The Gallery of Nature: Art of the Earth
In some ways, nature has always been connected to art. Whether it is making snow angels and sand castles as children, or using the wonders of the natural world as fodder for photography, the visual and aesthetic arts are unavoidably linked to the earth. British artist Richard Shilling has continued that tradition with his "Land Art", a unique style of natural manipulation to create temporary installments around the world. His work is made entirely out of organic elements of nature, like leaves, pebbles, feathers, icicles, boulders, and of course, the natural beauty of far-flung locations to work as a built-in backdrop. They range from intimate and easily overlooked sculptures to dramatic and unmissable monument; proving once again that size doesn't matter, particularly in relation to the grand magnificence of nature.
Shilling isn't the first artist to explore the idea of creating ephemeral sculptures out of natural materials; the movement actually has its roots back in the 1960s and '70s in England. Shilling was inspired by a walk out on the moors when he stumbled across some mysterious stone sculptures, with no explanation, apparent purpose, or intended audience. After some research, he discovered the artist and the art movement, and began his own journey into the satisfying discovery of art hidden within the natural world.
About 30,000 years ago, some prehistoric humans drew images of the world in their caves in Lascaux, France. These were representative pictures of nature, and those crudely drawn trees, animals, and mountains remain the earliest manifestation of art from humanity. It is fitting that those fascinating paintings were created on the walls of caves, using animal fat and natural pigments, and were an attempt to understand the world by capturing it in art. Some artists, like Richard Shilling, are still doing that today, using the canvas of the earth to reveal some deeper truth about human nature.
One of the most celebrated things about art is the respect that masterpieces get throughout the ages. The work of Michaelangelo, Durer, and Picasso have survived wars, famines, theft, and fire to remain a visible and priceless part of our global culture. Millions of works of art have lasted for centuries, so they can continue to educate and inspire new art lovers in every generation. Art is one of the few things that is traditionally built to last, and humanity's relationship to art encourages cultures around the world to protect and save art for posterity.
The work of Richard Shilling, and other land artists, embraces the other extreme, that of transience, fleeting existence, and inevitable destruction. One thing that nature has been and will always be is dynamic, so art created from and within the natural world does not enjoy the same luxury as Renaissance masterworks hanging in temperature-controlled galleries from Chicago to Shanghai. Some of Shilling's land art sculptures will last for only minutes, sometimes only enough time for a quick series of photographs to document the creation before the elements degrade the work back to its original form.
As upsetting as it may be for an artist to painstakingly create something while fully knowing that it won't last long enough for more than a handful of people to see it, there is a deeper significance in this type of art. The short life span of this Land Art reminds us of our own mortality, and the brief blink of an eye that a human life is in relation to the overwhelming span of geologic or natural time. That being said, finding such beauty in nature should also spark a passion for protecting our greatest resource, rather than continuing on the path of destruction and selfish abuse that recent generations have embarked upon.
For the first time in our planet's history, nature will not be able to simply heal itself, or absorb the impact of people by wearing down its monuments and absorbing the pieces back into the natural cycle. We have irreparably changed the face of the planet, and Shilling's work should remind us of the overwhelming and impartial power of nature, as well as its fragility and vulnerability in the face of senseless destruction.
Shilling's Collapse sculptures (seen below) demonstrate the beauty of balance, and how quickly it can be destroyed.
Shilling continues to work on his powerful and personal art throughout the English countryside and has also created pieces in some truly remarkable locations around the world, including the Himalayas! He is currently the artist in residence at Beacon Fell Country Park in Lancashire, England, as well as at the Middlewood Trust in Roeburndale, England.
If you want to see all of Shilling's various sculpture series, or collect one of his books packed with his stunning images, than visit his website!
All images subject to copyright by the artist.