This post is long overdue—perhaps about 20 years or so, as that’s how long I’ve admired Andy Goldsworthy’s approach to art. Thank God for the humble camera—without it most of his art would melt, blow, or rot back into the elements from whence it came, in the space of time it takes for the winds or tides to change, or the temperature to cheer up.
The sculptor-photographer was born in Cheshire, 1956, but now calls Scotland his home. I was first drawn in by an exhibition that everyone was raving about at art school. It was probably in Leeds City Art Gallery—because that’s about as far as we could ever afford to go from Harrogate—I don’t remember anything about it except the dumbfounded silence it left me with, and some shots of autumn leaves blazing in my mind’s eye.
A bunch of autumn leaves has always been enough to transport me—see God In a Nutshell—but it was the way he celebrated them that blew me away. This is how nature should be revered, I thought: an interaction leaving no lasting mark of interference, more a mute conversation between creator and Creator, or a game, knowing the latter will win in the end, but enjoying the play all the more for it.
When happening upon one of nature’s myriad miracles, rather than saying “That’s nice” and walking on by, Andy Goldsworthy dives right into the colours, patterns, shapes, textures, observes the rules of nature and extends them, enhances them, outlines them. If anyone is not afraid to get their hands dirty it’s him; using not just hands but teeth, feet and nearby natural materials as tools to coax leaves, mud, twigs and ice into new forms. It’s more than “environmentally friendly”; it is “environment,” but the dry leaves are poured on the earth like molten metal, the rough stones are soft giant eggs, the hostile ice enormous jewels.
Transience in art has always been a source of fascination to me, basically because that’s how God works. Man can echo that occupation of enjoying the process of creation, pausing proudly besotted with the product of it to celebrate its perfection, then moving on to a higher perfection. I love that.
“The artist’s long engagement with the dome parallels his interest in the markers of human passage through time—the structure itself follows a trajectory that includes Neolithic burial chambers and dwelling cairns, ancient Roman and Byzantine structures, Enlightenment architecture and modern public buildings.
The domical form developed in the artist’s oeuvre from his desire to give depth to the hole, or void, a device that has occupied Goldsworthy’s attention since early in his career. His decision to construct a dome with oculus on this site owes much to its northern orientation, which allows for a velvety black hole that no light can penetrate.”
US National Gallery of Art on the exhibition pictured below
I know nothing of his reasons for this recurring dome theme, but to me it is a glimpse of Infinity: a reminder of our own transience on the material plane of stone, ice and leaves, and of an eternal existence beyond it.
Andy, it’s not often I feel pride in being British, but right now, revisiting your art, I’m glowing with the stuff.
Links and Credits:
- Morning Earth: nice tribute and collection of images
- UK Government Art Collection: fine collection of gritty ice and stone sculptures.
- US National Gallery: drystone dome exhibition in Washington 2004-5, pictured above
You can read more thoughts on art on my SriChinmoyCentre.org pages