Preface: Prior to and during my solo exhibit in May 2015, I noticed folks that had been trained in art or who were well rehearsed in art would often compare my work to the renowned British artist Andy Goldsworthy. Although I acknowledge that a few of my pieces had direct influence from his work, I would like to explain why my work is nevertheless unique. Please don't regard my reasons below as a treatise against Goldsworthy. I love his work and I can truly say he is a master of his genre. His introduction to me opened my eyes to other possibilities and for that I am grateful. However, I have always given credit where it is due and my artist statement on my previous blog and in my program which was passed out to everyone at my solo exibit last summer clearly disclosed what my work is about and where artists like Andy Goldsworthy had their influence on my work.
1. Is Andy Goldsworthy the only land artist? In the 1960s thru early 1980s there were no less than 30 artists who were practicing some form of nature and/or land art which served as a sort of revolt against the perceived artificiality of contemporary art. Goldsworthy received some of his inspiration from these contemporaries and predecessors. Just look at the art of Richard Long, Nils-Udo, Josef Beuys, Yves Klein, and Robert Smithson. Goldsworthy's popularity today is due in part that he was and still is very prolific and that every art institution uses him as a primary reference for "land art". However, to say, there is no more room in the world for land artists is akin to saying that we should never have another impressionistic painter because Monet cornered that. I have also received much inspiration from other named and unknown artists alike. Goldsworthy hasn't been my only inspiration by any means of the imagination.
2. Nature is in my blood. I was involved with nature sculpture even as a child. My Grandmother's house was a mecca for us kids making driftwood sculptures, beach glass art, and rock arrangements from elements we found in river beds or along the shores of Lake Michigan where I grew up. She was such an influence in my love of nature from my earliest childhood. My current activity in land art harkens to fond memories of my childhood and it rejuvenates me.
3. Goldsworthy is brilliant but he didn't invent rock stacking. Three years ago, I started making rock stacks as a result of watching Michael Grabb and Bill Dan, not Andy Goldsworthy. Grabb's sculptures are truly inspiring and in my opinion much more challenging than Andy's were, because Andy would use pebbles and such to prop up the rocks. Grabb uses pure balance. I was made aware of Andy Goldsworthy after I approached an artist friend about my work. I had never heard of Goldsworthy prior. Rock stacking is not unique to Goldsworthy although some consider him to be the "father of modern rock stacking"... whatever that means. Rock stacking and rock wall building has been a part of civilization for millennia.
4. What my exposure to Goldsworthy did for my art. Rock stacking (balancing) was very therapeutic for me, but when I became aware of Andy Goldsworthy, his work obviously opened my eyes to many other possibilities. As I started to delve into other materials and themes to work with, I found all of it including the photographing of it to be therapeutic and healing. The floodgates of creativity slowly started to open and I really felt that this developing form of art had direct application to my nearly 35 year love affair with Kauai.
5. I consider six of my early works to be "Goldsworthy Studies". And this is directly indicated on my website under their titles. Like any student of art, when I first started expanding from rock stacking to land art, I wanted to get into the head of some land art artists and you do so by often creating similar pieces. At first I didn't want to print them, but my assistant and some friends told me I shouldn't care because the pieces were beautiful in their own right. But as a matter of conscience and after some consultation with an art expert, I decided that if these pieces sold I would donate most of the proceeds to the National Tropical Botanical Garden and also the Surfrider Foundation - Kauai Chapter, because these two organizations were putting feet to ground of what I was trying to accomplish through my art... “malama the aina” (taking care of the land). Ironically, I have sold very few of those pieces but my total donations have been several hundred dollars between May 28 and 6 Nov 6, 2015.
6. The photographic method I use is dramatically different. Goldsworthy said, "My approach to the photograph is kept simple, almost routine. All work, good and bad, is documented". His photographs simply document the sculptures, whereas my photographs are meant to bring attention to the aina through the sculptures. My photographs are as much about the landscape as it is about the sculpture. To Goldsworthy, only the sculpture really counted and photographing it was necessary to prove his method, etc. My photographs are meant to be images which leave an indelible impression on the viewer. It is likely that if you viewed my sculptures live, they may not seem that impressive, so composition, lighting, and atmospherics are critical to the feeling I want to convey through the overall image. Goldsworthy had very complex sculptures with simple photography. My art has complex sculptures set within a complex landscape captured with complex photography. It is far from "simple and routine".
