Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Lesson on Land Art

Written by Emily Shaw

Art is not confined to paint and canvas, as many might think. There are, in fact, many styles of art that utilize non-traditional media. One of these avant-garde art forms is known as “land art.” Also referred to as “earthworks” – a term minted by land artist Robert Smithson – land art usually consists of unconventional sculptures made solely from natural materials.

The movement harkens back to the second half of the 20th century, when artists wished to contest what they perceived as the “artificiality” of contemporary art. The perfect way to combat artificiality, it seemed, was to turn directly towards nature. By moving their work outside the museum setting and creating generally ephemeral works that were, by definition, impossible to sell, land artists effectively rebelled against the system.

Some of the most notable members of this movement are Robert Smithson and Andy Goldsworthy. Perhaps the single-most well-known earthwork comes from the man who coined the term: Smithson. The American artist’s 1970 “Spiral Jetty” is somewhat unique in the world of land art, as the piece still exists today, unlike most pieces of land art, which are fleeting. To create the piece the artist constructed a giant serpentine curl from mud, crystallized salt and basalt. The spiral is located in Rozel Point along the shores of Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Visibility of the earth sculpture is dependent on the water levels of the lake. In this sense, the piece is evanescent: Its presence or lack thereof is left entirely to the forces of nature.

Goldsworthy, on the other hand, creates works that truly are transitory. The Scotland native prefers to work with materials like leaves, twigs and water. Many of his pieces involve the painstaking cutting and arrangement of leaves or the manipulation of ice to create a sculpture. Of course, in a matter of days, hours or even minutes, these meticulously constructed works may be destroyed by something as unremarkable as a minor gale of wind. Goldsworthy’s art is of the land in the deepest sense: Both derived from and vulnerable to the forces of nature. For prime examples of Goldsworthy’ work, see photographs of his legendary pieces such as “Icicle Star,” “Rowan Leaves and Hole,” “Green Circle” and “Touching North.”

More recently, land art has made its way from the fields of Scotland and lakes of Middle America to the streets. The urban take on land art can be seen most notably with the emergence of “moss graffiti” – that is, street art constructed through the careful handling of moss, also known as “green graffiti” or “eco-graffiti.” Take, for instance, London artist Anna Garforth, a self-described “mossenger,” or a messenger who delivers said messages through the medium of moss words mounted on city walls. Also worth mentioning is the duo Edina Tokodi & József Vályi-Tóth, who proclaim themselves specialists in “urban greenery” on their blog, Unlike Garforth who favors written words, Tokodi and Vályi-Tóth concentrate on animal images, for instance, a cattle or deer outline. Their work – constructed mostly in Brooklyn – can also be seen on their blog.

To see other up-and-coming forms of graffiti and street art, be sure to check out Thumbprint Gallery in La Jolla. The gallery is located at 920 Kline St. #104 in La Jolla, San Diego. Thumbprint Gallery exhibits contemporary, urban, lowbrow, and graffiti art from local artists. It is open on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.