Murmurations and photography

Amazing to see how the photographer has captured the starlings over Rome. The skyline, when it appears, gives context and scale.


What is landscape art?

Is landscape simply what land the eye can see? Does it need to be free of man-made structures? Does it need to be “panoramic”? Looking from my window across the roof tops to the mist lying between the trees and hills beyond, is this landscape? Would this be considered landscape?

Pine Trees by  Hasegawa Tohaku 1539-1640 ( Public Domain)

Pine Trees by Hasegawa Tohaku 1539-1640 ( Public Domain)

Of course there are no rules about any of this but it interests me to know what we would label as landscape and how vast it would be. For example would a painting of a tree be landscape but not a sketch of a couple of leaves on a patch of grass?

Looking at some landscape artists, I enjoy the work of Fred Cuming , particularly his colour palette.  Several of his paintings feature the moon and dawn and moonrise seem to be  times of day which he finds inspiring.

Black and white landscapes by Peter Doig  offer a sort of compacted landscape which gives a sense of the crowdedness of the natural world and the man-made side by side.

Nerine Tassie ‘s landscapes and seascapes are moody and evocative with a surprising stillness. Even the seascapes appear to be in slow motion. Having watched her work on the Sky Arts Landscape Artist of the Year in 2015, I notice that for me the process is as interesting as the finished work. I very much enjoy seeing how the artist approaches the subject matter and what choices they make.

Research ; Photography – Land Art

troublemakers (the story of land art) by James Crump

The film entitled troublemakers ( no capital letter of course)  starts in black and white immediately creating an historical sense, although little black and white film was happening in the 1970s. Still and moving images, black and white and then colour, create a documentary style with current and archived material.
The 1970’s in America were the days of the Vietnam War, the oil crisis and the energy crisis, civil rights issues, religious issues, feminist issues and the introduction of the first Earth Day to celebrate awareness of environmental issues. It was a time of great creativity in the arts and particularly music, and it was the beginning of what came to be known as the “Me Generation”.
Land Art was created mostly by young men who rebelled against what was shown in galleries, moving away from painting and sculptures. These were men who wanted a larger canvas, who wanted to create something vast and indestructible in spaces outside of the urban landscape. Many of them became nomads travelling across empty landscapes looking for a place to begin their work.
Famously, Robert Smithson created the Spiral Jetty.

Spiral Jetty created by Robert Smithson Public Domain

Spiral Jetty created by Robert Smithson
Public Domain

One of the reasons it is famous is because the making of it and the aerial view of it was filmed and shown as part of an exhibition in a gallery. It seems that there was still a place for these works within the gallery, although the artists seemed uninterested in how they might show their work. They were funded by patrons and people such as Michael Heizer lived in the desert and mostly created  Land Art alone. His Double Negative piece required great physical effort and although it can be experienced by walking inside it and by seeing it from the air, at ground level it does not work that well.
Some of the artists were promoted in Avalanche magazine, a publication dedicated to bringing Land Art to the general public and in this way replacing the more conventional art gallery. There appears to have been ambivalence about the use of photography as a representation of the art created. The argument is that photographs cannot be the object, but if there is no record of the object how can people know of its existence?
Land Art is about ideas, it is conceptual and each idea can be unique. Watching the work created for the Attitude show with people simply digging holes in the earth, I began to understand the importance of observing the way a certain activity is done, the specific movement, rhythm, timing. I could see that this is when attitude becomes form. This was quite a revelation for me.
I enjoyed the  concepts of Walter de Maria’s work, particularly the Lightning Field, but generally I feel that these early pioneers were more concerned with creating some sort of everlasting memorial, making their mark in a statement so huge that although others might not see it, they knew it was there. Perhaps this was a response to the uncertainty of the times.
So what exactly is Land Art? It is obviously not a recent phenomenon although the movement was named in the 1970s. In Europe we have standing stone circles, hillside white horses and more recently, formal and informal gardens and crop circles.

Crop Circle in Switzerland Public Domain

Crop Circle in Switzerland
Public Domain

All of these are Land Art. In other parts there are  also extraordinary works such as the Easter Island heads, the Nazca Lines and the pyramids.  For me Land Art  of the 1970’s  was  a way of controlling the environment and is the re-appropriation of natural elements. I do not see it as  environmentally sound, particularly when large amounts of concrete were used, but I do admire some of the spectacular concepts.

Rivers and Tides : Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time (2001)

This documentary of Goldsworthy’s land art shows something of the nature of this private man. I learned about his need to create and his deeply passionate relationship to the land, particularly the land where he lives, in Scotland.  I am once again reminded of the importance of context and how it enriches the understanding of the artist’s work.

