Homage to Goldsworthy Inspired by Autumn’s Arrival

29 September 2011


Ode to Andy Goldsworthy, experiment one, grapevines, 2011; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2011

Ode to Andy Goldsworthy II, experiment two, 2011
Ode to Andy Goldsworthy II, experiment two, slate and stone, 2011; © Sally W. Donatello and Lens and Pens by Sally, 2011  


Sure the autumn equinox has passed, but my memories of this summer linger. Yes, I’m spreading the word that July has become the new August in my hometown. For a few years the insufferable hot and humid days of my Mid-Atlantic state has moved us earlier and earlier toward steamier summer days: days where the heat index plays with my need to stroll through and see daily changes on my small piece of gardening heaven (almost a quarter of an acre). Still, even in the sweltering heat I find great satisfaction from the array of habitats that I cultivate, maintain and love.

I recall a mid-week summer morning where I had barely opened my eyes and the waft of heat was apparent. Only six-ish and I felt like Tigger from a Winnie-the-Pooh story: bouncing with speed into the my gardens before the humidity’s grasp took hold. Forecast: 99 degrees with a heat index that could take it to 105. And in this region we feel every degree, because the intense humidity soaks through and through every pore.

As if Mother Nature is trying to appease our summer suffering, August and September (minus earthquake ripples and Hurricane Irene) have been lovely. So I’ve decided to give homage to Andy Goldsworthy. Quickly, I snip the remains of the hydrangea flowers, and arrange them in an abstract pattern on a stone area in the backyard. Then I ponder how Goldsworthy builds monuments to Mother Nature. These tributes are not just for the sake of the natural order of the universe, but to render attention to the ebb and flow of the seasons with our pushy interference.

One of my first posts on this blog was about Andy Goldsworthy’s “Roof” (see post on 04 March 2011), which detailed my reaction to a first-ever in-person viewing of one of his works. On the masthead above is a photograph of one view of that Goldsworthy’s installation at the National Gallery of Art. That experience was and remains securely planted in my treasure trove of artist’s works that inspire me. So this tribute comes with experimentation that honors his vast aesthetic and philosophical contributions.

Experiment One: Photograph one on the Lens portion of this post. In the past I was a weaver, and devoted considerable effort to making baskets from natural materials. This week I found myself foraging for grapevine, and using my instincts to make a sculpture. The photograph was taken to allow the mature landscape of my property to ease through the negative spaces of the grapevines. This work (both the sculpture and the photograph) seeks to show the interconnection of human nature and nature, which is what Goldsworthy accomplishes in his.

Experiment Two: Photograph two on the Lens portion of this post is my miniature sculpture that certainly does not have the technical skill or permanency or artistic appeal of Goldsworthy’s giant slate and stone works. I salute his inventiveness that produces cairns (journey markers) as motifs in his work (He has said that he has made his last cairn.). My small piece measures 8 1/2″ x 3″ with a 2″ x 2 1/2″ hole at the top: typically his cairns are around 8.5′ x 21.6′ and can be 21′ in circumference. As he does, I let the material guide the process.

Goldsworthy’s art is easy to associate with the changing seasons. Every sculpture is a celebration of Mother Nature’s majesty: her architecture and bounty and creativity and permanence and transience. He harmonizes with her without being intrusive, showing the viewer how he envisions human nature and the natural world working in partnership.

This renown English artist creates astonishingly seductive interpretations of the cycle of life using the visual landscape. Recently, I realized just how sharply his reputation has placed him in the mainstream of art and culture. His notoriety is astounding. What a tribute to an artist who inspires a reverence for nature’s tools. I’m in awe of his creations.

Here is an example of one of his pear-shaped sculptures or cairns:

Andy Goldsworthy's stone sculptures, West Coast Cairn, Des Moines, Iowa

He does not alter nature’s arrangement, but adds a touch of his aesthetics that fuse with the landscape’s palette. These works complement the area, and bring attention to some aspect of the life cycle or the constancy of loss or time’s decay. For example, he used felled Monterey cypress trees in the Presidio of Northern California to build a 95-foot installation, The Spire; the work’s narrative focuses on the forest’s regeneration; completed in 2008, the work eventually will be covered by new growth (see a video at http://www.for-site.org/projects/presidio).

His choice of materials (usually dictated by the site’s materials) are leveled by the weathering of time and the actual weather: stones, branches, vines, water, ice, mud, thorns–enduring and temporary elements. He creates entirely new meaning from a collection of leaves or pile of stone or gallon of berries or stack of felled trees. His imagination seems limitless. Lucky us, the recipient’s of his vision.

Because much of his work is not long-lasting, he painstakingly photographs them at their completion. “Stills” are taken in real-time before they begin to lose their luster and patina. The photographs also are works of arts that are seen in galleries and publications (of which there are many and most books can be found in your local library or bookstores and online).

So what’s he doing now that keeps him in the public’s eye and his name commonly recognized? Last month the “Wood Line” was completed on the coast line of San Francisco’s Presidio, where eucalyptus trunks are arranged to entice visitors as they stroll through this well-known national park. This installation took almost a year to finish, and reflects themes that are ever-present in the forest’s canopy and floor.

As if he intuited my wishes, Goldsworthy is creating another outdoor installation on the East Coast at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. “Snow House” is a new collaboration for him: combining the ephemeral and permanent. The stacked granite chamber will contain a large snow ball (9′ in diameter) to be brought out in the summer, and emulates ice houses that were used before refrigeration. Each winter a snowball will be made and placed inside the container. Currently, the Museum has an indoor exhibition (through December 31) that displays a few large-scale drawings of “Snow House” as well as Goldworthy’s video about his work “Snow Shadow Fold,” photographs of other snow projects by the artist, the documentary “Rivers and Tides: Working with Time (2001),” and more. If you’re traveling to New England, it would be worth the side trip to Lincoln, Massachusetts, where the deCordova is located. Or visit the museum when “Snow House” is completed.

How easy it is to honor this artist’s legacy; how easy it is to relate to his aesthetic mission; how easy it is to praise his contribution to art history. As a land artist, he has poured his soul onto the earth or his works slip into the collective memory of Mother Nature and ours.


This entry was posted in Gardens and Gardening, Human Nature, Photography and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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