Friday, June 09, 2006

Andy Goldsworthy

Few contemporary artists are as beloved as Andy Goldsworthy, an Englishman who specializes in constructing ephemeral works out of natural materials -- leaves, reeds, twigs, stones, ice, clay, petals, wind, water, gravity, darkness, light. Many of his creations last only for hours or days, until wind, sun, or flowing water takes them away. They are preserved as photographs in a series of stunning books, most of which I own.

Goldsworthy creates what J. R. R. Tolkien called a "Secondary World," made of the stuff of the Primary World of nature but reshaped by imagination. "The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water," wrote Tolkien. The artist who would create such worlds, he observed, requires an "elvish craft." Elvish craft is what Andy Goldsworthy possesses in abundance.

Goldsworthy's art reminds us how precious is the Primary World we are using up, paving over, chopping down, draining dry. He has no quarrel with modern civilization. What he asks for is a new alliance with the Earth, informed by science and technology, yet transparent to mystery -- a re-enchantment in the Tolkien sense. It is impossible to look at a Goldsworthy work -- a river boulder, say, wrapped in red poppy petals -- without feeling that one has entered the world of faerie: nature transformed by impish imagination.