Image Source: Clearly Ambiguous’s Flickr
“My art is an attempt to reach beyond the surface appearance. I want to see growth in wood, time in stone, nature in a city, and I do not mean its parks but a deeper understanding that a city is nature too-the ground upon which it is built, the stone with which it is made.”
British environmentalist Andy Goldsworthy has recently become one of my favorite artists and someone who I believe to be one of the most original and magnificent artists to have lived during the past century.
He has spent the last four decades constructing art that elevates the environment birthing it.
His signature style is has been dubbed by some as “land art,” but Andy Goldsworthy is more than just some landscape sculptor with an enthusiasm for nature. His ability to perform underneath nature’s elements, time restraints, and unpredictable fluctuations allow him to surpass the limitations of the everyday artist working from the comfort of couch cushions.
In short, Andy Goldsworthy does what others simply cannot.
It’s arguable that most people do not even possess his uncanny ability to think is such unfamiliar creative directions.
More importantly, his artistic detachment sets a bar that few can reach (or let go of).
To better understand Andy as an artist, start by reading his philosophy of art.
Image Source: Iuri Kothe’s Flickr
The Integral Philosophy of Andy Goldsworthy: In His Own Words
“For me looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins. Place is found by walking, direction determined by weather and season. I take the opportunity each day offers: if it is snowing, I work in snow, at leaf-fall it will be leaves; a blown over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches.
Movement, change, light growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work. I need the shock of touch, the resistance of place, materials and weather, the earth as my source. I want to get under the surface. When I work with a leaf, rock, stick, it is not just that material itself, it is an opening into the processes of life within and around it. When I leave it, these processes continue.
The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and the space within. The weather—rain, sun, snow, hail, calm—is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. It is not independent of its surroundings and the way it sits tells how it came to be there. In an effort to understand why that rock is there and where it is going, I must work with it in the area in which I found it.
I have become aware of raw nature is in a state of change and how that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather. Often I can only follow a train of thought while a particular weather condition persists. When a change comes, the idea must alter or it will, and often does, fail. I am sometimes left stranded by a change in the weather with half-understood feelings that have to travel with me until conditions are right for them to appear. All forms are to be found in nature, and there are many qualities within any material. By exploring them I hope to understand the whole. My work needs to include the loose and disordered within the nature of material as well as the tight and regular.
At its most successful, my ‘touch’ looks into the heart of nature; most days I don’t even get close. These things are all part of the transient process that I cannot understand unless my touch is also transient—only in this way can the cycle remain unbroken and the process complete. I cannot explain the importance to me of being part of the place, its seasons and changes. Fourteen years ago I made a line of stones in Morecambe Bay. It is still there, buried under the sand, unseen. All my work still exists in some form.
My approach to photograph is kept simple, almost routine. All work, good and bad, is documented. I use standard film, a standard lens and no filters. Each work grows, strays, decays—integral parts of a cycle which the photograph shows at its height, marking the moment when the work is most alive. There is an intensity about a work at its peak that I hope is expresses in the image. Process and decay are implicit.”
The beauty of Andy’s art lies in his ability to create visual masterpieces which maintain their natural wonder while maintaining their inherent dissolve.
Unlike most artists whose works of art hang around the world in museums protected by cabinetry, glass frames, and security panels, Andy’s work remains where it started. Slowly decaying back into its origin, each piece remains consistently involved in nature’s flow. Decay and impermanence serve as essential motifs within each and every piece making his work closer to a symbol of creation than an expression of art.
After hours of laboring, Andy demonstrates the quiet strength of his character by witnessing his artwork disappear before his eyes. Luckily for us, Andy documents his projects via photography and video; two means of documentation that neither grant enough justice nor recognition to a man who brings light to such noble art.
The Void of Andy Goldsworthy
One of Andy’s signature and recurrent symbols is [the] Void which has been documented in various styles across the globe.
Within each piece Andy embeds one of humanity’s greatest fears, impermanence.
The beauty arising in his depictions of the Void masquerade the fear inherently embedded in each piece allowing a sort of fear bypass for the user. Witnessing his art, one cannot help but intuitively feel the symbiosis of every brilliant creation’s invariable doom allowing his art to transcend the normal boundaries of death’s certain panic.
Here are a few of my favorites:
The brilliance of Andy’s work, besides its impermanent dissolve, is his continual struggle in crafting each piece. Andy’s true character shines through his persistence to complete each piece of art. After witnessing a fragile work collapse numerous times before completion, Andy resolves to try again, sometimes failing numerous times before reaching an end result to his liking and perfection. Watching his determination in Rivers and Tides, he demonstrates the valiant strength behind his art and his triumphant resolve as an artist and human being.
Flowers, leaves, sticks, water, rotting stems, stones, and ice grant Andy the natural gifts to craft his masterpieces. His skill in manipulating the environment imbue it with a sense of transcendence making his art’s finale truly integral.
Using universal principles such as movement, change, light, growth, and decay, Andy’s work transmutes ordinary debris into something more deeply profound than simply cut shrubbery and stacked rocks alongside a bypass.
I recently finished watching his documentary (which I highly recommend), Rivers and Tides, filmed by Thomas Riedelsheimer. You can watch it here for free (the quality isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough to see if it sparks your interest) or if you have Amazon Prime you can watch it here for free.
Andy is also considered to be one of the modern pioneers in resurrecting the art of rock balancing.
After finishing the documentary above I was simply amazed to see the heart and spirit so prevalent in an artist and human being expressing the abstract vision of his existence and experience through art.
I hope that this article pays a bit of recognition and respect to a decorative artist courageous enough to immerse himself into the elements of creative collaboration, nature, and the difficulties of growing as an artist.
For those interested, Time magazine did a short interview with Andy.
For those in love with picture scrolling, Old Chum’s Fall Leaves collection on Flickr does a nice job at presenting a few of Andy’s pieces.
Let me know what you think of Rivers and Tides in the comment section.