It was a beautiful evening when I got home from work. Clear blue skies, t-shirt warm and not a breath of wind so we headed to the beach. The tide was on its way out and the water was like a millpond and the light was wonderful.
My partner went on the hunt for glass while I got to work building something.
This beach is just around the corner from Half Moon Bay at Heysham where we collected all the glass for the sculpture I built on Sunday. What was interesting was that there was very little on this beach despite it being so close to where there was loads of glass to scavenge. Not sure why but I find it interesting.
We were down there for a few hours and it was strange not to see anyone else on such a beautiful, warm evening. But I spoke to soon. The silence was interrupted by someone on a quad bike thundering along the beach. Despite the beach being huge he decided to ride straight towards me. It wasn't like I was hidden from view crouching behind my tripod he obviously wanted to see what I was up to.
He rode right up to the rockpool with the sculpture in it. I was sure he was about to ride through it destroying it.
"Can you go around please?" I said.
"What's that mate?" He replied.
"It's a sculpture."
"Don't worry I won't run it over" he said then went on his way. Why he rode straight towards me in the first place I can't quite work out but there you go.
This picture is pretty much how it came out of the camera. The low strong light produced strong contrast and the still water did the rest.
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Sunday, March 29, 2009
Whilst searching for pebbles the other week we found a huge amount of water worn glass at Half Moon Bay, Heysham. We collected as much of it as we could and then pondered some ideas for how to use it.
Although I usually only use natural materials I felt that water worn glass found on the beach still fell within my self imposed rules for my land art. There is so much glass on that beach that I think making a sculpture from it would communicate how much of it is there and what different colours are present. Also the fact that it is water worn means that making a sculpture is possible as the glass is easy to handle.
Half Moon Bay sits along the edge of Morecambe Bay, a massive natural feature which means that the coastal drift is prevented and the pebbles don't keep travelling along the shore as would happen on open coastlines. My theory then is that there is so much glass there as it has become trapped and has no open coastline on which to spread and is therefore much more concentrated than on other coastlines. When we were on the east coast earlier in the week there was some glass there but not much. That is another reason I have drawn the conclusion I have.
Secondly most of the glass is clear (or milky because of the water wear), with lesser amounts of green, brown and then very little of blue and light green. This is reflected in the different amounts of glass piled on each rock. Finally the glass on the left was stained pink by using the iron rich rock present there, crushing it to a powder and then staining the glass.
My first idea was to pile up the different colours between two rocks to make a stained glass window effect, but it kept falling down and I couldn't predict where the sun would strike it the best and the tide was coming in fast. So eventually I decided to pile them on rocks so they would catch the sun and reveal the colours.
Despite not using natural materials, for me this sculpture has all the elements I want in land art. It reveals to me an aspect of that beach, making me wonder why there is so much glass there. How clear glass is common yet blue is very rare. My ideas were constrained by what the material would allow me to build, the incoming tide had a bearing on how long I had and the movement and position of the sun were important to the final effect.
That is what Land Art is all about for me.
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The mustard yellow boulder this stack is built on was below the high tide mark when we arrived on the beach and the waves were breaking over it. But I just had to build something on it, it's colour was so impressive. In order to gather together the materials I needed I created a first stack below the cliff, a few feet away from the water, and I waited for the tide to recede enough before getting access to the mustard boulder.
I didn't know the time for high tide though, and each time I thought it was beginning to turn a new set of waves would come pushing me further back. I realised we were cut off so I prayed it wouldn't get too high that we would have to sit it out beyond dark, but still the rollers coming in were powerful and loud. It was an exciting place to be. The power of the sea is something to behold and I missed it (I used to get down to the sea a couple of times a week, the sea around where I live now is in a bay and the waves are not strong).
Finally the tide did turn just a little and I started on the stack on the boulder. Perhaps I started too soon though as the water came up over my boots a few times! But the video footage of the construction with the waves breaking over the boulder made it all worthwhile.
5 or 6 levels from the top I expected it to topple at any moment, but miraculously it stayed standing despite swaying strongly. It was about 6 foot high.
