member of:Observers of the Interdependence of Domestic Objects and Their Influence on Everyday Life

This group has been active for a long time and has already made some remarkable assertions which render life simpler from the practical point of view. For example, I move a pot of green color five centimeters to the right, I push in the thumbtack beside the comb and if Mr. A (another adherent like me) at this moment puts his volume about bee-keeping beside a pattern for cutting out vests, I am sure to meet on the sidewalk of the avenida Madero a woman who intrigues me and whose origin and address I never could have known...
--Remedios Varo

(Slideshow is of Artwork by Remedios Varo)
By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired.
--Franz Kafka

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nature Gives Lessons in Perspective, Part II: The Sculptures of Patrick Dougherty

(see Part I).

"Natural Selection," 1996
Copenhagen Botanical Gardens, Denmark

"Jug or Naught," 1999
(up to 20 ft)
Frederick Meijer Gardens, Michigan

I just discovered a very unique artist on Garden History Girl'sblog. Patrick Dougherty came to accept art as his life's work only after a career in health-care administration: "I just loved making things," he explains, "but I had trouble understanding the relevance. I didn't see the purpose if you couldn't make a living out of it...But then I realized that the subtle emotions that art and dance evoke in humans are the most important. They are the ones that make us feel deeper." He found that most types of art didn't allow him the scale he wanted to work with, and that frustration led him back to a childhood tool: the stick. As he turned his full focus towards his new art, he regained something else from childhood--that ability to get completely lost in a process, forgetting about the end result (as well as its "sellability"). "Having the product at the end is not my goal. My goal is building it. It's someone else's job to contain it, have it, maintain it." His sculptures are by nature temporary, yet he puts an immense amount of time and energy into each one. He also reverts to the child's ability to work well and on equal footing with others, asking his volunteers for their opinions and suggestions, and creating a solid group atmosphere; the routine interruptions of his work by visitors and curious questions seem to be a positive and welcomed part of the experience for him.

(2006, created on the Brahan Estate in the Scottish Highlands)

One interesting aspect of being an itinerate sculptor who works out in the open for several weeks at a time all over the world is that he is exposed to all kinds of people and their philosophies. He has neighborly, over-the-backyard-fence conversations with many more neighbors than your average North Carolina dweller. He also ends up temporarily residing in some odd places. Pat Summers describes one such dwelling in an article in Sculpture Magazine (July/August 2005):

"Some 400 years old, the [Shinto shrine] was believed to be haunted by several families' ancestors. There were monkeys that threw things and reportedly carried off small children, as well as snakes that came with the temple and could not be harmed. Under the new tin roof, the original straw covering may have sheltered scorpions, as anyone trying to sleep below was well aware."

And, he says, "I've learned to swallow things. Not to be rude, you have to learn to put something in your mouth and swallow it whether you like it or not. You just do it and take the consequences."

"Arcadia", 2004, LA.

This year, he created a 25-foot high installation he named "Summer Palace" at Morris Arboretum, in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, using only natural materials he gathered around the site. With the help of several volunteers, he worked through whatever weather--and some of it was apparently pretty rough--to create the palace in the allotted three weeks from maple, dogwood, willow, and ash branches:

"Summer Palace"
"Before I left my house to come [to Pennsylvania], I found a snail shell and everything just kind of came together from there. I started thinking about the idea of a pagoda and a layer-cake effect." The end result was the image shown above, which leads its visitors through circular halls to a child-sized central room, much like many of us created in the woods as kids, except...not.

"Childhood Dreams"
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, Arizona, 2007.
Photographer: Adam Rodriguez.

Remember, there are no nails here, just twigs.
He talks a bit about his ideas, process, and the above image, "Childhood Dreams," in this video:

"Bivouac," 2003
Three Rivers Art Festival, Pittsburgh, PA

In an interview with Roberta Sokolitz, he says:
"Perhaps I should say something about drawing here, because it is so central to the success of my work. Ironically, I have never been comfortable with a pencil. Early attempts to change my left-handedness to right-handedness caused me to seize up when handling anything to do with mark-making. There has been a tremendous release as I have learned to use saplings as lines and full-body motion as a kind of pencil. I use all the drawing conventions to make an interesting surface--hatchmarks and "x"-ing and raking diagonals. I use emphasis lines and shading. I have learned that sometimes one small little branch can be employed to cool a heavy line. There is also the potential to introduce sticks into the surface in one direction, thus massing the tapered lines and suggesting a kind of motion and directionality."
This type of painting with sticks can be seen clearly in the above image, Bivouac. Below is "Just Around the Corner," which looks to me like a real-life version of a Jacek Yerka painting:

"Just Around the Corner," 2003

"I think it is important to capture the life of nature. I want to show that there is vitality and motion to the installation. I want to capture the air and the wind moving around it."

"Paradise Gate"
Smith College Museum of Art, Massachusetts, 2001
Photographer: Stephen Petegorsky.

Na Hale 'o waiawi ("Wild Dwellings Built from Strawberry Guava")
The Contemporary Art Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii, 2003.
Photographer: Paul Kodama.


  1. Awesome, awesome, awesome!!.:)
    I love "Arcadia". I want to have things like these in my city.
    And "Just around the corner", amazing!.

    Thanks Zoe.

  2. Fascinating! I have never seen such interesting art pieces! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Oh my God, Thank you for these Zoe. Amazing and incredible and so beautiful.

    Love Renee xoxo

  4. très très beau!!!
    and Zoé, thank you for your comments on my blog.