Born of the earth
Art without intuition can carry the viewer about as far as a boat in a waterless canal. Recently intuition has been devalued in favor of complex cerebral meanderings. What this has meant is that certain forms of art have remained behind the tightly locked doors of intellectual cliques, admired only by narcissistic, back-patting groups, whereas art based on intuition has always been understandable to anyone who was prepared to look sensitively.
It was in just such a deprecating mood during my college years that I spent a weekend at a chalky beach in Kent. There, out of pierced chalk pebbles and driftwood, i made some clumsy sculptures. That act is, I am sure, as old as mankind. Six years after my weekend in Kent I met Any Goldsworthy. I was startled to find that he was making sculpture the same way I had doodled on the beach but he works with all the commitment and insight that I lacked in my brief experiment. He goes out every day, in rain, wind, snow and ice. He welcomes each change of weather for the changing opportunities it offers him.
The only tools he uses for his sculptures are his hands and sticks and stones. The sculptures are created entirely from found materials and erected on site. Sometimes it takes him days to achieve a structure, trying different materials and different methods. The weather, and grazing animals, determine the length of the life of his work. The sculptures are "preserved" only by photographs, which supply a visual diary.
What becomes clear about Andy Goldsworthy's work is that it lacks all forms of preciousness. He is almost as interested in how and why the sculptures break up as he is in their construction. This has meant that he has become very aware of the limitations of his materials and the subtle, even dramatic, effects of the changing weather upon them.
During the month I watched him work, he constructed a sand hole which contained an inner chamber. It was a curiously formed hole and would have puzzled any countryman who stumbled across it. He also made a line of hazel twigs which arched jerkily across the field. Some iconoclastic cows put an end to that rather delicate structure! Later he drew the twigs into a cluster, which hovered like a stranded sea urchin in the field. There were many more experiments, such as twigs thrown into the air forming kaleidoscopic variations of great beauty. Each day he worked until he was soaked or tired and then came back to develop his photographs. On some days he achieved little except to find out what did not work.
At a time when there is much evident pretension in art, Goldsworthy's fundamental approach sweeps chic aside in exchange for some rude principles. The carefully balanced stones he stood on Morecambe beach and the twisting arrangements of seaweed in Abersoch are part of that art we discover as children but which, as adults, we reject in favor of a rather sterile sophistication. Goldsworthy has kept the creative catholiity we all have as children and added to it through rigorous observation and a growing body of knowledge. Sometimes his feats of balance and juxtaposition are such that people refuse to believe that he hasn't used glue -- or that he hasn't doctored the photographs! They cannot accept the fact that Goldsworthy's uniqueness lies in his ability to recognize and utilize the simplest objects and their relationships and to bring to them an exquisite veracity and understanding.