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July 22, 2008

Patrick Dougherty - Stick Artist

Patrick Dougherty calls himself a sculptor and he calls what he makes "classical stick architecture." I suppose by "classical" he means as in "age-old," from the time the first humans built shelters for themselves out of whatever material Nature provided.

Dougherty is identified with Land Artists and Earth Artists. "Stick Artist" sounds to me like it would fit better than anything else (his own site is called "Stickworks"), but I'm not an expert on his line of work, just a curious person who has been intrigued by some of the pictures of his works that I've seen (and recently while researching this post I've looked at several dozen such pictures).

Andy Goldsworthy is also referred to as both a Land Artist and an Earth Artist, and these terms seem to apply when you consider most of his works, but Dougherty's works don't seem to me to quite fit into either of these categories. As I understand it, Land Art is outdoor art that is made from what's already out there in nature (the soil, rocks, and other such things that are already on the site where the "sculpture" is to be made); Dougherty may get his sticks from nearby, but although his sculptures look as if they almost had to have been constructed on the site (not moved there from elsewhere as they would probably fall apart) they could be made virtually anywhere, and although they are very intriguing and have their own special qualities they don't look as if they might have been formed by nature right there on the spot where they are situated, as Goldsworthy's do. They definitely look "man-made" (and this is not at all a bad thing in my opinion, but I'm just saying that there is a difference). This (looks like Nature could have made it vs. definitely looks like a human made it) is how I differentiate his kind of art from (most of) that of Andy Goldsworthy and others whose art seems to fit better into the Earth Art/Land Art categories.

Earth Art is usually, I think, Land Art that's done on a very large scale.

Here are some pages with definitions of Land Art and Earth Art and examples of artworks and artists in these categories:

Tells about Land Art here, and compares it with Earth Art

This is a Wikipedia article on Land Art

ArtLex on Earth Art and Earthworks



He's a very good speaker and he stays on-subject and goes into things very thoroughly (yet not tediously). You can learn a lot about what he thinks about his art and how he decides how he's going to approach each individual "site-specific sculpture" by reading an interview or listening to him talk.

Some of the links below will get you to pictures of his works including works in progress (so that you can see how these things are put together), and some sites include extended commentary by Dougherty either in audio or in print. I'm also throwing in a short video someone made and put on YouTube that takes you "in motion" around and through one of Dougherty's installations.

I'll begin with the best interview -- one you might want to read before looking at the pictures on the other sites. This is really good. Unfortunately, I looked at all the pictures and read everything on the other sites before I finally got to this interview. I wish I'd read it first.

Here it is: An interview with Patrick Dougherty. The page is kind of confusing -- At first it looks like the interview begins on the right side, just under the picture, but actually it begins further down the page on the left side.

The introduction to the interview calls his works "freeform assemblages." Apparently "Yardwork" is the name of a sculpture he made in Quebec, where the interview takes place. The picture shown at the top of the page is the Yardwork sculpture.

Here are a few quotes I plucked out of this interview, but there is much more to read when you get to the site:

"When I turned to sculpting with saplings, it seemed easy to co-opt the forces of nature and play a kind of energy flow onto the surfaces of the large forms I made."

"In completing the sculpture I developed passageways through this outer shell, so viewers could glimpse intriguing bits of the interior. Visitors can stand inside each of the inner structures and explore a kind of internal maze."

"The use of sticks and the forest from which they come are part of the oldest memories of the human race and seem forever entwined with human fantasy."

"I say of my work that I make large scale temporary sculptures from materials gathered in the nearby landscape."

"Certainly gardens are a kind of rendition of the unfettered wilds. Shrubs, trees, flowers and grass become commodities and are forced into human geometry. I try to free the surfaces of my work using sticks as a drawing material, work them in such a way they look like they are escaping those chains of being planted in a row. I image that the wilderness lurks inside my forms and that it is an irrepressible urge."

"I make temporary work that challenges some traditional ideas about sculpture, that it should last forever, can be bought and sold and can accrue value for those who own it."



Patrick Dougherty - Installations -- This is on his own site.

When you get to this page, click on "page 1" over at the left, then when you get to page 1, left-click on whichever little picture over at the left side you want to see enlarged. It will replace the large picture that already shows. There are three pages altogether. These pictures show several of his projects as they looked when completed.

I especially like the photograph (on page 1) that shows large basket-like shapes seemingly fascinated with their reflections seen in a pool of water.


There are some interesting photos of one of his installations on a blog called "San Francisco Civic Center":

I wonder if those two people sitting on a bench near this particular sculpture are real people. I'm sure he didn't make them, but maybe some other artist put them there. They could be real people; but there is a very obviously fake man in the first picture that may well have been made from sticks for all I know as he's very "stiff," so I thought perhaps other artists might have contributed their own sculptures to the site before Dougherty came along.


On the Santa Barbara Botanical Gardens site you don't click on the small pictures -- Instead you just hold your mouse pointer over them and they show up in a larger size to the right. This site shows dozens of photos of an installation being constructed at the Botanical Gardens, beginning with the arrival of a very big truckload of sticks. You a good idea of how his structures are made from these photographs.


Patrick Dougherty's Lookout Tree

Have your speaker or your headset turned on before you go to this page. There is a video just below the middle of the page that starts by itself when you get to the page and Dougherty starts right in talking, making you wonder where the voice is coming from. -- Scroll quickly down the page to just past the middle to see the video (it's small).

In the video, Dougherty, at a site where he's just built a sculpture called "Lookout Tree," explains how he looks for just the right spot and then gets ideas for what he's going to put there from a consideration of many things -- how the site looks, what's nearby, its history, the way people interact with it, etc. Then he explains how he (and many volunteer assistants) go about making the structures. Very interesting.


