Co-opting Beauty: The Art of Andy Goldsworthy

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gold_rowanlevs.jpg“The underlying tension of a lot of my art is to try and look through the surface appearance of things. Inevitably, one way of getting beneath the surface is to introduce a hole, a window into what lies below.”

Andy Goldsworthy

Not too long ago here in the Rabbit Room we followed a thread dealing with creative intent, and talked at length about the artist’s responsibility to mean something with their art, and the beholder’s responsibility to look for it. It gave rise to the observation that sometimes beauty, simplicity or playfulness is meaning enough.

I’m not sure what Andy Goldsworthy “means” with his art, but it is beautiful, simple and playful–and it’s among my favorites to look at.

Andy Goldsworthy, born in 1956, is a British artist/photographer who literally uses the earth as his canvas. From Japan to Scotland to the US to the North Pole to the Australian Outback, Goldsworthy travels around, picks up things he finds on the earth’s floor or stuck to the earth’s walls, rearranges them and in so doing shows us things we’ve seen a million times in ways we’ve never seen them before.

And when you look at his photography it often feels like you’re seeing icicles, leaves, feathers or rocks for the first time.

His work is mystifying, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed just looking at what he creates (or maybe “co-opts” is a better word) from his natural surroundings.

He’s like M.C. Escher stuck in the woods with no paper or pencil.

Most major booksellers carry his work, and if you’re looking for a new coffee table book, any of his collections will captivate your imagination for a good long time to come. Here he is in his own words, along with a few more images. gold_dandelions.jpg

“I enjoy the freedom of just using my hands and ‘found’ tools—a sharp stone, the quill of a feather, thorns. I take the opportunities each day offers: if it is snowing, I work with snow, at leaf-fall it will be with leaves; a blown-over tree becomes a source of twigs and branches. I stop at a place or pick up a material because I feel that there is something to be discovered. Here is where I can learn. ”

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“Looking, touching, material, place and form are all inseparable from the resulting work. It is difficult to say where one stops and another begins. The energy and space around a material are as important as the energy and space within. The weather–rain, sun, snow, hail, mist, calm–is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. It is not independent of its surroundings, and the way it sits tells how it came to be there.”

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Google him for much more…

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Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

Russ Ramsey and his wife and four children make their home in Nashville, Tennessee. He is a pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church and the author of Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative (Rabbit Room Press, 2011) and Behold the King of Glory: A Narrative of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (Crossway, 2015). He is a graduate of Taylor University (1991) and Covenant Theological Seminary (MDiv – 2000, ThM – 2003). Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.


7 Comments

  1. evie

    I saw the same documentary about him — it is truly mouth-hanging-open-mesmerizing. We have it in our DVD library here at school and the eighth graders just don’t know what to think about this weird, esoteric dude with the hobo gloves who plays with icicles. “Why does he do that if it’s just going to get taken away when the tide comes in !?! That’s so dumb.”

    Wow. I pray that something changes in their narrow heads someday and lets the light in so that they can see more clearly why this weird white-haired guy does what he does.

    Lovely post, Mister Proprietor.

  2. Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

    Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Oops! I can’t take credit for this one. Russ Ramsey wrote this and the post got mistakenly classified as one of mine. All fixed now, Russ.

    Several years ago Andy Goldsworthy had an exhibit at the Frist, the art museum here in Nashville, and it was fascinating.

    Thanks for the post.

    AP

  3. Profile photo of Russ Ramsey

    Russ Ramsey

    @russramsey

    Evie, your response called to mind one of the coolest things Goldsworthy does, in my opinion. He’ll build something out of snow, sticks, ice or something that is obviously perishing from the start, and take photographs of it at different times of the day– at dawn, high noon, twilight, dusk, etc, and even though you’re seeing the same frame in each picture, the light illuminating it presents it is very different ways.

    That’s the aspect to his work that seems to me to be so “instructional.” He works with materials that are in the process of decay, under light that is always changing, and all we really have for much of what he does is the photographic proof of something that no longer remains. And we all know photos are in part distortions of the reality that once was beheld by the photographer.

    It’s why there are hardly any photo’s of sunsets that can take your breath away, but nearly any given sunset witnessed in person has some aspect that cries out “glory!” So his photos are primers, appetizers for the beholder to get out and behold for themselves– to see something they will never be able to capture, and will never be able to replicate. Like the sunset, there are no two alike, and they can only be truly beheld as they occur. Once that sun sinks low enough, it’s over. Only darkness remains.

    But, there will be another as unique, glorious and elusive as the night before. And another after that, and another after that.

    Goldsworthy captures mystery, glory and change and shows us the evidence. And that seems to me to be a huge gift for any artist to achieve. But for me, he makes me hungry to see more– to behold more.

  4. Mad on a Gray Sea

    What I find refreshing is that Goldsworthy’s art seems so humble.
    What I mean is that it doesn’t seem like he is trying to glorify himself. He sees, he plays, he records, he shares. He dosen’t seem to be puffing up…no agendas. And he says that his art is where he LEARNS…not where he has all of the answers already.
    But what is especially neat to me is that the art is almost interactive in someway. It encourages me to observe, to see the beauty all around, under, and above, to do just a little digging…and poof…magic…you are staring into the eye of something much bigger than yourself.
    I guess that’s what I’m trying to say here…Goldsworthy’s art dosen’t seem to be about himself. Which is nice.
    There is certainly a lesson here for us artists. I personally have been struggling lately as a writier….stumbling over the fact that everything has already been said in some shape a form by a much better writer elsewhere (probably Shakespeare)…and so why bother if I will just be repeating trite uselessness! But this is pride and envy controlling me! (I have to admit…I’ve always envied AP for his ability to have a unique perspective!) Anyways, it will do me a world of good to get outside of all of that, get outside of myself to play and learn, uncover what’s beneath and above.
    Oh, and Evie, as a high school English teacher, I feel your pain! But I have to believe that they do get it on some level…but they have so many defenses up that they can’t show their appreciation. They have to play it cool…but in their dreams…I’m sure they see the art of Goldsworthy or whatever beauty you have exposed them to. Please keep up that highly important task!

  5. brandi

    We saw that exhibit at the Frist and I have been mildly obsessed ever since. I loved the documentary about him… it was amazing to watch him work and create these insanely beautiful pieces out of stuff we step on every day.

    Doesn’t he leave them once he’s photographed them? I may be remembering that incorrectly, but I remember watching him make this chain of leaves where the colors went up and down the spectrum, photographing it, and then just floating it down the river. Can you imagine being the guy downstream who just went out to do some fishing and seeing that floating your way? Crazy.

  6. B. Kammer

    Thanks for this reminder. It’s been a while since I’ve seen “Rivers and Tides”, and felt that extreme pressure of the artistic process. What patience and hard work beautiful things require.

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