A tale of two artists
During recent travels, I’ve had the great good fortune to see breathtaking works by two artists whose works explore the human connection to the beauty and wonder of nature. I bring you Dom Robert and Andy Goldsworthy.
Dom Robert (1907-1997) was born Guy de Chaunac-Lansac. He studied art in Paris at the École des Arts Décoratifs, and from an early age it was clear that nature was his muse. After serving in the military, he found his monastic calling in 1930, during a visit to the Benedictine Abbaye d’en Calcat. He was ordained in 1937.
In 1941, Dom Robert began learning how to translate his work into large woven tapestries. He would create an original drawing or painting, and from that he’d make a finished-size (read: huge) number-coded cartoon for the Aubusson weavers to follow. The intricacy of detail in these cartoons and the finished tapestries is nothing short of astounding.
Often given credit for single-handedly reviving the French weaving industry, Dom Robert’s work was not only beautiful, it was in great demand. His pieces commanded high prices, and he continued to work and to produce … perhaps a little more than was acceptable for a monk whose life of poverty and humility was meant to include only prayer, contemplation and monastic chores. It was suggested by his abbot that he consider taking a break from the abbey, and thus Dom Robert spent ten years at the Buckfast Abbey in England.
He continued reveling in his experience of nature and producing new works, returning to his abbey in France with the arrival of a new abbot. Over the course of 50 years, Dom Robert produced 150 tapestries, most on a remarkably grand scale. He worked closely with Suzanne Goubely of Aubusson, an exacting technician with the soul of an artist, and whose collaboration helped bring Dom Robert’s vision to life.
Today, the bulk of his work is found in the permanent collection at the Musée dom Robert, which is housed in the Abbaye-école de Sorèze, in the Tarn region. I have visited twice, and will visit again, because these works take my breath away and that is worth the drive.
The work of Andy Goldsworthy (born in Cheshire, England in 1956) has long held magic for me. Many of his projects were made to be ephemeral, often being created and then disappearing within hours. He might work painstakingly in the pre-dawn cold of winter to create an ethereal sculpture of ice, only to watch the sun come up and slowly melt the ice back into water. Most of us will never get to see one of these evanescent works in person, but he’s quick and talented with a camera, so we have gorgeous books of photographs.
Goldsworthy works with sticks and stones, with water and with ice, with shadow and with light, and his most important collaborator is nature herself. His work is not simply a celebration of the beauty of nature; it is also an expression of the fleeting aspects of our wild world, the changes wrought by time, and the human connection to our environment.
He has also produced more permanent installations, nearly all of them outdoors and very much part of the natural world. In 1995 he visited Digne-les-Bains in Haute Provence, and began a project that continues today, intertwining art, nature, geology, and human interactions with each.
Goldsworthy was drawn to Digne because of its unique position in the largest geological preserve in Europe; this is a region encompassing a mind-boggling variety of soils and rock layers, geologic upthrusts, red cliffs, white cliffs, and soft hills of crumbling black slate. There is a giant, nearly-vertical slope teeming with ammonite fossils. And woven through all of this is the comparatively new history of humans in the region.
The Digne project, called Refuge d’Art, was conceived by Goldsworthy and built by him in collaboration with local artisans: there are large egg-shaped sentinels, small shed-like structures, a rebuilt old chapel, and farmhouses. These structures are dots on the map that are connected by ancient footpaths that climb and meander through millions of years of time, a 150-km circuit around the city of Digne.
To do the entire circuit would require 8-10 days, but we had only one day; we used the car to visit the Musée Gassendi, headquarters for the Refuge d’Art, and to drive to the trailheads for two of the structures.
Lightning: Do you remember the image above? It’s from a hugely successful Maxell advertising campaign that aimed to show how powerful and cool its cassette tapes were, by literally blowing away the oh-so-cool dude listening to music while sitting in a Le Corbusier leather chair. Notice the olives flying out of the wind-blown martini glass.
Every so often, something comes along that reminds me of Maxell’s Blown Away Guy, and here’s one such example. I have never seen such exhilarating and exquisite filming of lightning as Dustin Farrell produced in his three-minute video “Transient 2.” This man is a videographer extraordinaire, and his short film will blow your mind.
Water: Artist Linda Gass says that her muse is water. She creates stitched paintings and works in glass questioning how California’s water infrastructure works for the survival of humans and our environment in the context of climate change. Informed and inspired by her extensive research on the impact of changing waterways, sea-level rise, fire and drought in California and the American West, Gass’s work uses beauty to shed light on these challenging issues.
That’s the official statement. My unofficial addition is that Linda brings a remarkable insight to her work, which I see as beginning with a scientific approach to studying the issues, followed by gorgeous painted and glass works that clearly depict the environmental situation. Do take a moment to browse her work! The Art of Linda Gass
Snow: Community artists in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, have gathered seven times to create giant snow paintings by walking them into the snow on snowshoes. It began as the inspiration of artist-in-residence Sonja Hinrichsen, who first created a solo piece and then followed that up by involving the local community. Sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and the Bud Werner Memorial Library, the event has continued almost annually. You can see photographs of all the work of previous years, created by over 200 local snowshoe artists, in this article by Jenny Lay.
Let’s close with a little light-hearted fun, shall we? It’s been a while since I last posted a photo puzzle, and the time has come! Our own Fête de l’Olivier (Olive Festival) in July provided the setting for a new puzzle. There are five differences between the top (original) and bottom (modified) photographs. Can you spot them?
For the winner, I will make one custom photo greeting card using the photograph of your choice from my Etsy shop, Lo Vedo Art.
How to enter: email your answers to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Six days after I post the blog, I’ll take all the replies that have five correct answers, and do a random drawing to determine the winner. Due to the many time zones my readers inhabit, this seems more fair than my previous method of taking the first correct entry. I will contact the winner to ask for your mailing address and choice of photograph, and your very own card will arrive in the mail shortly thereafter. Have fun!