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Entries in landscape (93)

Wednesday
Mar292017

travelling landscapes

from Google Maps: 21039 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California

It seems a bit intrusive to peer at the house that Hockney once owned and sold in 1999.  I doubt it had a pool as it was right on the beach beside the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu.  Now is that a romantic address or what?  This google street view shows the row of fairly humble beach houses on one side of the road, and a rough hill on the other.  Looking up the native vegetation of such a hill, coastal sage scrub, typical of cismontane southern California and northern Mexico, consists of aromatic low-growing shrubs: California sagebrush (Artemisia californica), California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum), coast brittlebush (Encelia californica), black sage (Salvia mellifera), white sage (Salvia apiana), Lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia) and Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia littoralis). 

I only looked this up as I had been reading about the Corsican macchia, so aromatic that it is the unique scent of Corsica.  The macchia, or in other spellings the maquis, contains crocus (crocus corsicus, Corsican saffron), orchids (Conrad's orchid, serapias nurrica), colchicum, violet, romulea, aconite, garlic, aquilegia, daisy, cyclamen, carnation, digitalis, everlasting, hypericum, forget-me-not, mint, nepeta, ranunculus.  There is heather, narcissi, violets, passionflower, marguerites and mimosa. There is bougainvillea and oleander,  lilac thyme, white and pink broom. Lavender grows wild as does myrtle, rosemary, marjoram and mint.   

Corsica is an ancient and underdeveloped island, Malibu is a highway just north of the freeways of Los Angeles.  This might have something to do with the sparseness of plant life in the coastal sage scrub compared to macchia.  I read somewhere in all of this that one of the problems with coastal sage scrub is the word 'scrub' which gives it little value in the popular imagination. 

My project here, given that the Gulf Islands are said to have a mediterranean climate (ha! not after this winter) and that I am very close to the islands (albeit under a mountain, which might be a problem, part of that rocky spine that is Vancouver Island), is to develop a macchia myself, to turn one's garden into a wild, aromatic ground cover.  Almost every shrub in the Corsican macchia I have seen as singles somewhere in the yard, so they do grow here.  And there are olive trees up island.  And I will add eucalyptus, for that beautiful perfume that so characterises the northern California coastline.  And California poppies, which grow wild by the road.  I see the irony in all of this, but I'm also optimistic.

I think I would quite like to live in Corsica/California/Canada, with olive trees.  It is a bit of a dream, still.

Monday
Mar272017

David Hockney. A Bigger Splash, 1967

David Hockney. A Bigger Splash Acrylic paint on canvas, 2425 x 2439 x 30 mm. Tate T03254

This very well-known painting epitomises all the burnt landscape/blue tiled pools of California that are so romantic to those of us from different landscapes.  The image is of one of those minimalist modern tract houses of Los Angeles.  The Kaufmann House was a beautiful example, but in the 1950s and 60s all little suburban LA houses had a pool. 

Hockney painted this one with a roller and Liquitex — a discussion about painterliness, image and surface that was intense at the time.  The traditional surfaces of art were vehicles for the depth of field and the rendering of image.  The painter's skill was measured in its passion and its verity.  Postwar abstraction focussed on the surface itself, not the image.   In The Bigger Splash, the painted part floats in a larger square of unpainted, unprimed canvas: it clearly is acrylic paint flatly applied to material stapled to the wall, a rejection of the centuries of priming and underpainting, working and reworking in oil paint to the edges of the stretchered linen ground.  The part that is painterly, the splash, was done with brushes, but the splash itself was something Hockney found in a book of photos of swimming pools.  It wasn't about direct observation from the side of the pool, but rather direct painting from a photograph, another transgression of expected fidelity to a visual experience.  This was a figurative work assembled like a collage of banal images and as deep as banality can be.  

