in The Observer, Goldsworthy was working at 13 and that he “rather he liked the repetitive quality of farm tasks, which he likens to the grind of making sculpture 'A lot of my work is like picking potatoes,' he says. 'You have to get into the rhythm of it.' This sense of rhythm and a seemingly inherit design talent is obvious in every sculpture made by Goldsworthy. To know a place, according to Goldsworthy, you have to live in it long time - long enough to see births and deaths. By living in his village at Penpont for the last fifteen years, with all of his children born there, and him working in the woods surrounding it, there is a sense of connectedness between Goldsworthy and his home. In Rivers and Tides, there is a scene with Goldsworthy sitting at the breakfast table with his wife cooking, his children in a frenzy of activity and him slowly eating a bowl of cereal – thoughts obviously not in the room. However, when he steps outside with a bowl in his hand, gathering bright yellow daisies from all over the town, his connection to the natural world and this town is apparent.

Andy Goldsworthy with Arch

He is sought out to do commissions all over the world, and when he comes home from that, he has to connect to his land again. He has built cairns in his village, which he documents via photographs to show the changing of the seasons. This kind of documentation would be difficult to do with a sculpture that is not connected with his home. For Goldsworthy, time is the most important aspect of his work. He states in Rivers and Tides that he is “fascinated by those processes that are apparent in nature over time – the sun, the light, the time; growth... The real work is in the change” . It is his thoughtful work in nature and his careful documenting through photographs, video, sketches and journaling, which are expressed through his books, brings the viewer into his miraculous world where natural processes are explored.

Rivers and Tides - Nova Scotia

Andy Goldsworthy’s work with ephemeral materials found on site and in nature is what makes him unique. He is a landscape artist, a land artist and an ecological artist, but he is so much more than that. According to the Smithsonian, “by using the landscape as his material, he can illustrate aspects of the natural world – its color, mutability, energy – without resorting to mimicry” . It is not just taking branches and leaves from the natural world and sticking them into a museum. It is not decorating natural objects with art supplies, since he only uses what can be found in nature. It is not painting a two dimensional surface to replicate the natural world. It is a personal exploration of time’s natural processes documented for viewers to see and form their own connections. Goldsworthy’s does not believe that he is making the landscape better by adding his signature touch. He is making work in a place he calls home and sharing the processes with us through a multitude of books and the documentary, Rivers and Tides. Goldsworthy states, “I don’t think the landscape needs me at all. But I do need it. ” This humbleness is as appealing to our jaded times as the natural materials Goldsworthy uses to express himself.

Oak Leaves and Holes by Andy Goldsworthy

Wall Street Journal writer Jason Edward Kaufman sums up Andy Goldsworthy’s appeal:
Mr. Goldsworthy’s low-tech, down-to-earth individualism is a retrograde reaction to the tenor of the times. His gentale [sic] interventions into nature – many of them destined to fade away soon after the artist photographs them – provide an appealing antidote to the glitz pervading so much of the modern society, including the art world.

As many of us have never even been to a place like Penpont, Scotland, let alone are able to make artwork in the land there, Goldsworthy provides a glimpse into a world that natural time touches, but man does not. His work with the ephemeral connects the viewer to a world that is more than beauty, but is always in a sense of decay. Goldsworthy “knows that nothing can or should last forever. Once a piece has been illuminated by the perfect light or been borne away by the serendipitous wave, he gratefully bids it a fond farewell” . Luckily, for us, the pieces will live on in photographs to be marveled at for generations.

Andy Goldsworthy is a compelling artist for many reasons and deserves to be given a better category than just Land Art. His connection with nature is sound and it appeals to me on a visual and visceral level. My stomach clenches when I see his work in his books, especially Passage in all its vibrant color. Below most of the pictures in Passage there is writing taken from Goldsworthy’s journals or a poem about the moment. Goldsworthy has found a way to connect deeply with nature and relay that connection to the viewer in a powerful way. Rivers and Tides is a wonderful way to experience the world of Andy Goldsworthy, and see it as he builds each piece. As he reminded us that words do not matter as much as actions, the ability to see this artist at work is a more compelling way to experience Goldsworthy’s work than a simple interview. Rivers and Tides is a quiet film, with breathtaking imagery that I had to restrain myself from stopping the film several times in my desire to get outside and experience nature. Working with nature’s time has become Andy Goldsworthy’s life work, and has inspired myself and many other artists to seek out a way to explore our world in a new light. The object is dematerialized into a measure of nature’s time, and “the real work is in the change. ” To experience our world through the lens of Andy Goldsworthy is to moving experience that one should not miss.

Adams, Tim. “Natural Talent." The Observer, March 11 2007, Art and Design section.
Goldsworthy, Andy. Passage. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, 2004.
Kaufman, Jason Edward. “Following Inspiration Across Hill and Dale,” Wall Street
Journal, July 18, 2000, Leisure & Arts section, Eastern edition.
Lubow, Arthur. “Andy Goldsworthy.” Smithsonian, Vol. 36, Issue 8. Nov 2005
Riedelsheime, Thomas, Director, DVD. Rivers and Tides, 2003.

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