“It is the mystery that makes such loveliness” wrote Barbara Hepworth of her sculpture, “I want to project my feeling about it into sculpture—not words.” I read this compulsion into most things written by artists; their words are secondary.
And yet, British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy (born 26 July, 1956) wields natural elements such as ice, wood, stone, sand, and wind to create pieces that call attention to landscapes, writes beautifully: “I take seriously the responsibility of leaving behind something that will last a long time.”
Goldsworthy constructs permanent and ephemeral works. The latter to push boundaries through experimentation, the former to create pieces that will endure and change.1
The wall is one of Goldsworthy’s most recognized and studied figures. In 1989, Goldsworthy constructed the “Wall that Went for a Walk” in his native Cumbria, a serpentine wall that hugs and encloses the landscape.
A decade later, he built a similar dry-stone sculpture, “Storm King Wall,” in New York. The undertaking is captured in Wall. The experience inspired Goldsworthy to reflect on the difference between American and English concepts of “walls.”
The nostalgic view of walls is a very American view because most of them have disappeared here. I still see walls as a vigorous and growing part of the landscape. I bring wallers with me from England and Scotland whose idea of a wall is work, and the idea of work is very important because it makes a strong link to agriculture.
I think the main difference between a design process and a sculptural process is that the latter is close to the way things grow. The large things I make don’t arrive large as much American sculpture seems to have. The way my walls are made, stone upon stone, is like growth.
Sculptor Barbara Hepworth once discussed why she was drawn to carving rather than modelling. She preferred work that extracted rather than formed. Goldsworthy’s sculpture—formed by adding piece by careful, considered piece—adds another dimension to this estimable art form.
At its heart, Goldsworthy’s Wall is a dialogue of stone and wood, how the materials support or destroy each other. It is a study of how walls are built a piece at a time, culminating in a whole that is different from its parts.
Above all, it is a demonstration of Goldsworthy’s attempt to capture in a wall what he feels from the stones: “I feel a powerful sense of flow and movement in stone—whether it has been shifted by geological forces or by people.” A powerful connectivity between material and sculpture that renders both the building and the decaying relevant.
The wall is not an object to be preserved in the traditional sense of art conservation. It is at the beginning of its life. What kind of life it has will depend on what happens to it. It has many possibilities.
Goldsworthy’s body of work, spanning more than 40 years, represents change, support, tension, trails, paths, and the connectedness of humans and nature.
“Sculpture can take on the quality of a design in the landscape,” he writes in Wall, “and I make works that function at that level.” The entwined cores of nature and man is a constant thread in the sublime poetry of Wendell Berry, an American who writes of nature’s deep connectedness to humankind. And, of course, the early Romantic poets like Coleridge who turned to nature and its trimmings as a metaphor for unspeakable emotions.
Goldsworthy’s sculptural interest in walls, in particular, grows not only from the strong history of agricultural walls in England but also from an interest in things that self-delineate. A concept observed by poet Thomas A. Clark, who considered walking our natural form of self-delineation. Goldsworthy sees the wall similarly.
The final destination of this wall was not known in the beginning. I enjoy a sculpture that has this sense of discovery and journey about it. Not knowing the final form or line at the beginning added richness to its making.
On the relationship between humans and landscape, pick up any of Robert Macfarlane’s vital studies of the way we interact and connect with the space around us. Using Goldsworthy’s work as text, my What Is a Wall? peers deeper into interpretations of this form that is so common and yet quite rich.