It is in such a thin, un-reflexive, uninteresting world that one can remake oneself — is this not the dream of the new world, without class, history, social conventions and repressive social narratives?  Of course 1960s southern California was not without its class by wealth, division by race and services by ethnicity, but if you had come from grey, cramped, mingey, prissy England of postwar rationing and criminalisation of homosexual acts, Los Angeles must have been a nirvana for a young white artist with an excellent education and something to say.  

If you take every artwork you see as a thesis, rather than as an image, much is revealed.  Everything means something.  Painting in Liquitex with a roller isn't a casual act, it is right at the centre of the nexus of abstraction and conceptualism.  Copying a photograph continues Andy Warhol and Richard Hamilton's late-1950s appropriation of images in the public domain.  And yet, and yet, it is the image of a bigger splash, used as the title for a Hockney documentary, many reconstructions of the pool and the house online, reworking of the image itself as homage, as graphic design, as really dreadful reassemblies.  Just look at Hockney+splash on Google images.

Secretly I think we all still would quite like to live in southern California, in a little modern flat-roofed house with a pool.  It is a bit of a dream, still. 

Wednesday
Mar222017

David Hockney. Pearblossom Highway, 11 - 18th April 1986

David Hockney. Pearblossom Highway, 11th-18th April 1986, photographic collage, 77x112 1/2 in. © 1986 David Hockney

Another desert landscape made familiar by cowboy movies and Paris, Texas; this though, the Pearblossom Highway in California, north of the San Gabriel Mountains which you can see on the horizon, otherwise known as State Route 138. 

The Getty quotes Hockney on this piece:   'Pearblossom Highway' shows a crossroads in a very wide open space, which you only get a sense of in the western United States. . . . [The] picture was not just about a crossroads, but about us driving around. I'd had three days of driving and being the passenger.  The driver and the passenger see the road in different ways. When you drive you read all the road signs, but when you're the passenger, you don't, you can decide to look where you want.  And the picture dealt with that: on the right-hand side of the road it's as if you're the driver, reading traffic signs to tell you what to do and so on, and on the left-hand side it's as if you're a passenger going along the road more slowly, looking all around. So the picture is about driving without the car being in it.

Well, that makes sense if you are in a right-hand drive car, as one is in England, but not in California.  Is driving one of those automatic things that has cut channels in the brain that insist that although sitting on the left hand driver seat, one is spatially seeing the world from the passenger seat because that is how you learned to see in a car in England?

For a North American, this photocollage tells me the passenger is worried about where he is, and the driver is the one noticing the details, as one does, at the side of the road.  On long haul drives, peripheral vision is very alert. This allows you to read a book on the steering wheel while driving the I-25 through Wyoming, one large beige halfpipe.  Well, when I was younger.

The mid-1980s was the heyday of the photo-collage for architects: how to show a site, not with the single Renaissance eye focussed on the far horizon, but more the sense of a place full of details that a single 35mm shot simply cannot include.  I remember taping together 180° site pans in the 1970s and, photoshop aside, we were still being sent photo collages in the mid-2000s: e.g. Rufina Wu's underground Beijing rooms in On Site review 22:WAR, 2008.

Hockney is a painter, not an architect documenting a site, but both used the documentary truth of the raw photograph, without the limitations of the camera, to make a different reality based on perception rather than fact. 

This is a pre-digital conversation.  

Hockney's Pearblossom Highway does record the throbbing relentless desert sky with headachey accuracy.

Thursday
Mar162017

Richard Long: Avon River Mud, 2011

Richard Long. A Line Made By Walking, 1967

Maybe all art is slow art, which is why it is art and not graphic design.  1967, Richard Long, then a student: A Line Made By Walking — the smallest gesture in a drawing where there is only artist and surface; no paintbrushes, paint, equipment, frame.  The surface is complex — grass and other little plants easily crushed, changing the nap of the field where Long walked back and forth until his path registered.  Cognisant of Smithson and the American land artists of the 1960s, he, perhaps because British, a student and probably cash-strapped, made equivalent gestures in the landscape without all the heavy lifting of cranes, excavators and dump trucks.  The restriction becomes the modus operandi for the rest of his career. 

