16 July 2012
I. “Wood Line” (2011) at the Presidio
II. “Spire” (2008) at the Presidio
III. “Drawn Stone” (2005) at the de Young Museum
Let me know which is your favorite.
One of my favorite contemporary artists is Andy Goldsworthy, a Brit who is known for ephemeral land art. He’s been creating site-specific environmental works since the 1970s, and he has never strayed from his artistic mission: the dark and light side of the precarious relationship between nature and human nature.
For over thirty years his sculptures (moving or stilled) have revealed themes of change and time: the life cycle in its most dramatic and mesmerizing. But he also portrays the tension that exists between art and society.
Goldsworthy’s work has dignity–a reverence for the natural world. He is a quiet man with a mission that has altered the way others see the landscape and their relationship to it. Slowly, his work has spread worldwide and his devotees have grown exponentially.
His palette consists of the delicate (leaves), the longer lasting (soil, felled trees, sticks, stone and rock), the short-lived (ice and snow), the constantly moving (tides and water). Much of his work is transient and impermanent, which is an important layer of his artistic narrative. But, of course, that’s the point of installations that use natural materials; they’re subject to the rise and fall of the temps, the sun’s powerful touch, human and non-human intervention, and weather-related folly.
Prior to my excursion to the West Coast I had only seen one of Goldsworthy’s works. I wrote about this experience at the beginning of my blogging life (click here to see the post about “Roof,” which is located in the National Gallery of Art’s permanent collection).
My enthusiasm for Goldsworthy’s art made it imperative to see his works in San Francisco. With teenagers who had other items on their wish lists, a delicate balance was needed. Thanks to my cousin and his encyclopedic familiarity and knowledge of the city we were driven door-to-door to gaze upon each work.
Since 2005 Goldsworthy’s commissions in the Bay area have risen to three: two at the Presidio at the northern end of the city and one at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. In the Lens section I have posted images that represent my view of them.
Art is a difficult subject to photograph. It becomes even more problematic in the outdoors where the elements play heavily on the results. Light and weather do not always cooperate nor do visitors.
Often I wonder why we even attempt to photograph art. Certainly a reproduction in a finely-printed art book still does not do justice to the real work. Still, photography has given scores of people the ability to see masterpieces that otherwise they would not. And me I want to share my admiration for Goldsworthy’s visual interpretations and memories of nature.
As I stood before each of the works, I was quieted, placed inside a prism of joy. While “Wood Line” (felled eucalyptus trunks, which may last twenty years) lyrically weaves one thousand feet through the forest floor, the “Spire” (forty cypress logs in the shape of a cone, which will eventually be camouflaged by new growth) rises into an almost one-hundred-foot apex and hungers to disappear into the stratosphere, and “Drawn Stone” (uses paving stones and boulders of limestone from Yorkshire, England) is a continuous crack that mimic’s the fault line and memories of California earthquakes; it begins at the Museum’s entrance and moves into the courtyard where the crack dissects large rough-hewn stone slab benches.
These three depictions remind us of humanity’s and nature’s abundance, devastations and losses. Even in their differences they are bound together by their maker’s philosophy–a philosophy that eagerly presents the rawness of Mother Nature. The message is realized.
This unassuming man makes art that slips quieting into and onto the land, respecting nature and allowing the work to speak for itself. For me one of the most successful aspects of this art is his use of a singular material per piece. Each sculpture gives meaning to slate, pebbles, pine needles, birch twigs, oak sticks, reeds, mud, or…It’s an approach that gives focus and meaning without great fanfare.
As an advocate for nature Goldsworthy takes the unnoticed, unrealized and transfers it into a monumental statement about the frailty of life. He does not intend to create edifices, but each work does become a visual tribute to the see-saw relationship between humanity and Mother Nature.
His site-specific works are changed with time’s passage. Still, decay is slow, which allows you ample opportunity to see the work of one of today’s finest artists–even if his legacy is ephemeral.
Note: As always I welcome any comment about this post or any part of my blog. To see a variety of his work, click here. In addition I have two previous posts that include Goldsworthy, click here and here to read them.