Nature & art: A centuries-long relationship, evolving from Earth Works to modernity

Artists have always connected nature and art. From Earth Works to modernity - these are the creative approaches

Landart, art and nature the connection

Author: Elisabeth Kolkar

Thematically, have art and nature a long shared history. From landscapes on ancient Egyptian tombs to Roman frescoes and works from the Middle Ages. Especially from the Renaissance onwards, nature exercised a special fascination artists out. Whether painting, sculpture or architecture, nature became a constant as a source of ideas. While its content had been worked on over the centuries, it has functioned as a canvas itself since the middle of the twentieth century through the "Land Art" movement.

Art and nature: Earth works and the use of natural resources

Land Art, also known as "Earth Works", comes from the USA and brings sustainability and art into harmony. It developed in the 1960s and initially embodied a social awakening in that it was understood as a counter-movement in the consumer-oriented art scene. The works of art themselves became a landscape. They were neither transportable, nor were they for sale in the traditional sense. Only natural ones were used materials like wood, earth and sand as well as stones and water. The result was a harmonious interplay of art and nature, with the geographical space functioning as the basis of the work of art. The art form pioneered today's sustainable art culture and acts as an important sustainability message for our understanding of natural art.

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Copyright Diana Scherer

A well-known example of Earth Works

In April 1970, Robert Smithson built one of the most famous Earth Works pieces called "Spiral Jetty" within three weeks. It is a giant sculpture in the Utah desert, built from 5.000 tons of basalt. It was built into the Great Salt Lake in spiral shape. Like other Earth Works pieces, Spiral Jetty is influenced by the landscape as it is exposed to wind and weather and thus changes accordingly. A prime example of the interplay between nature and art.

However, the relationship between art, nature and sustainability is not limited to physical media, be it sculptures made from natural materials or paintings made from environmentally friendly raw materials. It goes beyond this and also affects the design and interdisciplinary sectors, as our cross-section through contemporary positions shows.

Nature and art in harmony - Modern sustainable art projects

  1. Pannaphan Yodmanee
  2. Chris Maynard
  3. Hiroyuki Nishimura
  4. Diana Scherer

1. Pannaphan Yodmanee

In his sustainable art projects, Pannaphan Yodmanee combines different materials, ranging from found objects to organic elements. The works are reminiscent of traditional Thai art and architecture. Rocks, minerals and wrecks made of concrete are painted over and reconstructed into beautiful abstract forms. These works try to explore topics related to Buddhist philosophy and cosmology. Paired with natural phenomena of time, loss, devastation and death. They force the viewer to think about the flow and fluidity of life.

2. Chris Maynard

Since he was XNUMX years-old, Chris Maynard has been fascinated by feathers - the source of inspiration for his nature art. As a member of the "Artists for Conservation" organization, the artist combines biology and ecology in his works of art - for which he only uses feathers that birds lost naturally.

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Preservation is at the heart of Maynard's practice. He believes that a feather is something special that should be reused. He celebrates nature through his art and uses this medium as a universal symbol for flight, transformation, performance and hope.

3. Hiroyuki Nishimura

The Japanese sculptor Hiroyuki Nishimura uses wood that has been declared unusable or thrown away. He carves wooden blocks that are unsuitable for furniture or architectural purposes into bizarre sculptures. All of his works appear unique as he makes them in reference to surrealistic dreams. At the same time, they have the power to give every neutral room a “natural, artificial” character.

4. Diana Scherer

The artist Diana Scherer works in the area of ​​tension between design and sustainability as well as nature and art. Her interest lies in the domestication of plant roots to new and familiar forms. From the "patterned" root growth, she then creates objects, such as a dress.

“In my work, I explore the relationship between humans and their natural environment and their desire to control nature. I was fascinated by the root system with its hidden, underground processes; plant neurobiologists regard it as the brain of the plant ”.

This is how she describes her artistic approach herself. Among other things, Scherer exhibited at V&A London. In her projects, materials research, testing various types of plants such as grasses and grains and checking the growth environment can take up to a year. But control is limited and every growth opens the door to the unpredictability of biology, such as irregularities and asymmetries.

Earth Works or nature art - creative designs spotlight the environment

Nowadays, more and more creative people are thinking about sustainable art and design. The environment comes to the fore - in harmony with nature and art, new ways of working with and for them are created.

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Elizabeth Klokar

Text: Elisabeth Klokar

Elisabeth is an author and freelance journalist. She studied art history in Graz, Art & Communication and Moden & Styles and Fine Arts at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna at Central Saint Martins College, University of the Arts London. For more than ten years she has been writing about modern and contemporary art, fashion and architecture for a wide variety of print and online media. 

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