Here, a video: Making River Avon Mud Circle, M-Shed, Bristol 2011

Richard Long. Video: Making Avon River Mud Circle, 2011

Tuesday
Mar072017

oh give me land

click on the image to go to Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters. Don´t Fence Me In (Decca 23364, 1944) Of all the versions, including the near-manic David Byrne version of 1999, Bing Crosby's is the one with a horse's walking gait, much like all the old cowboy songs. The Roy Rogers version is very tumpty-tump: he was no singer.

from Wikipedia: 'Originally written in 1934 for Adios, Argentina, an unproduced 20th Century Fox musical, 'Don't Fence Me In' was based on text by a poet and engineer with the Department of Highways in Helena, Montana, Robert Fletcher.' Cole Porter bought the poem, reworked it and set it to music.

Roy Rogers sang it in 1945 in a film of the same name which I must have seen many times throughout my childhood as Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and David Niven movies interspersed with the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges and Loony Toons reran on an endless loop after school on channel 11 from Bellingham.  As my parents had grown up in Calgary during the 1930s and early 40s and had romantic (to me) stories of trail rides and/or setting off on their bikes to ride way out into the foothills, this song was about a lost elysium, something that mooning about on the beach on Vancouver Island just didn't match up to.

One might say that I moved to Calgary because of the spirit and the landscapes of this song:

Oh, give me land, lots of land under starry skies above
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in
Let me be by myself in the evenin' breeze
And listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don't fence me in

Just turn me loose, let me straddle my old saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my Cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise

I want to ride to the ridge where the west commences
And gaze at the moon till I lose my senses
And I can't look at hovels and I can't stand fences
Don't fence me in

Monday
Mar062017

George Herriman: ways of seeing, ways of being

George Herriman, 1937, for King Features Syndicate.

George Herriman (b.1880 in New Orleans) published his little abstract landscapes every day from 1913 to 1944 when he died.  Under the eye of Offisa Pup, Krazy Kat's unrequited love affair with Ignatz played out in a sunbaked, empty Arizona desert: roads are two lines, mesas are geometric blocks sitting on a tabletop horizon.  Somewhere is a little scribble of action and a running text. 

This was in the childhood of so many American artists of Diebenkorn's generation: Twombly, Rauschenberg, Thiebaud, Dine.  I've written about Thiebaud's city drawings before, but I can also see the flattened space of Herriman in Diebenkorn, especially in the sketchbook drawings such as the one below.  These are ways of seeing, not in the Berger sense that the subjects of art are the objects of society, but rather a way of seeing small human dramas played out on the immense American canvas that was the early twentieth-century West.  Too, there is something about growing up without the eastern seaboard weight of European art history, that Henry James view of America, rather than the light-footedness of e e cummings

Thursday
Apr022015

Richard Diebenkorn: planar terrain

Richard Diebenkorn, Ocean Park #79, 1975. Oil on canvas, 93 x 81 inches. Philadelphia Museum of Art, Purchased with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and with funds contributed by private donors, 1977. ©The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn

Diebenkorn's Ocean Park series, which extended over many years, put landscape into a set of geometric relationships: planes which align, or not, across a terrain. The etching below, #6, 1978 is like a working drawing for a landscape painting, even one as traditional as Berkeley #23 of 1955.

Richard Diebenkorn, #6 from Six Softground Etchings, 1978; etching, 39 7/8 in. x 25 7/8 in. (101.28 cm x 65.72 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Purchase; © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation; photo: Don RossRichard Diebenkorn, Berkeley #23, 1955; oil on canvas, 62 in. x 54 3/4 in. (157.48 cm x 139.07 cm); Collection SFMOMA, Gift of the Women's Board; © Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Tuesday
Mar242015

Christopher Lavery: Cloudscape, 2010 

Christopher M Lavery. Cloudscape, 2008-2010 $120,000 public art commission, Denver International Airport Emerging Public Artist Project. Steel, polygal, LED Lighting, solar panels.

