Nature as source and context

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Much of visual art can be appreciated as shape, form and colour, some of the same basic elements that appeal to our sensory appreciation of nature. Edward Weston referred to nature as ‘the source’. Many artists seek union (communion) with ‘the source’ through their work, using nature as a domain – for reference or habitat.

I began to think about art and nature, after a trip to Pittsburg to view Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater (http://www.fallingwater.org/), and a more recent visit to Storm King Art Center in New Jersey (http://www.stormking.org/)

A placard at the site of Fallingwater proclaims:

Fallingwater embodies American architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s vision for a life in harmony – one that embraces modern technology, the arts, and the environment, and above all celebrates nature’s power to renew the human spirit.

This resonated with me deeply and I felt satisfied that I finally understood the fascination that Fallingwater had held for me for so many years. However, confronted with Storm King Park, an entirely different experience of art-in-nature or rather, art-and-nature, I began to examine my Fallingwater experience more closely.

I viewed Fallingwater on a poetically rainy day. I remember being moved by the rivulets of water sliding down outdoor sculptures, like Rose McClendon (Barthé), her upturned face and clasped hands, a homily to the pouring sky. I was pleasantly surprised to find works by Picasso and Diego Riviera within the house; I can still feel the bite of the cold air, and see the hyper-real colours of every tree-bark, leaf or moss-covered surface, saturated by the rain.

Fallingwater is a work of art that was designed to meld with its environment. The house, so complete in itself, was like its own ecosystem. Like a powerful image or photograph, one is struck by the feeling of a single intention captured in a frame. ‘Everything’ is contained within the structure. A singular theme is echoed in every detail of the house, and this unity, this oneness, can be felt in each moment spent at Fallingwater.

I toured Storm King Art Center on a blue-sky day. I stayed long enough to visit some sections twice and notice how the position of the sun in the sky had moved shadows, and changed contrast on the huge sculptures, giving them new form and feeling as their solidity acquiesced to the mercurial light.

Storm King, for obvious reasons, does not embody a single idea. The park houses many artists’ visions, and has set a variety of pieces into its scenic environment. The eclectic compilation held its own charm, and again compelled me to consider how art drew from, and also found its space in nature.

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