Selected extracts

Nature as Material | Rain sun snow hail mist calm | Winter Harvest | Hand to Earth

Nature as Material: An Exhibition of Sculpture and Photographs Purchased for the Arts Council Collection by Andrew Causey, The Atkinson Gallery, Southport, Lancashire, 5 July - 8 August 1980.

I want an intimate physical involvement with the earth. I must touch. I take nothing out with me in the way of tools, glue or rope, preferring to explore the natural bonds and tensions that exist within the earth. The season and weather conditions determine to a large extent what I make. I enjoy relying on the seasons to provide new materials.

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Rain sun snow hail mist calm: Photo works by Andy Goldsworthy (The Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture, Leeds City Art Gallery and Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, Sunderland, 1985), 4-5.

When I began working outside, I had to establish instincts and feelings for Nature: some I never had, while others I had not used since childhood. I needed a physical link before a personal approach and relationship could be formed. I splashed in water, covered myself in mud, went barefoot and woke with the dawn.

I have become aware of how nature is in a state of change and how that change is the key to understanding. I want my art to be sensitive and alert to changes in material, season and weather.

A rock is not independent of its surroundings. The way it sits tells how it came to be there. The energy and space around a rock are as important as the energy and space within. The weather - rain, sun, snow, hail, mist, calm - is that external space made visible. When I touch a rock, I am touching and working the space around it. In an effort to understand why that rock is there and where it is going, I do not take it away from the area in which I found it.

I work with some materials and places many times over. Each time is different. Often I can only follow a train of thought while a particular weather condition persists. When a change comes, the idea must alter or it will, and often does, fail.

Sometimes a work is at its best when most threatened by the weather. A balanced rock is given enormous tension and force by a wind that might cause its collapse. I have worked with colourful leaves, delicate grasses and feathers made extra vivid by a dark, rain-laden sky that casts no shadow. Had it rained, the work would have become mud-splattered and washed away.

I make one or two sculptures each day I go out. From a month's work, two or three pieces are successful. The 'mistakes' are very important. Each new sculpture is a result of knowledge accumulated through past experience. A good work is result of being in the right place at the right time with the right material.

My sculpture can last for days or a few seconds - what is important for me is the experience of making. I leave all my work outside and often return to watch it decay.

I document what I have made with notes, drawings and photographs. For me the photograph is a memory which evokes the experience of making and of being outside.

In the main my approach is intuitive. Sometimes an idea travels with me until conditions are right for it to appear; even then, I need my intuition to bring the idea out.

The ball, patch, line, arch, spire and hole are recurring forms in my work. I often feel with my sculpture that I am treading deep water and that these forms are familiar rocks that I can always out a foot to. In that respect they are important and probably necessary. They are also an effective way of exploring and extending a work over time, materials and locations.

The hole has become an important element in my sculpture. Looking into a deep hole unnerves me. My concept of stability is questioned and I am made aware of the potent energies within the earth. The black is that energy made visible.

I do not use glue or rope, preferring to explore the bonds and tensions that exist in nature. If I used glue I would forfeit the joy of discovering how materials join together by their own nature. The coloured leaf patches were discovered when I found one dark and one light leaf of the same size. I tore the dark leaf in two, spat underneath it and pressed it on to the light leaf: the result was what appeared to be a single, tow-coloured leaf. Excited by this discovery, I went on to make yellow (Elm), green (Elm), orange (Beech), white (Sycamore) and red (Cherry) patches.

Because I do not use conventional tools, I am forces to be more inventive and responsive to Nature. I enjoy the unpredictability of breaking rock on rock - hand against rock against rock. Touching is essential to understanding and my art gives direction to touch.

These limitations that I work under are not set rules and I will not be bound by them. I have always felt uncomfortable making an image from what is a very physical, outdoor process and have welcomed the recent opportunity at Grizedale Forest in Cumbria to make a sculpture that will last longer.

Working at Grizedale has felt natural to me. I want an art that makes sense of, and uses my past experiences. Since the age of thirteen, I have worked part-time on farms and in gardens. The billhook, axe, chain saw, gavley, spade and hammer are familiar tools in my hand. I am accustomed to using tools, equipment and people to shift large quantities of material within the landscape: building haystacks, ploughing fields, planting crops, fencing, walling.

In many ways my approach to the earth has been a reaction against the abuse of the land by the industrial farmer. Among other things the work I have done at Grizedale represents a reconciliation between my art and my experiences on the farm. My approach to the earth has evolved it still evolving and will continue to change.

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John Fowles and Andy Goldsworthy, Winter Harvest, (Edinburgh, 1987).

JF: Could you give me an impression of what you would count a good day, in your own terms?

AG: One at Loughborough, last September (1986). I began working in an open grass field. An overcast grey sky. Tall, light dry grass stalks. I wove, drew stalks together in 'stooks', twisted at the top. Bent-over stalks reflecting the light - working the light. I made several touches, but the wind got stronger. I left it for another day.

I went to a pond, first time I have worked there. Found a beautiful dark, sheltered corner, overhanging trees dropping leaves, floating. Struggled for about an hour, trying things out, trying to work the pond surface, floating out leaves, but I didn't want something that hid the pond. I tore holes in leaves, pond showing through, horse chestnut leaves. I tore every other section, leaf, water, leaf; dark, light, dark, light...arrows - work taking form and direction, determined by the negative and positive lines of the leaves. I saw unlooked-for qualities: muddy pond bottom, thick with black rotting leaves. Wading stirred up black clouds surrounding the work.

That was a good day, in which each touch led to the next. Mistakes were as important as successes. Most of the time I didn't know where I was going, it was always potentially a really bad day. Leaves across the pond became a way of exploring the pond, place, season...even first working out in the open grass space was necessary, making me aware of the dark enclosed pond space. The resulting work stretched for about eight feet, pointing out from the dark corner.

During the next few days I revisited the pond, made other work there. I had pinned the occasional leaf with thorns to sticks in the pond bottom. Each leaf was stitched to another with a stalk or thorn. It lasted for the week I was there, changing, sinking with the water level. Gradually disappeared under other fallen leaves.

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Terry Friedman and Andy Goldsworthy, Hand to Earth: Andy Goldsworthy Sculpture 1976-1990 (Leeds, 1990), 64-5.

The Collins Gallery, University of Strathclyde, commissioned work for the exhibition Perspectives: Glasgow - A New Look, 1987.

'I had never been to Glasgow before this commission and I approached the city as I would any new place - a map in one hand, looking for places to work.

I can't really say what my intensions were at the beginning - I wanted to come with open eyes - to see what I could find, especially in a place not readily associated with my work. This was the attraction of the commission and having a free brief allowed my work to develop day to day in response to place, season, weather and materials.

I aimed for the parks and especially the strips of rough ground that often edge them. Although my work is very personal and private it is usually made in a public place. I enjoy the social nature of parks and feel comfortable working amongst the dog-walkers, joggers, children, footballers ... The things I make are left to be discovered.

I arrived during a week of the most intense autumn weather I have experienced and the most extraordinary range of colours in the leaves scattered everywhere - sycamore, elm, chestnut...

I worked with the leaves and a light that changed dramatically each day - from dark overcast to an intense autumn brightness that only comes on a clear day after heavy rain.

Glasgow brought to fruition a crack line and yellow streak through leaves that had been developing over the years - the idea finding the right time, place and material. I broke new ground - a hanging sheet of yellow leaves, one of the best pieces I have ever made - and amongst the rest many starting points - markers for work to be discovered in the future.'