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The Art Story Homepage Artists Andy Goldsworthy
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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

"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."

Summary of Andy Goldsworthy

A sculptor and photographer, Andy Goldsworthy not only works with nature, but in nature. Rather than building monumental constructions on or out of the land, Goldsworthy works almost telepathically with nature, rearranging its natural forms in such a way as to enhance rather than detract from their beauty. Often quite small in scale, his poetic site-specific pieces are made from ephemeral or organic materials - dandelion flowers lain in a ring or icicles perched on a rock - and then documented through gorgeous color photographs. Goldsworthy views the inevitable death and decay in his work as part of the life cycle - he takes an environmentalist's approach, lending an utmost respect toward the natural world as most of his pieces gradually fade away into the land from which they've come.

Key Ideas

The natural world (and all its myriad forms) is the artist's primary material. As a sculptor working with nature, Goldsworthy harnesses its limitations to gain a deeper understanding of it. His approach not only makes nature the co-author of his work, but emphasizes that human beings are not separate from nature, but are rather an inexorable part of it.
Goldsworthy's work draws upon a Minimalist aesthetic that derives from seeing the poetic in the everyday. Stones, rocks, branches, twigs, leaves and ice are arranged carefully and patiently, making use of various repeated motifs such as snaking lines, spirals, circles and holes.
Goldsworthy is a very hands-on sculptor for whom a large point of the work resides in the process of making it. "Learning and understanding through touch and making is a simple but deeply important reason for doing my work." His enthusiasm and wonder express themselves through the making, as he remarked, "each work is a discovery."
The passage of time and its eventual dissolution of materiality is central to Goldsworthy's work. In focusing on ephemerality, Goldsworthy rejects the idea of art as a commodity to be exhibited and sold. Furthermore, he sees the fact that he uses temporal objects as a reflection of the ever-changing world we live in and the need to understand that nothing is eternal.
Goldsworthy is interested in the social history of the land on which he is working and that includes its human population. He feels it is important to acknowledge a site's rich history and the various connections that people have in relationship with the land. As he has said, "People also leave presence in a place even when they are no longer there."
The sculpture <i>Millenium Cairn</i> (2000) situated a short distance east of Stepends Farm near village of Penpont
The sculpture Millenium Cairn (2000) situated a short distance east of Stepends Farm near village of Penpont

"My home... is the origin of many of my ideas and feelings towards the land," Andy Goldsworthy said. He built Millenium Cairn (2000) on a little hill outside his village because, because he said, it had "a sense of guarding the road."

Important Art by Andy Goldsworthy Important Art and Analysis

The below artworks are the most important by Andy Goldsworthy - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

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

Artwork description & Analysis: 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.

Rocks, sand, and sea water

Red Leaf Patch, Cumbria (1983)
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Red Leaf Patch, Cumbria (1983)

Artwork description & Analysis: Painterly compositions utilizing nature's organic colors and forms, such as Red Leaf Patch, are one of Goldsworthy's trademarks. To create this bright spot, Goldsworthy describes how he found "one dark and one light leaf of the same size. I tore the dark leaf in two, spat underneath it and pressed it on to the light leaf: the result was what appeared to be a single, two-colored leaf."

Red Leaf Patch is a slightly illusionistic, zinging composition in which the red circle appears to be on a different plane from the dark one underneath. In this way, Goldsworthy relates to the Bauhaus artist Joseph Albers whose studies underscored the power of color in creating space. Works such as Red Leaf Patch led some to criticize Goldsworthy for overly aestheticizing nature. In his own defense, he has argued: "But I have to work with flowers and leaves, because they are part of the land."

Time passing is the main attribute of Red Leaf Patch. Firstly, the work is ephemeral, eventually vanishing in nature. Goldsworthy is specially interested in the concept of decay - it appears time and again in his works and in his writings. The leaves are only red for a season. They will inexorably turn black and rot, ultimately resulting in re-absorption into the soil. As Goldsworthy has stated, his art has made him aware of "how 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." This is a point reinforced by the scholar Jeffrey L. Kosky in his assertion that "what is interesting is that for Goldsworthy nature does not specify the place of things but their movement, not their being but their being in time."

Red Leaves (color photography, fujichrome)

Hole, Serpentine Gallery (1984)
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Hole, Serpentine Gallery (1984)

Artwork description & Analysis: Goldsworthy's Hole, made inside the Serpentine Gallery in London, is a continuation of a commission from 1981, in which he created another hole in the gallery's garden. This later Hole, unusual for Goldsworthy, takes a work of nature out of its solely pastoral setting, and brings it into the gallery setting - in a decidedly Robert Smithson fashion.

Artists have often used black holes to signify death, and specifically associations between death and art institutions are not uncommon. The perception of exhibition spaces as voids was part of an institutional critique trend that first inspired the generation before Goldsworthy to work outside. Regardless, whether inside or outdoors, the black hole has been a constant theme throughout Goldsworthy's career. He sees black space as not merely the absence of light but rather a positive presence, a tangible substance in its own right.

Goldsworthy has described how his concept of stability is brought into question when looking into a deep, dark hole. He describes how this encounter with blackness has made him aware of the earth's potent energies. He has also suggested that his last work, the one done before he dies will potentially be a hole. In the artist's own words: "Looking into a black hole is like looking over a cliff's edge ... I've always been drawn to the black hole - I've been making them since 1976 and I keep on making them ... I can't stop making them, and I have the same urge to make holes as I do to look over a cliff edge."

For Goldsworthy, the black hole can be seen as the ultimate enveloper of life, the final force in his obsession with natural decay, something always lurking at the edge of human perception that, brought into the gallery, acts to conjure recognition of our universal, inevitable fate.

Dirt and debris dug from the site

More Andy Goldsworthy Artwork and Analysis:

Icicle Star - Scaur Water, Penpont, Dumfriesshire (1987) Storm King Wall (1997-1998) Moonlit Path (2002) Rain Shadow, Times Square (2010)

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Andy Goldsworthy
Interactive chart with Andy Goldsworthy's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Show influences

Artists

Henry MooreHenry Moore
Robert SmithsonRobert Smithson
Yves KleinYves Klein
Joseph BeuysJoseph Beuys

Personal Contacts

Richard LongRichard Long
Chris Drury

Movements

Land ArtLand Art
Environmental ArtEnvironmental Art
Influences on Artist
Influences on Artist
Andy Goldsworthy
Andy Goldsworthy
Years Worked: 1976 - present
Influenced by Artist
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Michal Grab
Patrick Dougherty
Dietmar Voorwold
Maya LinMaya Lin

Personal Contacts

Movements

Land ArtLand Art
Environmental ArtEnvironmental Art

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Cite this page

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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First published on 02 May 2018. Updated and modified regularly. Information
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