The afternoon we arrived at Robin Hood's Bay the tide was in. We didn't know if it was going to get higher or not, I hadn't remembered to check the tide times. We had to clamber over the sea wall to get to the beach, but it did mean we had it to ourselves. I came a across a wonderful mustard yellow boulder and I really wanted to create a stack on top of it but the waves meant that I would have to wait so I collected the rocks and pebbles to make one while we waited for the water to recede. It was a long wait! The water got higher and higher and I started to think I had seriously miscalculated and we were going to get wet or worse! So I took this picture as it might have been all I could get, or it would serve as a memorial to my drowning!
You might notice (I do) where the pebbles are out of alignment. I definitely needed to rebuild it and pay more attention to the neatness of it.
After a wet and windy night in the tent punctuated with heavy rain and and continuously flapping tent material (and little sleep) we awoke to a beautiful day of blue skies and sunshine.
After breakfast and tea we headed back down to the beach for some more land art. It was early and quiet and the tide was out.
Robin Hood's Bay is delightful with fascinating rock pools, pebbles, sandy areas, coves, cliffs and caves.
But amazingly, despite the raging wind and rain all night. my stack was still standing! It had lost some layers but somehow what remained was stil enough and retained its symmetry. What's more we could see it from way up on top of the cliff.
When I got right next to it I was even more flabbergasted to see it swaying in the wind. It must have been doing that all night but still it stood up! Perhaps it was this oscillating behaviour that meant it had stayed upright but still it seemed extremely lucky!
We were there most of the day and dozens of people took photographs of it, poked and prodded it and set up next to it to create their own stacks. It was still standing as we left, just how long it would I have no idea!
This was done by one of the schoolkids that set up next door to us. They were 10 or 11 year olds (I think) and most of them did sand drawings or made piles of pebbles - all good stuff for their age group. This however really impressed me. At least one of the is showing good early potential for land art. I hope they keep it up!
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Half moon bay at Heysham was the venue for today. The weather was supposed to be changing with the winds coming from the North so I expected to get frozen hands and fingers. Fortunately it was warm with broken sunshine and turned out to be a nice day.
As seems to be the way I go about things these days I went along with no idea of what I was going to make. Firstly I wandered around the cliffs and beach looking for a nice natural feature to work with.
Eventually I stumbled across this attractive round rock pool. These are characteristic of what happens when a round stone becomes trapped and the water rattles it around gradually creating a larger and larger round hole.
Another thing that is usual is I don't really know how it will turn out until I it is nearly finished, always adapting the ideas that come into my head and adjusting what I do by what the materials allow me to do.
First I prepared the seaweed floats on the left. Despite having a large beach to comb I could only find a few large ones, this meant that I couldn't fill the whole pool as was my first idea. Whilst searching for those I found the light coloured seaweed in the middle, I liked the contrast. Lastly I had to decide what would go on the right. Coloured pebbles? Different seaweed? Hmm I wasn't sure.
I had collected a few red wind-blown leaves from the front of my house just before we set off. I didn't know where they had come from but the deep scarlet colour was attractive. It was just the right material for the last bar. All that was left to do was to stop any dogs from jumping in it (one nearly did), grab my camera and finish up.
What did I learn today? Well amongst many things I did learn (well reminded really as I did know already) that rotting seaweed really stinks!
Saturday, March 21, 2009
I didn't have much time to make anything today and I mulled over several ideas as I wandered around near the river.
I was distracted watching the birds busy with Spring and was treated to a fine display by a pair of kingfishers nest building and flying around me in large circles and by a pair of goosanders next to the weir. The wagtails were out in force and there didn't seem to be enough females to go around as the males were chasing each other back and forward across the river.
It was very warm and hazy and next I headed up the hill to see the view across the valley not sure whether I would make anything or not. I found this piece of dead tree and nearby were dead grasses with large seedheads. This is the result of the two things combined
I went back along to the Crook O'Lune today to see what was still there before thinking about something new. As I walked along the river bank I scanned the water to see if this sculpture was remained. It hadn't rained at all since last weekend so I assumed it hadn't been washed away but as I came close to it I could see no sign of it. Perhaps the salmon fisherman who nearly stood on it last week had kicked it over?
It wasn't until I was right on top of it that I finally saw it. My mistake was that I was looking in the water for it but the level had dropped considerably and it was now beached several feet from the water. It really blends in well now it is set on dry stones as the colours are very similar (this photo doesn't really show how well it blends in) and I was amazed how intact it was seeing as it had survived a week of dog walkers, salmon fisherman, walkers and kids.
I was also interested to see how the colours had changed now that the stone had dried out. The two orange squares were now the same colour and the blackest stones has turned brown.