Wednesday
Feb252015

Giuseppe Penone: from 1970 to 2013

Giuseppe Penone. 'Albero di 12 m', 1970. Legno, cm 1213x25. Courtesy Moderna Museet, StockholmIt is a long life, art.  Penone did beautiful deconstructions of trees in the 1970s, cutting away tree rings to reveal the young tree inside a massive trunk.  Recent work, a series at Versailles in 2013, is still about trees, but there is bronze, there are castings, there are interventions in how a tree grows, there is Versailles and its Le Nȏtre landscape, there isn't much povera any more, other than the insistence that trees grow and resist sculptural intentions.  Weather intervenes; the cast tree bark is from a cedar that grew at Versailles, damaged by a storm.  And as we in the boreal forest know, beetles and climate do more to shape the environment than any number of landscape architects and gardeners.  There is an existential reality to trees – the remaking of trees/nature in the image of the divinity of man is what Penone has always resisted.  

Giuseppe Penone, Tra scorza e scorza, Entre écorce et écorce, 2003. Courtesy of Giuseppe Penone. Photo by Tadzio

Tuesday
Feb242015

Turner-Yamamoto: Hanging Garden, 2010

Sinji Turner-Yamamoto. Hanging Garden | 2010 | dead and live white birches, soil, water, metal structure/support for broken trunk, water irrigation system, | deconsecrated 19th century Holy Cross Church (National Register of Historic Places), Cincinnati, Ohio

Sinji Turner-Yamamoto, studied in Kyoto and Bologna.  Hanging Garden is part of on ongoing series (so far eleven), the Global Tree Project, with installations around the world that put trees into iconic spaces.  His website is a cloud of poetic fluff about wisdom, life and meditation; the work is more interesting.  

Arte Povera is a clear influence in this piece: the tree itself containing its own history in its structure, its surface form a tip of an iceberg of biomass.  Here it is two trees, one living and one dead, meeting at the point they enter or emerge from the earth.  A built mirror, both a small tragedy and a clever statement.

The deconsecrated 1889-1901 Holy Cross Church in Cincinnati?  What a beautiful thing.  An Irish immigrant church and an attached monastery, it suffered in the decline of the Catholic priesthood and closed in 1977.

Wednesday
Aug202014

Eddie's Cafe

© Ed Freeman, 2014

Found a series of these Ed Freeman photographs of abandoned highway buildings in California.  Not quite real, the original background has been removed and replaced with a series of moody skies and deserts.  Clearly Eddie's Cafe is in a city, at 1208 Something Street, not in the middle of nowhere.  

In the past, I would spend the third week in August driving from the cool nights of the eastern slopes of the Rockies at 52° N to the obliterating heat of central Texas which never seemed to cool down at night from its late summer  daytime 100°F.  On the way I would pass dozens of places like Eddie's Cafe, truly in a desert with nothing before it or after it, no photoshop needed.  

Perhaps one of the reasons such cafes, gas stations and motels stand boarded up is one of distance and vehicles – my first trip to go teaching in the States was in my elderly 1957 Austin, top speed 50mph.  Compared to real cars and trucks whose tanks of gas would take them 500 miles, I didn't want to ever be more than 15 miles away from help.  It is something like the old placing of grain elevators every 6 miles along the railway tracks: a function of time and distance for horse drawn wagons delivering grain.  

But these long driving trips were beautiful — an America off the freeway, out of the cities, quiet, deserted. 