To know that he simply goes into the landscape and finds inspiration for the day from that which he sees, speaks of the spontaneity behind a work that might take hours or days to unfold.

My impression of the man is of an introvert who admits to preferring to be alone, who seeks to find his place in the land. His precision with natural elements such as twigs, leaves and stones is orderly and unlike nature, bringing a tension between the organic and “untidy”, and his artworks of “neatness”. This seems to hold the tension between Goldsworthy as a man wanting to create order and yet wanting to be part of the landscape.

His deep interest in growth alongside life and death is seen in the repeated motif of a dark hole. He speaks of the twigs and branches creating nest-like formations with a central hole and the more two dimensional designs with plant material creating a dark central space. He describes his joy at finding a small green shoot growing through that hole, which sounds like an experience of re-birth.

I am fascinated by the walls he creates, meandering around trees and appearing to cross a stream. He uses “wallers”  to build these, recognising that he is not able to build a wall but can direct and shape the project.  Again, it feels as if the walls are an attempt to control the environment in some way, just as the “troublemakers” were making their own mark in the 70’s.

Photography project 3 exercise 3

Observing images taken from different points of view , I looked at landscapes taken from ground level as well as those in the OCA material. The aerial views offer a sense of scale, a panorama of the wider landscape and the patterns made by rows of trees , the changing colours of fields and patches of urban development..

When viewing from this angle it feels less connected and more abstract. This is possibly because these are not familiar views unless you are regularly flying in planes or helicopters etc , and yet the patterns seen hold their own familiarity which resonate with that inner knowledge and actually reinforces information . Perhaps this is an important element of aerial photography, blending abstract knowledge and image to the known sense of landscape .

Photographs taken at ground level are probably the most familiar landscape aspect and therefore more at risk of being bland and uninteresting . This could also present challenges and ideas for different ways of seeing at this level.

The John Davies photographs of Agecroft power station gives information about a landscape with urban and rural features and offers a sense of scale and distance . If the image were to be taken from ground level it would offer less information and less sense of scale . Had the photograph been taken closer to the towers so that the football game was more obvious, this could have changed the focus of the photograph to make it less about the landscape and more about the activity ,bringing the viewer into relationship rather than as observer. Is this because images that include people are easier to relate to? Can there be a relationship with the landscape if that is what the photographer feels?

To experiment with these different points of view I took the following photographs of a part of my garden.


With this aerial view I can see the layout and placing of the plant pots in relation to the space and to each other. I can see the shape and size of the pots.

This slightly elevated view tells me more about the plants and gives a sense of the direction of the gravelled area.

This slightly elevated view tells me more about the plants and gives a sense of the direction of the gravelled area.


The ground level view shows the pots and the plants in a more familiar way, giving information about the height in relation to each other.


What I learned from this experiment is that the image offers different kinds of information and that different view points reveal things I had not considered such as the height of the plants. This challenged my belief that aerial views showed more detail. In fact they may or may not show more of the landscape and the detail may or may not be there.

The sense of place is possibly relative to what is familiar and what is not. A sense of place can be revealed in any view point depending on what the photographer wants to say.

Observing Detail

Looking at the Bernd and Hiller Becher Water Towers image does draw the eye to the differences and the details. Seeing them placed in the grid is an effective idea and I have looked at lamp posts in a similar way. When something as ubiquitous as a decorative street light is seen, it may not be remembered as that different from another, but seen side by side all the differences stand out. Ideally there would be several more to create the sense of repetition. I have used the same grey tone to enhance the repetitive quality.

lamp-post-1 lamp-post-2-2 lamp-post-3-2 lamp-post-6-2





Researching Land Art : Balancings acts

What is it about looking at balancing rocks that is so compelling? Is it the unlikeliness of it? The fact that the rocks really shouldn’t be able to connect in that way and am I waiting, just waiting for them to all fall down?

There are some remarkable images of rock sculptures on this site  that look like magic and encourage me to question the relationship between people and the earth and between artists and rocks.

Research: Land Art and Photography

A great short film on YouTube shows photography as the motivation and Land Art as secondary. The film uses stills, time lapsed images and real time, showing the creation of the artwork on a beach.

The subtle weighting towards the photography rather than the land art appears more in the techniques I think. Perhaps also in the intentions and therefore the  way the photographer’s interest is directed.

Land Art Research

While preparing and settling into the research for the Land Art assignment, I am exploring things that I think might also qualify as Land Art.

This wonderful piece created by volunteers at a National Trust house is a marvel of measurement.


Staying with garden areas, is topiary a form of Land Art? It uses natural elements of the landscape although the trees may have been placed rather than self seeded.

