I first became interested in making art from material gathered from nature about 18 months ago, while I was living in Australia. I was volunteering my artistic skills as a lantern maker, taking part in the evening parades at ‘Woodford’ – a hippy festival to the west of Brisbane. Woodford was an amazing array of colour, music, dance and art, which I was excited to attend. While there, I met a couple who had travelled down the east coast of Australia gathering soil as they went. The result was a wide variety of colours, from deep red coppers, to sunset shades of ambers, to the dull brown we are familiar with, and everything in between. There was the golden rusty colours from Cairns to the pure crisp, white sands of the Whitsundays beaches. With all this sand and earth, they made an interesting form of art that was both inspiring and creative.
They took inspiration from Aboriginal art, creating swirls and wavy lines that flowed easily through the festival goers. They also built little hills that were reminiscent of termite mounds. The diversity of the natural colours looked great together and attracted a steady stream of onlookers. The artwork took a few days to complete and I was happy to stop and observe their progress each time I walked past. Although this art was impermanent, many photos were taken by many different people from all over the world, and it will live on in people’s minds and photo albums for a long time to come.
Back in the UK, I began to look into artists who use land art as a medium, making the landscape into the artwork. I found artists such as Richard Long, Robert Smithson and a guy on Facebook who calls himself ‘Danmala’, making mandalas from flower petals. All these artists explore the relationship between art and nature, creating unique art which either perishes in time or, where stones are involved, evolves over the years.
“The world itself is a work of art” – this is a quote from a Tate talk about the work of Richard Long. I love this quote and it has helped me to see the world around me in new and exciting ways. Nature produces her own colour pallet, be it in the bright colours of the spring flowers, the vivid greens of summer or the range of autumnal oranges and browns. There’s always something new to create with.
Today, I created a circle of leaves on the beach using a single plant. I was able to show the colours changing from a dark brown in the middle, to a bright yellow, light green and finally a deep, dark green on the outer edge. This circle shows the life cycle of leaves and how they change colour as they decay. I also used the dead flowers from this plant to create waving tentacles around the circle. I was so engrossed in what I was doing that I didn’t notice an old man walk slowly past. He stopped and watched me, and when I looked up said, “It brightens up the day”, before meandering slowly on, walking stick in hand. To create this circle I placed the leaves carefully side by side, creating a contrast in their colours. Some of them I let fall organically to the ground; others I purposefully arranged creating a natural sapphire.
I currently live on the Scilly Isles, which is a beautiful and diverse landscape. It’s possible, in the same photo, to create breathtaking landscape photography and combine this with an image of the art I have just created in the foreground.
Nature inspires me and creating land art allows me to be outside in the fresh air, get some exercise and learn about plants at the same time. It’s a fun activity for all ages; kids love creating all sorts of shapes and patterns and seeing what they can find on the beach or in the forest. It’s best to find a flat piece of ground in a sheltered spot. If you’re planning to photograph the results, then also think about what’s around you. Take your photos from every angle possible, experiment with what works and what doesn’t. Take close-up shots or climb a hill and look down on your work – be creative. Try it next time you’re in the local park or at the seaside!
Words and images: Abi Latham