Friday
Aug082014

Charles Stankievech, The Soniferous Aether, 2013

35mm Film Installation
Duration: 10:18 Loop (this is a lower resolution edited trailer – just a taste)

from Stankievech's website:

The Soniferous Æther of The Land Beyond The Land Beyond is a 35mm film installation shot at the northernmost settlement on earth— ALERT Signals Intelligence Station— as part of a series of fieldworks looking at remote outpost architecture, military infrastructure and the embedded landscape. Shot using a computer controlled time‐lapse tracking camera during the winter months, the military spy outpost radiates within a shroud of continuous darkness under a star-pierced canopy harkening an abandoned space station.
He speaks about it as the first panelist in Air | Land | Sea with Charles Stankievech, Kara Uzelman and Cate Rimmer, part of Gallery Hop Vancouver co-presented by the Canadian Art Foundation and the Contemporary Art Society of Vancouver.  This is a tremendously interesting three presentations:
Thursday
Jan302014

Gerhard Marx: Johannesburg, 2012

Gerhard Marx, Garden Carpet: Johannesburg [1], 2013. Plant material, tissue paper with acrylic ground on canvas board, 120 x 180cm Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

Gerhard Marx, a South African artist, seems interested in the underpinnings of the commonplace, in this case the map of Johannesburg which becomes reinscribed with the surface materials of Johannesburg.  Not quite geology, more dirt, as if the gleaming towers and freeways of the modern city are just this: dirt, roots and grass, the map itself scratches on the ground.

Gerhard Marx, Garden Carpet: Johannesburg, detail. Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

Monday
Jan202014

Paul Nash: Wittenham Clumps, 1943-4

Paul Nash. Wittenham Clumps, 1943-4. oil and pencil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 29 3/4 inches. Tate T04157

The Tate catalogue entry says this sketch is one of Nash's rare unfinished paintings that he saved, then goes on to point out what it wrong with it: the curved shape in the centre is too large for the sun or moon, too precise for a cloud, probably the beginning of a parachute; abandoned as unsatisfactory.  But he didn't paint over it, so it must have said something to him worth retaining.  

The trees on the top of the hill he had painted in 1914, revisiting it in the mid-thirties and again in the mid-forties.  The trees sit like a fort on the rise, or pillboxes, or gun emplacements: this was the middle of the war. Was it possible to view a landscape after two wars as anything but strategic terrain? Was this painting left unfinished as the curved shape had entered the painting as an unwelcome visitor?  Nash was a surrealist: the curved shape doesn't have to be anything other than some harbinger of dread.  Perhaps he couldn't go on with it.

It reminds me of Man Ray's Observatory Time, a painting done in the 1930s where Lee MIller's lips float in a mackerel sky, and used here in 1936 in a photocollage of nude and chessboard.  There were no rules, however lots of people still try to tell us what things 'represent'.  They represent nothing accessible, but they do tell us things.

Man Ray. Observatory Time: The Lovers, 1936Very curiously, Paul Nash has come my way twice recently.  One contributor to On Site review 31: cartography + photography, Robin Wilson, found us through a post I'd done on Nash (the surrealism of ordinary things) in 2010, and Will Craig is writing a piece on the contradictions of modernism and nationalism as found in Paul Nash's work.  The time must be right to look at Nash again. 

Friday
Jan172014

Wang Shu: Geometry and Nature, 2011

Wang Shu's lecture when he was Harvard's GSD Kenzo Tange Professor in 2011.  Almost two hours, it shows the difference between someone who is deeply embedded in a culture with a thousand-year old relationship between landscape and occupation, and our immigrant multiculturalism, dislocated from any sort of visceral understanding of either the past or landscape, and easily captured by ephemera.  

Clearly he is distressed by the last twenty years of extreme development in China; traditionally there were no architects and planners, just builders within a system of landscape and landscape interpretation by poets and scholars.  It explains Wang Shu's practice completely: he is not an architect, he is Chinese. 

Monday
Jan132014

the air that I breathe – Abdulnasser Gharem: Flora and Fauna, 2007

Flora and Fauna by Abdulnasser Gharem from Installation Magazine on Vimeo.