Childhood Dreams is the name of a work by Dougherty at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona.

Click on the orange tab called "The Process" to see him working on the this sculpture. The pictures will change by themselves...You have to keep your mouse pointer off the picture...It can be a little maddening.



A walk around and through a Patrick Dougherty
installation called Xanadu in Lisle, Illinois


I myself like some of his works better than others (but as I mentioned, I've only seen photographs of them). The ones I like best do not look like they're meant to resemble a castle or church or anything like that, but look more like they could actually be real shelters or places constructed to observe certain views from or to meditate in, not meant to be decorative but to be functional. (Note: By "functional" I do not mean to imply that they should be austere and heartless and boring).

- Jean

P.S. Brian mentioned in his comment on this post that Dougherty's stick sculptures reminded him of African weaver bird nests. I found a picture (okay to use, from Wikipedia) of two weaver bird nests -- not in Africa, but in western India, and I'm going to add it here:

Weaver Bird Nests - Western India

Note about Comments - If clicking on Comments doesn't open them for you, try pushing down the Ctrl key while clicking -- That's the way I have to do it. - Jean

Free Thinking About Art Newsletter - See bottom of this page.

July 5, 2008

How Glass Mirrors Changed Art

Painting by Bellini using a convex mirrorWoman in Front of a Mirror, 1515
Giovanni Bellini

I was fascinated by two videos on Venetian mirrors (which you can see below) that I watched recently, in which anthropologist Alan Macfarlane explains how clear glass mirrors changed European art and science as well as the way in which we think about ourselves and our place in society (but people in the rest of the world did not do this, so we changed in many ways in which they did not change until much later). The setting of these videos is a glassmaking shop on the island of Murano (minutes from Venice) where the first really clear glass, and glass mirrors, were made.

The earliest mirrors were no doubt reflections seen in water. In fact, some Chinese bronze mirrors were shallow bronze jars which held water to reflect one's face.

The earliest man-made mirrors could be held parallel to the face, of course, or held up to reflect other things in the vicinity, but the reflected image was far, far from perfect. The first ones were probably made of polished stone (such as obsidian - a naturally occurring volcanic glass). This kind of mirror was made by about 8,000 B.C. You may have seen yourself in polished stone -- It can look good and reflect a lot of what's around, but can you imagine that kind of image helping in any way to produce better artwork?

Polished bronze mirrors date from 4,000 B.C. Also, other kinds of metal were used for mirrors. The Greeks were using polished metal mirrors by the 5th century BC.

Needless to say, the reflected images from these stone and metallic mirrors were not nearly as clear, bright, colorful, and detailed as the images glass mirrors (especially very fine glass mirrors made with clear, unwavy, flat, unbubbly glass) produce - and the color of the metal or stone affects the image, too.

The earliest glass mirrors (I've seen the dates for the earliest from between the 1st and 3rd century A.D.) were very small -- just a few inches across, but some Roman glass mirrors were large enough so that you could see your whole body in them. You could not see through the glass used to make these Roman mirrors, though -- It was translucent but not transparent.

The Romans also made glass windows, by the way, though they were for protection from the wind and for security and not to look through and so it didn't matter to them that they couldn't see through them.

By the 1300s (about 900 years after the fall of the Roman Empire) glassmakers had begun making mirrors of a better quality by making thinner glass and spreading hot metal onto it. By the 1500s glassmakers in Venice had refined glassmaking and mirror making to the point where they were making by far the finest, clearest mirrors in the world. No doubt a major factor leading to this distinction was the invention of very clear and colorless cristallo glass by Venetian glassmaker Angelo Barovier in the 1400s.

The development of very fine glass and glass mirrors in Venice parallels (and probably had some part to play in) the beginning of the Renaissance, which involved a revival of the ideas and forms of the classical world of the ancient Greeks and Romans which had died out when the "Dark Ages" (or "Middle Ages") commenced after Rome fell early in the 5th century A.D.

The Renaissance lasted approximately from the mid-1300s to the end of the 1600s, and was at its peak in the late 1400s through the early 1500s. This was the era of Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Titian (born in Venice), Raphael, and Bellini (also born in Venice), among other great artists. And they all probably

Parmigianino - 1503 - 1540
Self-portrait in convex mirror, c. 1524

used mirrors as a help in their artwork - Venetian mirrors, of course. Da Vinci mentions mirrors several times in his Notebooks (e.g., "You should take the mirror for your guide -- that is to say a flat mirror -- because on its surface the objects appear in many respects as in a painting," and "I say that when you paint you should have a flat mirror and often look at your work as reflected in it").

How art was influenced by the development of the excellent clear mirrors made by Venetian glassmakers is explained in the following two videos by anthropologist and historian Alan Macfarlane, a professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, England. -- For much more on the subject I recommend reading a book written by Alan Macfarlane and Gerry Martin (Glass: A World History) which of course contains much more about the development of glass and mirrors; I have read it. Here is an excerpt from the book.

Making a Glass Mirror

Effect of Mirrors on Art and Psychology


The History of Mirrors

The History of Mirrors - Another site

A Brief History of Mirrors

Wikipedia Article on Mirrors

Interview with author of Mirror Mirror

The History of Glass

Glassmaking in Renaissance Italy; The Innovation of Venetian Cristallo

Murano History

Art Encyclopedia: Barovier

Renaissance Art & Architecture

Renaissance Style Linear Perspective

The Renaissance Timeline

Excerpt from Glass: A World History