Topiary CC0 Public Domain

Topiary CC0 Public Domain

When topiary is used to create a maze it becomes even more interesting.

Topiary maze CC0 Public Domain

Topiary maze
CC0 Public Domain

People who design and create gardens with a specific intention to create beauty are certainly creating an art form, whether it is formal or not. Some of the formal British and Japanese gardens  are extraordinary in their precision, while typical cottage gardens are often a mass of vibrant colour.

Formal Garden CC0 Public Domain

Formal Garden
CC0 Public Domain

Japanese Garden CC0 Public Domain

Japanese Garden
CC0 Public Domain








Research : Land Art Assignment : Songlines

Land Art is not new, but perhaps the relationship with the land has changed. There was a time when people lived closer to the cycles of the earth and moon. In Australia the indigenous people created what are described in English as Songlines. These create maps and tracks which are danced and chanted and sung. The rituals of listening and conversing with the ancestral spirits along the way, hearing the birds and animals that live on these songlines, and walking ancient invisible routes are all aspects of aboriginal spirituality.


Rainbow Serpent Australian Indigenous Art Creative Commons

Rainbow Serpent Australian Indigenous Art Creative Commons

“The ancestor is responsible for the law and country, a responsibility which is carried by the traditional owner of the song today. The owner of the song is responsible for the country and particular sacred places, and when the song travels over these sacred places it is sung by the traditional owner of song or country.”
Bill Harney, Wardaman Elder, 2009
Kaltjiti artist sing country, dance country and paint the song of their lands. The epic song cycles of the Western Desert peoples have resounded for thousands of years across these sand dunes of central Australia, echoed back from the orange rock faces of the granite hills and eddied around the deep blue rock holes where precious water hides from the scorching sun.

The creation ancestors first sang these songs at the dawn of time. These giant beings strode the land changing their shape from human to beast or plant, to water, earth or wind. The landscape still holds their resting forms in rounded hills, the fury of their flight was caught in twisted bloodwood trees and their flesh – know transformed – wraps the marble gums as dappled bark.

Songs sung down the generations have kept the land alive and spirit of her people strong.”

Dr Diana James, Author, Painting the Song Kaltjiti artists of the sand dune country, 2009
“Today many Aboriginal communities are wanting to explain their heritage and show visitors around their country. Firsthand knowledge gained in this way may help to understand Aboriginal Australia, as a living legacy of spiritual knowledge shared through rituals, dance, stories and journeys touching on aspects of the Dreamtime.”
Dr Irene Watson, Tanganekald & Meintangk woman, Lonely Planet Aboriginal Australia & Torres Strait Islands, Sydney, 2001

Inspired by these Songlines artists in Norfolk, England,  created their own version , marking the path with land art, using song, poetry and storytelling.


Great article in the Guardian

Abstract borders

This past summer I enjoyed a local exhibition called Borders. The image is of a painting made with acrylic and pigment. It is entitled Borders, Big Yellow, by Robert Davison.

The exhibition coincided with the opening of a walled garden at the same venue. I especially liked this painting because I recognised the white rectangles as the bricks in the painted white walls of the garden  and I could see  footprints. It is so satisfying to have a sudden realization of what the artist may have been saying through a painting. I can see the flowers that are part of a garden border, as well as the other inferences. A border can be between countries as well as between homes. It can be walked along as well as across.

Border, Big yello, Davison R. 2014

Borders, Big Yellow, Davison R. 2014

There appear to be tractor tracks which could indicate the making of the border. There is a chaotic feel to the painting, lines at different angles contribute to this and yet  the green and yellow as strong pigments suggest new growth beyond the disruption.

Landscape Artists

Landscape Artist of the Year ( 2016)

Watching this television programme on Sky Arts I have been inspired not only by the quality of work but more so by the variety of media. I am enjoying the creativity of the artists using only pen and ink and staining with coffee, or using collage with fabric and paint. Some of the linocut printing is so complex and effective. It is a medium I’ve never considered but having seen the beautiful results I have a greater appreciation for this art form.

Observing how the artist’s select the area to work with and how they frame it is helpful to me. The landscape seems so vast and confusing and using an actual frame to compose their picture, or simply identifying a slice, seems important.

I am more aware now of the point of view and perspective. In this programme the artists are asked to paint a property owned by the National Trust. These are usually beautiful houses or castles and are seen from a distance across a body of water or lawns. It occurred to me that it might be more interesting to have a higher view or even closer and looking up at the building.

Two most inspiring aspects I have discovered :

  • Landscape in art can actually refer to anything in the natural world – from  a few leaves or a pile of pebbles to a mountain range.
  •  Some  artists move parts of the landscape, such as trees, in order to create balance or interest.