Friday, March 20, 2009
Recently I have been getting quite a bit of criticism for copying Andy Goldsworthy's sculptures. I guess this has a lot to do with the internet and publishing things in the public domain. There are unforeseen consequences in publishing my photos on the internet that I had not considered when I started out. For me it was a case of recording what I had done on Flickr and in my blog so that I had a record for my own purposes. Not to portray myself as Andy Goldsworthy number 2 and to try and deceive anyone. However, as I have recently discovered, this is not how everyone views it.
As I explained before I chanced upon Andy Goldsworthy's Clougha sculpture one day, I had no idea what it was, who built it but I was intrigued. I hadn't heard of him when I was told who made it. But I bought a book of his and was amazed at his vision and skill. And being a non-arty person I wanted to have a go myself. I have always loved nature and the outdoors and Andy Goldsworthy's pictures fascinated me so much that I wanted to copy some of his sculptures to make a three-dimensional version of one of his photos, to discover the process he went through and just to see whether I could actually do it. I never considered I would have my own ideas and I viewed it all as a little hobby I was doing for my own pleasure, just like someone might copy a famous painting just for the fun of doing it.
I discovered after a while that I was reasonably good at copying his sculptures and I realised that maybe I should explore my own ideas but I still enjoyed making approximate copies. (I am well aware that my copies are nowhere near as good as the originals).
But still, throughout this time I considered all this as something I did for myself as a hobby in my spare time. Sure it is nice to receive compliments about what I have done but I didn't expect to receive negative comments as I thought it was something I was just doing for myself. I didn't realise that some people would take exception to me copying some of his sculptures.
As my interest in land art grew so did the interest other people had in it. It was late last year when I built the first cairn that suddenly other people could see something I had built and some of the locals round here started visiting my sculptures. From that point things started to change and opportunities started to come my way. In parallel I started to make steps to express my own ideas and to not copy AG's work anymore. The early seeds of believing that I might be able to create my own artworks were sown but I am still struggling with that idea.
I never had a plan or an agenda on where any of this would lead. There is no harm in copying something when that is all you are doing but what happens when you want to do something more and you only got there through copying? Is that legitimate?
I seem to be spectacularly bad at taking criticism. I do take it quite badly and feel upset when I am told that my work has no worth as it is all "ripped off."
Perhaps the reason for this is it's true? I do feel that my latest work is original and stands up on its own but is that right? Perhaps anyone who likes it does not know AG's work as well as me and cannot see the heavy influence his work has had on me. I don't know.
The thing is I did copy many of his sculptures, I didn't even try and come up with my own ideas in the beginning. It was only through doing that that I discovered that I might actually have my own ideas at all. If I hadn't done so I wouldn't be doing land art at all or probably any style of art. I owe him a great debt for inspiring me to find a way of expressing any artistic bent I have. But still copies of his work are there amongst my own ideas and anyone looking at them who knows AG's work will know they are copied and may quite rightly dismiss it all as ripped off. I can see how that might happen.
Had my land art not received any attention then I guess there would not be a problem. Someone copying someones work is neither here nor there. But if that person starts to get more attention then it starts to look like that they are ripping off someone elses ideas for their own benefit. I think this is why the criticism has upset me so much. It has never been my intention to rip anyone off, yet I want to do more and get more out of what I do. So what do I need to do from here?
If anyone has read this far then I would really appreciate your opinions on this matter. I feel that I am unable to make a clear decision now as I can't see the wood for the trees. Does my work all appear to be copied? Is there stuff in there that is original and should be acceptable as promoting as my own? I really want to make more of this and explore every opportunity that I can but not if I am seen as fraud.
Do you think that I should take down all pictures that are copies of AG's work? Or perhaps move them to a group where they are listed as copies. Is anyone willing to give their opinion on which sculptures they think are original? I feel poorly equipped now to draw the line between what is my work and what is AG's especially where they are not copied but similar.
Thanks for listening if anyone has got this far. I need to grow a thicker skin if I want to do this stuff more extensively but I have always been hyper-sensitive! I wish I didn't get upset by criticism as it is hard work but I can't control it.
I wrote an answer here on a similar theme (scroll down to the bottom). I'll leave the details of the other mails I have received for another time. I am not fishing for compliments to make me feel better about the criticism I have received, instead I want to better avoid future criticism by portraying my work in a way that is honest about my AG influences but also to promote my own work without it appearing to be ripping off someone elses work. I would appreciate any opinions to help me do that.
