Andy Goldsworthy - Biography and Legacy
British Sculptor and Photographer
Sale Moor, Cheshire, England
Biography of Andy Goldsworthy
Andy Goldsworthy was born in the town of Sale in Cheshire in the north of England. While still a young child, he moved with his family to a suburb on the outskirts of Leeds. His parents, F. Allin and Muriel Goldsworthy, were strict Methodists, instilling a hard work ethic into the artist from an early age. At age 13, he began spending his weekends and summers working in nearby farms. Instead of being interested in heavy machinery like the majority of the farm workers, he preferred the meditative quality of repetitive manual tasks. Clearly some important ideas about the possibilities inherent in nature began to take shape at this time. As he remarked later: "Farming is a very sculptural profession. Building haystacks or ploughing fields, burning stubble." Additionally, Goldsworthy's father was a mathematics professor at the local university and although Andy did not share his particular talent, it is tempting to make a connection between this and the patterns and formations that he would come to find in nature.
Early Training and Work
Goldsworthy was certain that he would be a farmer or gardener, and that art would be a hobby. This lack of confidence was probably a result of the initial hurdles he came up against when applying to art schools. He applied to several before, in 1974, he was finally accepted as a foundation student at Bradford College of Art. Once he finished his foundation year, he again struggled to find a place on a degree course. His resilience ultimately paid off, and from 1975 to 1978 he studied art at Preston Polytechnic in Lancaster.
While in art school, Goldsworthy could not stand working in a minuscule partitioned studio. This led him to explore the great outdoors, a move that was pivotal for his work and ultimately shaped his entire career. In nature, he found inspiration and ample materials. In his own words: "One day in first year (of college) I went out to the beach and dug things, made lines, and the tide came in and washed it away. I learned more about the tide, the sand, the texture, I learnt so much in that couple of hours. And I shifted to working outside. I didn't really go back in again." Through his professors, he was introduced to and inspired by the works of Joseph Beuys and Robert Smithson. Although Goldsworthy's recognition grew steadily from this point on, the ephemeral nature of his work meant that he was an artist that was not easily categorized, remaining largely outside the gallery system and outside of the market. It also meant that of necessity he had to find ways of documenting his work so that there would be some tangible, physical evidence of his many fleeting natural creations. It took Goldsworthy almost a decade to start making enough money to file tax returns.
In 1982, Goldsworthy married the sculptor Judith Gregson. Not long after, she obtained a job in Carlisle and they moved north. A few years later, mainly for financial reasons, they crossed the border to the village of Penpont in the Scottish low lands, where he still lives today. Together, they had four children: James, Holly, Anna, and Thomas.
By the mid-1990s, Goldsworthy was a renowned artist. He had public and private commissions all over the world, yet art critics and historians sometimes criticized his work for solely beautifying nature. At a time when conceptual artists were dominating the landscape, some saw his work as not being conceptual enough and that his pastoral approach to art making could be deemed as overly pretty. Goldsworthy himself remained resolute, reflecting on the transient side of his creations and how "each work grows, stays, decays." In the early 2000s, he was appointed as a visiting professor at Cornell University in upstate New York; a position that he held for almost a decade. He also got the Order of the British Empire (OBE) - a reward given by the commonwealth for his contribution in the arts. Around the same time, and only a couple of years after the documentary River and Tides showed them as a happy and harmonious family, Gregson and Goldsworthy divorced.
Soon after his divorce, Goldsworthy met the art historian Tina Fiske while she was participating in a project about his work. They became romantically involved and had a son named Joel. They are still together, although they have never married.
The following years were marked by great professional success and personal tragedy. In 2008, Goldsworthy's former wife died in a car accident. A few years later, his mother Muriel died unexpectedly (his father had already passed away). These losses influenced his later works, in which he built on ideas of transience, the void, and even straightforwardly, death. As he got older, his works became more somber and also more physical. Photographs depicting figures leaning into strong winds are amongst his most recent pieces. He currently works with his daughter Holly, who is helping to preserve his artistic legacy by extensively cataloguing his work.
The Legacy of Andy Goldsworthy
Goldsworthy reshaped Earth Art. Though other Land artists such as Robert Smithson (creator of the large-scale Spiral Jetty), Michael Heizer (creator of Double Negative), and the British artist Richard Long have all worked on large-scale landscape projects, Goldsworthy has developed a more intimate, sociological, and humanistic approach. His interest in specific geographical points of land, its history, and the relationship between organic material and the human presence has set him apart from those working with land as mere canvas or material.
In a piece for artnet, the critic Amah-Rose Abrams stated "unlike the monumental nature of some land art, Goldsworthy's art is about a subtle, often modestly scaled interaction with the outdoors. The elusiveness of beauty is key to his work, His art also bears a similarity to the work of Japanese architect Tadao Ando in its seamless relationship to the landscape." American artists Maya Lin and Michael Grab's work shares similarities with Goldsworthy's. Lin's The Wave Field and Goldsworthy's Storm King Wall are closely located inside Storm King Art Center - highlighting the dialogue between the two works. Grab's work balances pebbles in the same way Goldsworthy balances pieces of ice, twigs, and rocks.
Although it is difficult to pinpoint the extent of the artistic contribution of someone still very engaged in his career, Goldsworthy has made a very direct contribution to the environmental debate. His love and appreciation of nature has inspired many artists whose practice focuses directly on ecology. Artists such as Mel Chin, Ellie Irons, Mary Mattingly, and even the celebrated Gabriel Orozco and Vik Muniz, are amongst those that have used their art to stress the negative effects of modern society in the environment, and to propose a change. With the continuous pollution of the planet and global warming, such voices carry an important message.