January 1, 2010
By Ben Goodman
I think I’ve received a critique of one of my recent sculpture installations. I had selected a large, undulating grassy area for this 3-piece sculpture and was busily setting the work in place. Some movement behind caught my attention. When I turned to look, I was staring into the eyes of several sheep just six feet away, busily munching and observing an “artist at work!” This is one of the joys of engaging with the landscape as canvas. The unexpected – be it weather, variations in the land, or animals as critics! Several months after this installation and the sculpture is still in place. The sheep must be satisfied with my work or, at least do not consider it an intrusion. This may stack up as one of my more favourable critiques.
Most sculptors yearn for a large space in which to place their work, and to be able to minimize the amount of visual “noise” surrounding it. “Don’t Fence Me In”, the title of a song from the 1930’s, is the lament often heard from sculptors. Interior space, whether in galleries or private homes, is often at a premium for placing sculpture. Three-dimensional work needs room to breathe. Outdoor installations meet this need admirably. Using the landscape as a “canvas” for sculpture installations provides a unique creative opportunity for artists by removing the confines of interior space and opening up a refreshing new freedom of expression, both in creative style and scale. Land sites provide diversity of setting – flat or undulating, open or forested, waterfront or hilltop and often with views of distant hills and the ocean. This landscape setting adds measurably to the enjoyment of the work by the viewer.
Several artists on Saltspring Island have commented on their own recent experience with outdoor art installations:
Margaret Day, gallery owner
“Since gardens and design play such an important part in so many peoples’ lives, outdoor sculpture is an area of art collection that ought to be more fully explored. In the strongest pieces the artists react to the environment. Nature itself becomes a component. The result is a three-way dialogue among artist, nature, and the viewer.”
Morley Myers, sculptor
“Sculpture takes on a new context when placed in an outdoor setting. It acquires an unexpected strength and can be very harmonious with nature. For the viewer, outdoor installations provide the opportunity to experience art without the perceived pretensions often experienced in a traditional gallery setting. So both the artist and the viewer gain an enhanced quality of experience.”
Ron Crawford, sculptor and painter
“For the artist, this experience (outdoor installations) connects us to a place, time, season – even a particular tree. A walk through a sculpture garden becomes an opportunity for surprise and contemplation”.
There are well over one hundred sculptures installed out-of-doors on Saltspring Island including the forty sculptures installed at Hastings House Country House Hotel in 2009, sites at other publicly accessible venues and sculpture placed in private gardens. While premature to call this recent interest in outdoor sculpture installations a movement or trend, there is clear evidence of a possible future direction. A refrain from the lyrics of Don’t Fence Me In – “Oh give me land, lots of land….” has been heard and responded to – at least in part!
Ben Goodman lives on Saltspring Island. He is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art, past president of the Glass Art Association of Canada and past editor of the Glass Gazette (now the Contemporary Canadian Glass journal). His views on “landscape as canvas” have been influenced by his equestrian travels around the world. His work can be seen at www.bengoodman.ca