Ps. the inflammatory post title is done in the best journalistic style, to draw attention to the article but not necessarily to be very true! So apologies for the emotive stance!
Sunday, March 15, 2009
I returned today back to the place where I built the circle yesterday. It was much warmer today and the wind had dropped. I had noticed the pebbles yesterday and thought I would try and make something with them.
Yet again I tried several different things unsure right to the end whether what I had finally settled on would work. I didn't know when I started if I would find enough colours to fill the platform, but as always as you start to get a feel for the pebbles that are there, you start to see many more colours than were first apparent. It takes a few hours of being there before your eyes become attuned and the different hues reveal themselves. This is what is interesting for me when making these sculptures that as you spend more time looking you become more absorbed in the environment and more and more aspects are revealed to you. This process is at the heart of land art. Through making sculptures with natural materials you peel back the layers of the place and discover what is at first hidden from the the fleeting eye.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
I went down to the River Lune today with no pre-conceived ideas on what I was going to make. I walked along the bank , through the woods and up to the viewing point on the side of the hill where the bench is. Here a very large tree had come down and had created a lot of debris. I saw a wonderfully curved branch, I couldn't tell if it had grown like that or whether the force of the falling tree and bent it like that. I cut it from the tree along with three other branches and then racked my brains for some inspiration. Nothing seemed to come.
I decided to look for another place to build something so I shouldered my pack, camera, camera bag, tripod and the three sturdy branches and set off back down the hill. I was really glad that I didn't encounter anyone as I must have looked like a madman!
Eventually I settled on a spot right next to the Crook itself and the steep bank soon grabbed my imagination.
This was constructed by inserting the branch into the ground and smearing it with mud to make it more symmetrical. I then placed the flattened river stones, to trace the bottom of the circle, into the bank. Then I worked more mud into the bank around and inside the circle to make the area more smooth and to hide the grass roots stickign out of the mud.
It was very windy today and my hands have still not thawed out while I am typing this. Wet muddy hands in strong winds does not promote dexterity. I had to stop for 20 minutes at one point as I couldn't feel my fingers and couldn't place the stones. I can't wear gloves though as I need to feel the materials. Roll on summer!
Thursday, March 12, 2009
I hadn't made anything for a while and I needed to get something done. So today I went to Hutton Roof in Cumbria.
I haven't done much land art if any in a limestone environment and I found it very challenging. I like to work intuitively most of the time and I searched and searched for useful material. There is little colour and contrast in limestone country (at least until Spring gets going) and the stone is lacking in symmetry and doesn't suit my style. I tried 4 or 5 other ideas before this one popped into my head.
I am really looking forward to things sprouting very soon and all the new materials Spring will bring. Getting a little bored of stone, bracken and dead wood for now!
Monday, March 09, 2009
Last November I took a tour around some of Andy Goldsworthy's Sheepfolds Project installations dotted around Cumbria and its neighbouring counties. As well as taking pictures I also shot some video. This is the River Stone Fold near Middleton-in-Teasdale in Northumberland.
Today I had a very fruitful meeting with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and the Director of Facilities at Lancaster University. Talk about good timing. After getting barred from the Abbeystead Estate someone very kindly put me in contact with the University and I sent them an email to see if they would be interested in anything that I do. I was hoping that they would simply be willing for me to make some ephemeral scupltures on the University campus. Well it seems they want a great deal more than that. They are currently a fair way through a long-term, extensive building project and the next stage is to make the whole campus into somewhere where the public and students alike will want to explore and enjoy the space within its boundaries. To this end they want to invite artists to come and create whatever they want right across their land. They have been mulling over these ideas for a few years and only recently they have employed people to organise these new projects. My email appeared in their inboxes just as they wanted to start something, I could not have timed it better. The phrase they kept banding about was "we are an open book" and they want me to put together some proposals. I am very excited about this and it seems there are so many opportunities that are presenting themselves to me now. I feel that I can get whatever I want out of this, it all hinges on how much I want to put in. And right now I feel very inspired and want to put my all in. I just wish I could give up my office job! Long hours at my desk mean my daydreams are full of the prospect of following a fulfilling, creative career (or winning the lottery). I have high hopes that with small beginnings I may get the opportunity to live that dream one day.