Four Natural Elements

This essay is about four artists I came across while doing some researches. It is not the kind of photography I am usually interested in, but their work is very interesting and I feel like sharing my ideas and thoughts about their ephemeral creations.

I don’t claim the copyright of the images in this post. They all belong to the photographers which the name is specified in the image title.

Andy Goldsworthy was born in Cheshire, England, in 1956 and currently resides in Scotland. He studied at Bradford School of Art and Preston Polytechnic, and has been making art in the environment both rural and urban, since the mid-1970. He is an Andrew D. White Professor at Cornell University. Over the past 25 years, Goldsworthy has gained a significant reputation for both his ephemeral works and his permanent installations that draw out the endemic character of a place. The artist works with natural materials, such as leaves, sand, ice and stone that often originate from the local site. He said, when talking about his work : “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.” His work influenced a whole generation of Land artists.

Richard Long was born in 1945 in Bristol, England. He is a sculptor, photographer and painter. Within a year of his departure from St Martin’s College of Art, Long was closely associated with the emergence of a new art form, Land art, having already produced such works a “A Line Made by Walking” (1967); a photograph of the trail left in the grass by walking back and forth in a straight line. Richard Long made his international reputation during the 1970’s with sculptures made as the result of epic walks, sometimes lasting many days, to remote parts of the world. Guided by a great respect for nature, as for Andy Goldsworthy and for the two following artists, and by the formal structures of basic shapes, especially circles, he never allowed facile exotic connotations to intrude into his work, although some of his sculptures evoked the mysterious connotations of ancient circles and other such monuments.

Richard Greaves was born on the other side of the Atlantic, in Montréal, Canada, in 1952. Since 1989, the self-taught Quebec artist has devoted himself to the creation of a huge architectural environment that is in constant expansion. It is located in Beauce, Quebec. It sprawls out in a forest, on a plot of land that he bought with friends and where he has chosen to live. Cabins he builds appear to be on the verge of collapse. Like houses of cards, they defy the laws of gravity and approach utopia. Celebrating asymmetry and banishing the right angle, they shatter the norms and principles of construction. They tip us into an unreal world and put our senses and our perceptions to the test.

Néle Azevedo is a visual artist, born in 1950 in Brazil. She works with video, installation and urban interventions, but she is best known for her “Melting Men” interventions that she stages in cities across the globe. She carves thousands of small figures and places them on city’s monument where audience congregate to watch them melt. The installation is a critical reading of the monument in the contemporary cities. In a few-minute action, the official canons of the monument are inverted : in the place of the hero, the anonym; in the place of the solidity of the stone, the ephemeral process of the ice; in the place of the monument scale, the minimum scale of the perishable bodies. Environmentalists around the world are adopting her work as climate change art. The interventions have become known worldwide as the “Army of Melting Men”.

These four artists construct sculptural forms out of natural elements. Andy Goldsworthy and Richard Long use materials they find in the landscape. Richard Long’s circles result for example, from reflecting on desolate places he inhabits over two or three days rambling until the environment determines the forms he wishes to create within it, while Andy Goldsworthy is interested in reconstructing the landscape to enhance its vista. Richard Greaves on the other hand, quite literally constructs architectural monuments out of man-made materials he discovers in the environment, not to enhance the landscape like Goldsworthy or Long, but to subvert it almost as a protest against modernistic tradition. Néle Azevedo is the odd one out for the element she utilizes in her work, although natural, are the ephemeral element of frozen water, sculpted into creations that are then placed into the landscape.

