December 2003

Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time - directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer

2003 - 1 hr 30 m

This film is a documentary about the work of environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, a sculptor who uses purely natural, found objects - twigs, branches, stones, icicles, leaves to create ephemeral pieces. In some cases, the works may not last longer than a few minutes or hours.

Riedelsheimer's camera follows Goldsworthy for nearly a year as he works on several projects both large and small, from a flower-filled hollow in a streamside rock to a massive sinuous wall at Storm King Mountain in New York State. One piece he attempts is a six-foot cone built of loose flat stones picked up by the seaside. He carefully positions the stones over a period of some hours. When the structure suddenly collapses before it's less than half done, the entire audience for the screening I attended groaned in sympathy. But he succeeds at last, and we watch as the tide comes in and completely submerges the piece, which then, hours later, gradually reappears as the tide goes out again. This doesn't sound like the most exciting sequence in film history, but in truth it's remarkable -- almost hypnotic.

Goldsworthy can create the most amazing effects by using leaves of subtly graded colors, or even blocks of ice. One piece consists of skeins of sheep's wool draped over a long stone wall near his home. Another is a long "chain" of leaves tied together by plant fibers and set afloat down a stream. In a world where most artists are concerned with leaving a legacy of work that will last for years, Andy Goldsworthy creates art that may not survive the day. As a result, he documents everything he does through photography, and we get a glimpse of his enormous photographic archives, mostly 35 mm slides.

This film is nothing short of inspirational. Goldsworthy himself isn't really a New Age artist, despite his deep appreciation for nature. As he works, his deep love for his materials is leading him into a very different relationship with the natural world than most people have. The rest of us hike through the woods, or camp out in the back country, or go skiing, but Andy Goldsworthy works with the stones and branches and flowers and ice around him as they present themselves, without removing them from their environment. He utilizes natural objects and events in ways that emphasize the rhythm of the planet's seasons, weather, and growth patterns, imparting to the viewer unique and sometimes conflicting views of impermanence and organic cycles. This inherent contrast brings some remarkable energy to his work. Like all good art, the effect is greater than the sum of the parts.

Thomas Riedelsheimer deserves a great deal of credit for some really lovely cinematography. There are long stretches without any dialog, just the excellent and evocative score by Fred Frith. Rivers and Tides won't be playing at the local multiplex anytime soon, but it's doubtless making the rounds of the "art" houses, and is probably rentable. Search it out - you won't be disappointed.

Official website here



Recent Raves:

AGAINST THE GRAIN: MAD ARTIST WALLACE WOOD
Edited by Bhob Stewart

328 pages
TwoMorrows Publishing
Limited Hardcover Edition: $59.95
http://www.twomorrows.com/books/wood.html

Publication date: October 29, 2003

Reviewers aren't supposed to review their own books, but after all I only contributed one small article about Wallace Wood (1927-1982) to this encyclopedic volume. Bhob Stewart, a former Wood assistant, is here ably assisted by Wood's close friend and executor, Bill Pearson, and art collector and expert Roger Hill, a Sotheby's advisor. This is the book that was due to be published years ago by a well-known comics publisher who shall go nameless here. (In fact, my article in the current book was written for that project.) They sat on it for ten years. Finally, Bhob Stweart rescued it, updated it and shepherded it into print. And man - is it ever a little slice of heaven for Wally Wood fans!

I worked as Woody's assistant for several years back in the mid to late 1970s. For years I had been copying Wood's stuff out of old MAD paperbacks and whatever comics I could find by him. As might be imagined, getting to work for him was almost unbelievably exciting. At the same time, there was the dark side of Woody -- his alcoholism, his terrible business sense, and his disorderly relationships with his wives. Yet this stubborn, self-absorbed, self-destructive all-too-human man was one of the sweetest, kindest, most generous people an aspiring artist could ever hope to meet.

Against the Grain lays all of this out. The book contains reminiscences about Woody from most of his former assistants, including Paul Kirchner, Richard Bassford, Larry Hama and Ralph. There are also pieces by friends and associates ranging from Realist publisher Paul Krassner (for whom Wood did an infamous semi-obscene Disney parody), EC colleague Al Williamson, artist Russ Jones, and illustrator Diane Dillon. Woody himself is represented by excerpts from his letters and interviews.

But most of all there is Wood artwork - pages and pages and pages of it, dating back to his teenage years as an untutored cartoonist wanna-be, through his days at Burne Hogarth's art school and as a fledgling comic artist, to his tenure as one of EC's horror and sci-fi stars and as one of the early MAD's Big Three along with Jack Davis and Will Elder. Plus there is a section of color plates comprising a number of Wood's cover art for Galaxy magazine, books, and advertising art. There are also many, many examples of Woody's work for DC and Marvel comics, and things he did on his own - most notably the project that he felt summed up his life's work, The Wizard King.

Having been close to Woody, and having participated in a number of the projects and pages on display in this volume, it's difficult for me to be fully objective about the book. Nevertheless, I feel able to say that it represents a labor of love that has translated into what will doubtless be, for many years to come, the definitive work about the life and work of Wallace Allan Wood, one of the 20th century's greatest comic artists. As such, Against the Grain's place as a historical document seems assured.

In any case, Woody's inspiring art deserves a treasury collection like this. I'm delighted to see it in print at last.

(NOTE: For those unfamiliar with Woody's work, there is some on display on my personal web site -- link here.)