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Goldsworthy, Again

On a Saturday morning, Grasshopper Sparrow and I went down to Stanford University to do some urban sketching.

We parked near the Oval and headed towards the Center of Visual Arts. A red-tail hawk was very vocal from above and we soon found out why as a much larger golden eagle flew low over the museum, circling up on rising rounds and then disappearing to the south. This had to be a great sketching omen!

Andy Goldsworthy’s Stone River (2001) is a touchstone in my sketching world. As I have written before, a touchtone is subject that I return to again and again. Usually a touchstone is a building, a bird, or a piece of sculpture; something that is not going anywhere, anytime soon and can be sketched from different perspectives. This was my third time sketching this outdoor sculpture on the Stanford campus and I was excited to share the experience with Grasshopper!

Our sketches of Goldsworthy’s Stone River, resting on Mrs. Fayer’s lawn.

After about a 20 minute sketch I called up a fellow teacher from my school who lives on the Stanford campus. She was Grasshopper’s favorite 3rd grade teacher and rumor has it, that I was his favorite 4th grade teacher. She was home and invited us over. She happens to be one of my favorite people.

We walked through campus and had a lovely time in Mrs. Fayer’s backyard, from ten feet of course! To see the care and love Mrs. Fayer had for her former student was inspiring! This was no idle, simple conversation here. She challenged Grasshopper and asked about his hopes and dreams. When he answered, she dug deeper. It reminded me that all good teachers are also students that never stop learning; about their students or former students (there really is no difference) and life.

On Sunday I wanted to sketch another Goldsworthy touchstone in the Presidio. This was the wooden sculpture called Spire (2008). Goldsworthy has four pieces in the Presidio and I have sketched them all. The last time I sketched Spire was in December 2010.

I parked at Inspiration Point on Arguello Boulevard. I looked up at Spire against the gray summer skies of San Francisco and when I saw some of the trails barricaded off, I should have known something was wrong. Perhaps just another closed area during the ongoing pandemic.

It was a typical gray day in western San Francisco at this time of year, when colors are drained of vibrance and contrast is muted. Spire looked just the same as ever before. Then I noticed that the area around Spire was fenced off and people were milling about as if before some somber memorial. Not a spire then but a funeral pyre.

I found out from one of the visitors that Spire had been burned in an act of arson on the morning of June 23 (2020). It is unclear if this fire was part of the recent protests in the City or if it was set by illegal fireworks. At least the piece is still standing in a somewhat altered and charred state. Andy Goldsworthy, often the creator of ephemeral works, commented on the burning of Spire:

The burning of “Spire” goes too deep for my own words. Besides “Spire” has always spoken for itself and will perhaps now speak with an even greater eloquence after what has happen. If anything, its epitaph will be better written in the memories, thoughts and words of those who have lived with it over the past twelve years.

I would also add that it is also “written in the memories, though, words, and sketchbooks“. This response from the artist to what could be viewed as a tragedy is, well, very Goldworthian. His pieces are always subject to the elements and time, whether from the wind and rain or at the hands of an arsonist.

Vistors stand in silence, looking up at the burnt remains of Spire. The sculpture was still standing!
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Goldsworthy, Rivers and Tides

“We often forget that WE ARE NATURE. Nature is not something separate from us. So when we say that we have lost our connection to nature, we’ve lost our connection to ourselves.” ~Andy Goldsworthy

During shelter-in-place I made some time in the evenings to rewatch some of my favorite movies.

These consisted of independent films, foreign language films, and documentaries. Here is a short list of some of the films I have watched recently: Amelie, Being There, Butterfly (La lengua de las mariposas), Chariots of Fire, Cria Cuevis, Delicatessen, The Fog of War, The Lives of Others, Odd Man Out, Once Upon a Time in the West, The Third Man, Spirited Away, Sunset Boulevard, and Rivers and Tides.

The last is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen about the artistic process (and a profile of an amazing artist.) This 2001 documentary was filmed, edited and directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer and it’s full title is Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working With Time.

The English sculptor, Andy Goldsworthy, is an artist I am familiar with because I have sketched many of his pieces in the Bay Area. His medium is nature and his sculptures are often ephemeral, being destroyed (he would say altered) by the wind, rain, and the rising tide.

A sketch of Goldsworthy’s Wood Line in the Presidio from 2015.

Rewatching Rivers and Tides, made me want to go out into the San Lorenzo watershed and make a sculpture out of nature. To do that, I needed river rocks and there was no better beach for this than Rocky Beach.

Rock cairns at Rocky Beach, telling the river which way to flow.

I headed upstream from the beach to Upper Rocky Beach, to gather stones. I tried to “shake hands” with the place and the stone and I worked on making a stone cairn, a pale imitation of Goldsworthy’s work.

Once I finished my Apprentice-piece, I sat down and sketched the work, much like Goldsworthy does. I do love sketching rocks, attempting to get the lines, contours, and textures onto paper.

A 2015 sketch of another Goldsworthy sculpture on the campus of Stanford. Stone River (2001). This riverine design influenced the lines work under the title of the featured sketch. A very Goldsworthian motif.