Andy Goldsworthy — Designs On and Of the Earth

Andy Goldsworthy first appeared on my radar when I was studying Landscape Design at GW (more on that in another post).  I believe that one of my instructors devoted a few slides to him during a presentation on contemporary landscape design, and although Goldsworthy’s work looked intriguing, I never really investigated him further.

Well, yesterday I stayed up too late watching the film Rivers and Tides, a riveting documentary about Goldsworthy from 2001.  And now I am kind of obsessed with the guy.

I’m not exactly sure how to characterize what Goldsworthy does.  He’s not a landscape designer in the traditional sense, though he designs on (and with) the land more ingeniously than anybody I’ve seen.  I think most often he’s classified as a sculptor but that title is inadequate.  Judging from the film, Goldsworthy uses only natural materials – usually things he finds right at the site at which he’s working – and his creations are often intentionally transient: a sculpture built from icicles that will melt by noon, an egg-shaped cairn that disappears when the tide comes in, a stunning ribbon of colored leaves that disperses with a gust of wind.

If you were only to watch the interview portions of the film without seeing at him work, you might think Goldsworthy was a bit of a flake who perhaps did too much acid in the 60’s.  He speaks of such things as the earth’s “internal energy” and “geological memories” and you might start to roll your eyes and expect him to pull out his collection of Jerry Garcia memorabilia, but then he shows you something like this:

or this:

or – my personal favorite – this stone wall (at the Storm King art center in New York):

and then you realize that he’s not flaky at all but a total genius. 

I guess that’s one of the problems for a visual artist – whether he’s a painter, garden designer, or sculptor: trying to verbalize emotions and ideas that can only be fully expressed through paint, or flowers, or stone. 

Anyway, Rivers and Tides does an outstanding job presenting the work of Andy Goldsworthy through the medium of film.  If you have any interest in nature, design, landscape, sculpture, or artistic geniuses, you’ll love it.  But a word of caution.  After watching it you may feel compelled to go outside in your backyard and start doodling around with leaves and twigs, when you really should be inside getting the dishes done.