The word installation, common currency these days, is mostly associated with conceptual or other forms of art work “installed” in a gallery or public space. The art of Goldsworthy, Long, Greaves, and Azevedo, are what can be termed site-specific, for their work can only be viewed by visiting the locations where it is installed. To overcome this limitation and bring their work to a wider audience, their installations are photographed in the landscapes and spaces they have been created, and exhibited in private and public galleries. However, the meaning of their work reproduced in photographic form subtracts the essence of place, and without the spatial surroundings which either inspired or motivated them to choose the locations they are set in, removes the viewer of images from the natural substances they are made from, including meteorological elements of wind, rain, sunlight and heat, or the opportunity of experiencing them in the three dimensional forms they have been created in. Deprived of the visceral experience of Goldsworthy, Long, Greaves, and Azevedo’s art, their work depicted in photographs and “installed” in galleries, could in itself be a form of subverting the art world’s commercial market place for their work cannot be sold unless in print form. Setting these questions, and ensuing limitations aside, these four artists could be described as performance artists, except instead of observing them perform live as they create, deconstruct, reconstruct, subvert architecture, or place ice sculptures in the landscape, we can only witness their performances after the event. We are left to view the aftermath of their creative performances in the (forensic) proof of photographs, unless fortunate enough to stumble across them at work in situ, and distil what these four artist’s are attempting to convey to us. Magic, mystery, folklore, fairy tales – Greaves’s tumbling architecture is reminiscent of Grimm’s – ancient rites and rituals, novel landscape gardening? All these components can be read into their work, and much more, but what is prevalent and overriding the superficial interpretations which could easily be placed at the feet of Goldsworthy, Long, Greaves, and Azevedo, is the primal urge to either make sense of the natural landscapes we find ourselves inhabiting by transcending it into aesthetic shapes and forms, or like Greaves, building on it, or bearing gifts such as Azevedo’s ice sculptures which, after time, melt and nourish the earth with her creations. Fundamentally, the photographic prints of each artist’s work displayed for us to wonder over, captures the essence embodied in all of us, to leave human traces in our ever shifting and changing world.

The copyright to these images belongs to the photographer or artist and/or the artist’s representative, agent or publisher. This work is expressly not of a commercial nature and where possible, each image has been credited with the artist/photographers name, image title and date. The images are shown for illustrative purposes only and to accompany text. I claim no ownership or rights to the images shown and a full bibliography to the image sources is to be found in the catalogue.

Sources :

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/grimm/index2.html

http://neleazevedo.com.br/

http://www.artbrut.ch/en/21017/3/past-exhibitions/richard-greaves–anarchitect

http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/long-a-line-made-by-walking-p07149

http://www.richardlong.org/

http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/press/2004/andy-goldsworthy/andy-goldsworthy-bio.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningzone/clips/andy-goldsworthy-art-in-a-natural-environment/8230.html

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Erwin Blumenfeld

Erwin Blumenfeld‘s work is a constant source of inspiration in my personal work. He is a highly creative and talented photographer. I have seen an exhibition of his work in Paris, during the Paris Photo show, at the Jeu de Paume. I discovered there all the facets of his photographic career and I felt like writing a bit about him. Hope you enjoy !

I do not claim the copyright of the images in this post. These images belong exclusively to Erwin Blumenfeld.

Erwin Blumenfeld was a photographer famous for his fashion photography. His images have been published all around the world. People start today being interested in his personal work, which contains drawings and collages, experiments, portraits and complex self portraits.

Blmenfeld was born in a Jewish family in Berlin in 1897. He started photography when receiving a camera as a gift in 1907. In 1913, his father died and he had to stop studying to help his family. He started an apprenticeship in the women’s garment trade, which is probably going to influence his later pictures. In 1915, he met the artist George Grosz. They will stay friends for life. In 1918, they both took part of the Dada movement. Blemenfeld made collages, drawings and wrote poetry.

In 1918, after the war, he went to Holland to meet his fiancé and tried different way of earning money as an art seller, novel writer and finally opened a leather goods business in Amsterdam in 1922. In 1932, when moving his premises, he discovered an operational darkroom. He started taking pictures of his customers and his friends to make a bit of money. He also kept working on his personal work by taking portraits and nudes of women, experimenting with light, shadows and processes, clearly influenced by Man Ray and other photographers from the Surrealism movement, and started thinking about going to live in Paris.

In 1936, he arrived in Paris with his wife and his two children, and decided to become a professional photographer. He set up a studio and started doing some advertising and photographed Parisian artists. In 1938, he met Cecil Beaton, who helped him to secure a contract with Vogue France. For the 50th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower, he takes his famous photograph of Lisa Fonssagrive wearing a dress by Lucien Lelong.

In 1941, Blumenfeld left Paris for New York to escape the war. There, his career started to take a much bigger extent. When arriving, he worked immediately for Harper’s Bazaar and got his own studio in 1943.  He soon became the most famous fashion photographer of that time. His experiments with lights, shadows, colours and processes, but also his in depth thoughts about psychology in portraiture and his ability to set up scenaris in his pictures were a great advantage. His famous Vogue cover was published in 1950 and is still used today on design products. He photographed actors, singers, aristocrats and launched the career of some famous top models. In 1948, his work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1955, he stopped his contract with Vogue and worked on advertising. He also realised a few short movies and kept working on his personal work.

Blumenfeld died of a heart attack in 1969 in Roma. He is known today mostly for his fashion photography, but his personal work reveals much more of his psychology and his research of his own identity.