Man, oh man! The holidays totally knocked us out for the count. Lots of family, friends and fun, computer in the hospital and still not working properly, finally colds that made us too fuzzy to accomplish much. I finally popped out of bed this morning feeling fairly frisky and realized January is one-third gone and I haven’t even wished my virtual friends a “Happy New Year”. Is this a foreshadowing of the way the whole new decade will unfold? I hope not. Don’t know about you, but I am just as happy to whisk all those aughts into the dust bin and move on.
Contemplating the garden’s future, I hope to bring whimsy and an artist’s heart to all future endeavors. I just came across a piece I wrote for the Ventura Reporter a couple of years ago. Rereading it is what put me in this frame of mind, so I’ll share it with you.
The Art of Nature
Several years ago, I wandered into a small flower shop. There, on a pedestal amidst sprays of orchids and exotic foliage, lay an open book. The photograph was of the highest coffee-table-book caliber. The scene depicted looked like a natural phenomenon, but not like any I had ever seen. I leafed through a few pages, each of which revealed a new image as startling, in its own way, as the first. I had just had my first brush with Andy Goldsworthy.
Here was a book I had to possess, and an artist I must learn more about. I hadn’t been so excited about art since DeKooning. I snatched up Andy Goldsworthy, A Collaboration With Nature right then and there, and mooned over the other books so vocally that they eventually came my way as gifts. Unlike most glossy art books, they are opened, and pored over, long and often. Guests are pressed to dip into Andy’s world, and lo and behold: they “get it” and immediately fall under his spell, whether they have any arts background or not.
The works in question are in nature and of nature, but not exactly nature. The artist goes forth onto the land, looks around, and sees the tools and materials of his trade all around him. He carries no sketchpads, no brushes: nothing but a sharp eye and a brilliant imagination. A piece might be as simple as picking a lot of dandelions, transporting them to a nearby stream and covering the surface of a quiet pool with them. The effect of the splotch of color where least expected is displacement, intrigue and a whiff of humor.
Not all of this man’s ideas can be executed so easily. When he chooses to create a tapestry of leaves, he will use thorns to stitch them together. Coloration for a cairn of stones might be achieved by pounding and scraping other stones of the desired colors until they produce a fine powder. Sculpting with ice means working in punishing weather and resorting to bodily fluids as mastic, then willing the shards or icicles to stay where he puts them.
Most of these art works are ephemeral by nature. It is only through the wonders of photography that most of us will ever experience them. A starburst fashioned from icicles, nimbly perched atop a rocky, snow-dusted cliff, seems on the verge of melting from the very page. Rocks piled precariously speak of impossible balancing acts and make you want to hold your breath. Sand sculptures on the shore invoke the tingle of suspense we felt as kids, waiting for the tide to obliterate our handiwork.
A film, Rivers and Tides brings time into the equation, and thus enriches the viewing experience. We can actually watch the process of nature reclaiming its materials, redistributing them and, in effect, erasing the artist’s work. A streamer of brightly colored leaves placed in a rushing river becomes a contortionist on the currents, finally to be torn asunder. Handfuls of russet rock dust flung into the air create a pattern for an instant before falling back to earth. The fleeting images burn into the brain, leaving a little ache in the heart.
Film gives us the opportunity to meet Goldsworthy’s family, taste their cozy life and tramp with him over the rugged fields of Dumfriesshire, Scotland, where he developed his unique aesthetic. One glimpse of his ruddy cheeks, ruined hands and puckish demeanor, and we know him to be an outdoorsman who will never take himself too seriously. We watch him slowly and painstakingly construct a frieze by inserting hollow reeds into each other. When he pushes the construct too far, the whole thing collapses. He laughs good-naturedly and starts over, assuring us that the failures are all part of the process.
If art is a new way of seeing, Andy Goldsworthy is better than laser surgery. See through his eyes only briefly, and I dare you to look at the world in the same old way. His gentle stride through nature leads him to change it utterly, and yet leave it as if untouched.
Now I am going to hop on over to Netflicks to put in an order for Rivers and Tides to watch on one of these chilly winter evenings.