Do you remember building sand castles on the beach and watching the sea come in and slowly wash it away?  Have you ever constructed a den out of branches or made pyramids of stones?   The artist, Andy Goldsworthy has never lost his innocent  fascination with natural forms.  It is the mainspring of his creativity.  His work reaches the child in all of us;  but for those lucky enough to grow up in the country, it has a special significance.   

Goldsworthy was brought up in the western suburbs of Leeds where town meets country.  He played in the woods and the bogs close to his home.  In his teens, when his parents left Leeds, he lived and worked on a nearby farm.  Our impression is of a thoughtful and somewhat solitary boy, who found meaning and purpose in trees, stones, mud and holes – always holes;  living cavities as refuge from social and family tension.      

Goldsworthy has raised a child’s fascination with the material of the countryside to an art form.  That is its appeal.  His installations in the Underground Gallery of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park are a celebration of human inventiveness at its most fundamental.   He has plastered the walls of one room in a mixture of clay, which he dug from a pit in the grounds of the park and human hair, collected in bags from local hairdressers and then closed the doors.  As this latter-day daub dried, it cracked into a repetitive pattern of irregular shapes, like the mud on the bottom of a drained lake, but raised, bent and textured to a surface, on which we project our imagination.         

Another room has been transformed into the roofs of series of ancient dwellings by overlapping curved slabs of limestone, capped with a single round slab with a hole cut in the middle.  The result recreates the surface of Skara Brae, a Bronze Age  commune burrowed into a midden of sea shells in East Orkney.   

The next room takes us further back.  You enter by via low doorway into a large dark squashed dome lined by the writhing muscular limbs of trees.   Were it not for the absence of human detritus and the central hearth, we would be looking at the interior of the hut of a Mesolithic tribal chieftain.  Instead, it seems more like the inside the muscular body cavity of some large living creature; the empty stomach of a whale.  Outside in the yard, the brick red coils of a long extinct pleisiosaur break the surface of the raked gravel.     

There is an timeless magic at work in Goldsworthy; he explores the natural world like a hobbit,  beating water with a stick to create rainbows,  burying himself in a pile of leaves with a just a hand emerging,  diving head first into holes at the base of trees and then like a hornbill, narrowing the aperture with mud.  His work evokes the constructions of animals; the dams of beavers,  the papery nests of wasps,  the galleries of termites,  the mud and saliva cradles of house martins, and the curious symmetry of a spider’s web.   

Goldsworthy is a white aborigine.  He unsettles the complacency of commodity with long forgotten images of ancestral dream world.  You can look but you cannot enter.  His alternative dimension is protected by a magic screen of chestnut leaf stems, pinned together with blackthorns, and the only way in, a black hole, two feet in diameter and ten above the ground, is quite inaccessible to mere mortals.

Advertisements