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Artists Andy Goldsworthy Biography and Legacy
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Andy Goldsworthy

British Sculptor and Photographer

Movements and Styles: Earth Art, Environmental Art

Born: July 25th, 1956 - Sale Moor, Cheshire, England

Andy Goldsworthy Timeline

Quotes

"A good work is a moment of clarity. Then it all becomes unclear."
Andy Goldsworthy
"Learning and understanding through touch and making is a simple but deeply important reason for doing my work"
Andy Goldsworthy
"I couldn't possibly try to improve on Nature. I'm only trying to understand it by an involvement in some of its processes."
Andy Goldsworthy
"The reason why the stone is red is its iron content, which is also why our blood is red."
Andy Goldsworthy
"As with all my work, whether it's a leaf on a rock or ice on a rock, I'm trying to get beneath the surface appearance of things. Working the surface of a stone is an attempt to understand the internal energy of the stone."
Andy Goldsworthy
"People also leave presence in a place even when they are no longer there."
Andy Goldsworthy
"Not being able to touch is sometimes as interesting as being able to touch."
Andy Goldsworthy
"Each work is a discovery."
Andy Goldsworthy

"We often forget that we are nature. Nature is not something separate from us. So, when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we've lost our connection to ourselves."

Biography

Childhood

Andy Goldsworthy was born in the town of Sale in Cheshire in the north of England. While still a young child, he moved with his family to a suburb on the outskirts of Leeds. His parents, F. Allin and Muriel Goldsworthy, were strict Methodists, instilling a hard work ethic into the artist from an early age. At age 13, he began spending his weekends and summers working in nearby farms. Instead of being interested in heavy machinery like the majority of the farm workers, he preferred the meditative quality of repetitive manual tasks. Clearly some important ideas about the possibilities inherent in nature began to take shape at this time. As he remarked later: "Farming is a very sculptural profession. Building haystacks or ploughing fields, burning stubble." Additionally, Goldsworthy's father was a mathematics professor at the local university and although Andy did not share his particular talent, it is tempting to make a connection between this and the patterns and formations that he would come to find in nature.

Early Training and Work

Goldsworthy was certain that he would be a farmer or gardener, and that art would be a hobby. This lack of confidence was probably a result of the initial hurdles he came up against when applying to art schools. He applied to several before, in 1974, he was finally accepted as a foundation student at Bradford College of Art. Once he finished his foundation year, he again struggled to find a place on a degree course. His resilience ultimately paid off, and from 1975 to 1978 he studied art at Preston Polytechnic in Lancaster.

Goldsworthy working outside while still a college student, Morecambe Bay (1976)
Goldsworthy working outside while still a college student, Morecambe Bay (1976)

While in art school, Goldsworthy could not stand working in a miniscule partitioned studio. This led him to explore the great outdoors, a move that was pivotal for his work and ultimately shaped his entire career. In nature, he found inspiration and ample materials. In his own words: "One day in first year (of college) I went out to the beach and dug things, made lines, and the tide came in and washed it away. I learned more about the tide, the sand, the texture, I learnt so much in that couple of hours. And I shifted to working outside. I didn't really go back in again." Through his professors, he was introduced to and inspired by the works of Joseph Beuys and Robert Smithson. Although Goldsworthy's recognition grew steadily from this point on, the ephemeral nature of his work meant that he was an artist that was not easily categorized, remaining largely outside the gallery system and outside of the market. It also meant that of necessity he had to find ways of documenting his work so that there would be some tangible, physical evidence of his many fleeting natural creations. It took Goldsworthy almost a decade to start making enough money to file tax returns.

Mature Period

In 1982, Goldsworthy married the sculptor Judith Gregson. Not long after, she obtained a job in Carlisle and they moved north. A few years later, mainly for financial reasons, they crossed the border to the village of Penpont in the Scottish low lands, where he still lives today. Together, they had four children: James, Holly, Anna, and Thomas.

Andy Goldsworthy digging one of his first large scale holes in Haarlem (1984)
Andy Goldsworthy digging one of his first large scale holes in Haarlem (1984)

By the mid-1990s, Goldsworthy was a renowned artist. He had public and private commissions all over the world, yet art critics and historians sometimes criticized his work for solely beautifying nature. At a time when conceptual artists were dominating the landscape, some saw his work as not being conceptual enough and that his pastoral approach to art making could be deemed as overly pretty. Goldsworthy himself remained resolute, reflecting on the transient side of his creations and how "each work grows, stays, decays." In the early 2000s, he was appointed as a visiting professor at Cornell University in upstate New York; a position that he held for almost a decade. He also got the Order of the British Empire (OBE) - a reward given by the commonwealth for his contribution in the arts. Around the same time, and only a couple of years after the documentary River and Tides showed them as a happy and harmonious family, Gregson and Goldsworthy divorced.