7. Goldsworthy leaves his sculptures to natural decaying forces. And that is a beautiful thing to behold through photographic documentation. However, I return all my elements to nature as soon as I can after the image is captured. Again, this is about "malama the aina" especially Kauai's aina. Goldsworthy could take his time with his sculptures working on them for days and weeks. My sculptures must be completed within two days due to my work schedule.
8. Goldsworthy's art was performed in many countries around the world. My art is exclusive to Kauai only. My work is all about this land, this aina, this relationship we all share with its specialness, its uniqueness, its beauty, and its magic. That is why I don't want to restrict my artistic endeavors to land art only. I also do some pure landscapes and my new series, people of the land - Kama'aina Art where I photograph the people that live on and roam this land, who farm it, who are inspired by it, who care for it as much as I do. This makes my source of inspiration seemingly very narrow, however, although Kauai is small in size, it is huge in variety, diversity, and complexity thereby making it an endless source of inspiration for me. Why go anywhere else? So my art is about this land only, whereas Goldsworthy's art and inspiration is taken from nature wherever he is.
9. Goldsworthy has formal training with a bachelor’s degree in art. I have no formal training in art although I hold a Master's degree in education. I am mostly self-taught and have developed my own unique photographic workflow based on several resources and training I have received - my "secret recipe" if you will, which gives my land art pieces a special glow. My wet plate collodion photography of the kama'aina (people who live here) is an antique process that I am resurrecting here in Hawaii. I am the only one doing wet plate on Kauai and maybe only one of two or three in the entire state that I know of.
10. Goldsworthy's art is an exploration of his relationship with natural elements and nature in general whereas my later work has developed into sculpture which has key references to our culture and history in Hawaii. I have also created unique conceptual pieces using water filled trays, hanging rocks, internal sand sculpture, and literal figures in the earth based on hula, tapa making, hawaiian tattoo, petroglyphs and other hawaiian references. I have many projects planned for the near future where I continue to explore these themes and others that are in development.
11. There is a quote from "Hand to Earth" which makes us somewhat the same: "He (Goldsworthy) is not concerned with a view of the land, as we see it, but with the land itself, its substance, the things that live in it and what happens to it." I would like to say that I am also concerned with the "view of the land" for if that changes on Kauai (and it is) our aina is lost.
12. Goldsworthy purposely tries to not take tools or man-made fastening devices in the field with him. I on the other hand will employ different tools, and sometimes use string or hemp chord to fasten things. In the end, the differences between any artist's work is the strict ground rules they set for themselves and working within those limitations adds interest and challenge to the pieces they create. These limitations are often so well masked in the work that it may be difficult to see distinctions between varying artists.
13. Goldsworthy's art routinely used common shapes such as the circle, triangle, and snaking patterns... so fundamental that no artist can escape them. However, he eschewed symbolism through the use of these shapes. I on the other hand am not afraid to use symbolism in my work especially as it pertains to our culture and history. It is pervasive in our culture. This makes my work uniquely Hawaiian in nature. Richard Long made an observation that stone circles and ostensibly similar manifestations in the past came about because of social or religious influence. Long and Goldsworthy insist they make their circles as a matter of individual expression. It cannot be assumed that forms will have the same meanings in the past, or that a common understanding of forms will exist. What matters most is that such analogies should be felt and not imposed. It is my hope that the viewer feels a special affinity through the use of shapes and symbols to our unique aina so that it inspires malama with pono (taking care of our land with responsibility). This is the underlying message of all my work.
Conclusion: In the end, folks will either dismiss my work thinking it is too similar to Goldsworthy or other artists, or they will embrace the uniqueness and beauty of the work I create recognizing the thought, preparation, and hard work that goes into each piece. Land art and my wet plate work has brought more enrichment to my life than I could ever imagine at this stage of my life. It doesn't matter to me that I make money through my work or that I become renowned. I am only concerned that my work can resonate with the viewer and hold its own with integrity. I appreciate your time in reading this and I especially appreciate those of you who understand this message and accept my work for what it is.