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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.


Brian McGurgan said...

Dougherty's work is very interesting and is new to me - thanks for writing about it. I, too, find the installations that look most like crude shelters or other humble man-made structures more interesting and appealing than those that resemble castles and the like. I'm reminded also of the bowers made by certain tropical birds, or the nests of African weaverbirds where the round, thatched nests cling together in groups in the branches of scrubby trees.

sfmike said...

The sculptures really do need to be experienced in person. They're like the coolest, strangest secret treehouses imaginable that are usually large enough that you get to wander around in them. He just started a new project in San Francisco's Civic Center. By the way, thanks for the link to my photoblog.

Anonymous said...

This artist is amazing... I found great pictures of Patrick Dougherty creations in Art Days, here is the link! http://www.art-days.com/patrick-dougherty-land-art-architecture/ Enjoy! :)

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