Late Period

Soon after his divorce, Goldsworthy met the art historian Tina Fiske while she was participating in a project about his work. They became romantically involved and had a son named Joel. They are still together, although they have never married.

Andy Goldsworthy shows the damages caused by years working bare hand and handling rough natural materials, 2017
Andy Goldsworthy shows the damages caused by years working bare hand and handling rough natural materials, 2017

The following years were marked by great professional success and personal tragedy. In 2008, Goldsworthy's former wife died in a car accident. A few years later, his mother Muriel died unexpectedly (his father had already passed away). These losses influenced his later works, in which he built on ideas of transience, the void, and even straightforwardly, death. As he got older, his works became more somber and also more physical. Photographs depicting figures leaning into strong winds are amongst his most recent pieces. He currently works with his daughter Holly, who is helping to preserve his artistic legacy by extensively cataloguing his work.

Legacy

Goldsworthy reshaped Earth Art. Though other Land artists such as Robert Smithson (creator of the large-scale Spiral Jetty), Michael Heizer (creator of Double Negative), and the British artist Richard Long have all worked on large-scale landscape projects, Goldsworthy has developed a more intimate, sociological, and humanistic approach. His interest in specific geographical points of land, its history, and the relationship between organic material and the human presence has set him apart from those working with land as mere canvas or material.

In a piece for artnet, the critic Amah-Rose Abrams stated "unlike the monumental nature of some land art, Goldsworthy's art is about a subtle, often modestly scaled interaction with the outdoors. The elusiveness of beauty is key to his work, His art also bears a similarity to the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando in its seamless relationship to the landscape." American artists Maya Lin and Michael Grab's work shares similarities with Goldsworthy's. Lin's The Wave Field and Goldsworthy's Storm King Wall are closely located inside Storm King Art Center - highlighting the dialogue between the two works. Grab's work balances pebbles in the same way Goldsworthy balances pieces of ice, twigs, and rocks.

Although it is difficult to pinpoint the extent of the artistic contribution of someone still very engaged in his career, Goldsworthy has made a very direct contribution to the environmental debate. His love and appreciation of nature has inspired many artists whose practice focuses directly on ecology. Artists such as Mel Chin, Ellie Irons, Mary Mattingly, and even the celebrated Gabriel Orozco and Vik Muniz, are amongst those that have used their art to stress the negative effects of modern society in the environment, and to propose a change. With the continuous pollution of the planet and global warming, such voices carry an important message.

Most Important Art

Andy Goldsworthy Famous Art

Stones sinking in sand, Morecambe Bay, Lancashire (1976)

Stones sinking in sand, Morecambe Bay is one of Goldsworthy earliest works. Although made while he was still a student, works such as this were pivotal in shaping his overall direction. Here he uses small rocks found onsite to create a straight line into the water. The orderliness of this manmade line contrasts with the more organic forms created by nature. With the changing tides however, the line loses its shape and eventually vanishes. In Goldsworthy's own words:

This is a very physical piece. I had to move a lot of stones in one day, between the tides. It wasn't even a full day. The line of stones physically affected the place and the people who walked along the beach. People had to step over it. A horseback rider jumped over it. I revisited it several times and saw it sink into the sand and disappear. I often think of it still being there, although I know it isn't intact.

The significance of this work, perhaps more of a study than a finished piece, lies in the artist's acceptance of nature as the co-author of the piece. Goldsworthy sees human beings as part of nature rather than separate or distant from it, something he understands could suggest his work has a spiritual or mystical purpose. His overriding interest though is practical - he wants to investigate what he describes as the "energy of making" inside of things, while seeing the energy and space around a material (the effect of the weather for example) as being as important as the energy and space within. As he puts it himself, "movement, change, light, growth and decay are the lifeblood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work." Additionally, the ephemerality of the materials triggers a discussion regarding the role of the record in the artwork itself. As is often the case with Land art, the viewer is left wondering if the actual work is the short-lived sculpture or the photograph that documents it.
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Content compiled and written by Vitoria Hadba

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Vitoria Hadba
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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