Progression of Art
Stones sinking in sand, Morecambe Bay, Lancashire
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
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
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
Icicle Star - Scaur Water, Penpont, Dumfriesshire
Icicle Star is of impressive delicacy, which required a high level of dexterity and skill to create. In an attempt to avoid high temperatures and sunlight, the work was made during the early morning hours in the dark. Goldsworthy used his saliva and bare fingers to meticulously and patiently attach the icicles. Because of the unpredictability of nature and the importance of ideal conditions, it often took him many minutes of holding each piece of ice for them to glue to each other and the process proved extremely painful at times.
The hardship required of the artist in having to withstand harsh conditions to produce works such as these turns them into endurance pieces alongside their intended commentary on the relationship between human hands and the machinations of the creator - a common theme in Goldsworthy's work.
Goldsworthy's ice works showcase his resilience and patience. For each piece that he is able to photograph, many others collapse half way through. In his own words, "I have held ice to ice seemingly for ages waiting for it to freeze only to let go and see it drop off. I have enormous respect for the weather." Given that ice is such a tricky material these ice works are remarkable for their fragile elegance. As noted by the critic Jeffrey L. Kosky, "the beauty of Andy Goldsworthy's work reminds us, even so, what it might mean to count on our hands, to count on them to open a world in which things appear, brought forth by the delicate, fine touch of human hands."
Ice and saliva - Photograph at the UK Government Art Collection
Storm King Wall
Storm King Wall is arguably Goldsworthy's most ambitious work to date. In this piece, he subverted the English agricultural tradition of building stone walls to delineate territory. His wall embraces and protects the trees instead of denoting a human-claimed space in which they might otherwise be fated for clearing. Although unexpected, the accentuated curves in Storm King Wall are based on 'crinkle crackle' or wavy walls - a type of traditional British masonry work that originated in the 18th century. The artist rejects any symbolism relating the wall to a snake while admitting that swirly and curvilinear forms are often seen in his works. The Storm King Wall however, does get straighter by the end of the field, thus relating to the New York State Thruway that passes nearby.
Besides being a permanent work - a lesser-known side of Goldsworthy's practice - Storm King Wall can also be seen as political. As the art critic Kenneth Baker points out: "Being unable to discern on which side of the wall the tree stands has peculiar echoes for American viewers. They reverberate, for example, in refrain of an old labor anthem: Which side are you on?' Americans feel it a matter of civic duty to take sides (...) on any issue of social or moral import." The work also functions as a symbolic reminder of the history of the land, which is also the history of mankind, through the appropriation of ancient devices for land demarcation. Goldsworthy asks us to consider the ways in which we co-opt land to define our own boundaries even if its natural state is one of unfettered freedom and dispossession.
Fieldstone - Storm King Art Center Collection
Moonlit Path is a work of incomparable poetry and originality. To create the piece, Goldsworthy delineated a convoluted path with white chalk. The work, which was temporary and site-specific, was meant to be experienced at night during a full moon. The moon's blueish-white light reflected on the chalk creating a luminescent trail which guided visitors through a one hour walk through the woods of Petworth Park in Sussex.
For visitors used to the excessive use of artificial light at nighttime, the walk became a time of contemplation. With limited vision the other senses were intensified. The quietness of the woods allowed visitors to experience the crack of each twig, the sounds of all creatures, and the smells associated with a dark, damp forest. This heightened awareness brought visitors closer to their primal instincts, serving as a reminder that we are all also animals. Moonlit Path also functioned as a metaphor for life. While at times the path was clear and bright, at other moments it became dark and scary. In a review for The Daily Telegraph Richard Dorment notes that "inseparable from its beauty is its ephemeral nature; since it won't last forever, and most people will walk on it once, its value to us is connected with a sense of loss."
This is also a fine example of Goldsworthy's interventions with nature that allow for the environment to collude in his final work. The application of chalk, accentuated by the moon, reflects a signature application of using painterly techniques to illuminate pre-existing organic elements of the landscape.
Rain Shadow, Times Square
Rain Shadow, Times Square is one of the latest examples of Goldsworthy's series of body imprints. He started this series in the mid-1980s and it soon became an obsession. In order to capture this Rain Shadow, Goldsworthy positioned himself on the ground in Times Square before the rain began, remained lying there throughout a storm, and then took a photograph of the 'shadow' created by his body. When recounting the experience, the artist mentioned that though many passersby would be indifferent to such a peculiar scene, others would also lay down or jump over him. At a certain point, a police officer warned him about all the potential diseases he could get from spreading his body on the pavement of such a busy area.
While many of these Rain Shadows were made in rural environments, the urban setting of Times Square highlights the fact that human beings, even while ensconced in urbanity, still inherently coexist with nature. Instead of seeing both as opposites and exclusionary, Goldsworthy proposes an understanding of nature's unstoppable quality and of its affect on a manmade world. As noted by the curator Molly Donavan, "Goldworthy's varied exploration of body shadows has a broader reference: it addresses the relationship of man and nature as well as the opposition of figure and ground at the basis of our vision, suggesting that the dominant view of man as a figure against the background of nature needs correction." As an environmentalist, such issues are of upmost importance for Goldsworthy. Furthermore, although there is no direct relationship between him and the Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta, the Rain Shadows series share a strong visual and conceptual similarity with her Siluetas done in the mid-1970s. This is an important example of Goldsworthy's work as it makes connections to a previous generation of artists who questioned the role of the white, sterile gallery space.
Digital photographic record; water and pavement