I would say this tree had been pollarded, pleached and trimmed. 

Friday
Jan102014

Pleaching

Pleached hornbeam: Carpinus betulus

More ways to make a tree not look like itself.  Pleaching, more or less, is where a hedge is elevated on bare tree trunks, to provide shade or privacy while leaving the ground plane free.  How it differs from pollarding is that branches above a certain point are bent and interwoven, much like an espalier, so that the individual crown is lost, and all the crowns work together to form a solid whole.  

Invariably, the images for all these ways of using and reshaping trees come from Europe, and Britain in particular, from classic avenues to agricultural hedges.  Space is tight, people are close, edges must be maintained, land marked.  It is almost a form of manners, necessary to the functioning of civility.

But we don't do it that way here.  I live in an old inner city neighbourhood with a picket fence.  Twenty years ago, the entire street had picket fences, one by one they have been removed, and new infills don't do fences at all.  It seems a suburban kind of thing: no front fences, your front yard bleeding out onto the road, little delineation between private and public realms.  But nobody uses their front yards anyway, so perhaps it doesn't matter.  Prairie city hedges tend to be the ubiquitous caragana which can take a good four feet off each side of your lot, eight feet sorely missed.  I've never seen one such hedge pleached; however, my hedges are now on notice: pleaching ahead.  

We seem strangely reluctant to shape nature – is it a North American new city thing?  Simply planting something is enough, then we let it go.  Our relationship with trees and bushes is quite laissez-faire until the tree becomes annoying and it is chopped down altogether.  What a relationship.  I like you till you become too big then I'll kill you. 

Thursday
Jan092014

Pollarding

Pollarded willows

More ways to torture trees. Coppicing was for woodlands where new shoots are easily harvested, springing as they do from ground level. Pollarding is similar except that the original tree trunk is cut off at 8-10 feet high.  This was used where the land was used for grazing and new shoots at ground level would be grazed off.  
Stobbing is when you cut a tree off at head height and so do not have to use a ladder.  Ancient practices these, all meant to control the height of a tree to lessen the shade cast by a large canopy, to structurally strengthen the tree by reducing the proportion of canopy to trunk girth, or to provide easily accessible building materials.

Both coppicing and pollarding are finding new life in permaculture management of biomass, but pollarding's longer history is, like coppicing, that of harvesting even, small-diameter trunks off an existing and vigorous root system. This is incredibly ugly looking in the winter – massacred stumps, and when in leaf, extremely formal, pollarding being one of the methods used to control avenues of trees in nineteenth century gardens.  When you think of it, it is rather like turning tree trunks into pilotis: the open ground plane, buildings floating above. 

1913: pollarded elms, ten each side, on the avenue to Christchurch Priory, Dorset. They succumbed to Dutch Elm Disease and were felled in 1975. The local history article from which this photograph has been taken seems to think it a good thing, the avenue masked the architecture of the priory, which now sits baldly on its bare lawn. No one cared to replant the avenue. Local history societies have a lot to answer for.

Wednesday
Jan082014

Coppicing

Coppiced lime, Dunwich Heath, England.

Why do I feel I need to know about coppicing?  Because trees grow, often in the wrong places in a small yard, and one must do something about them or they will take out your foundation.  

We are a country of forests and timber, most of which goes for dimensional lumber and pulp.  However, in countries with hardwood forests, ancient forests that have cohabited with centuries of settlement, forests are managed.  

Coppicing is where a single-trunk tree which normally would fractally divide and subdivide from tree trunk to twig, is cut off at the base allowing shoots to sprout from the still-living roots.  These shoots differ from the original tree trunk, in that there are many of them, they are thin and straight and, because of the vigour of the root system, literally shoot up without dividing.  Then they are harvested, which is interesting, as there was, and is, a need for straight pieces for rails, poles; whippy shoots for wickerwork: this is using wood without re-shaping it in a mill.  

A coppiced tree can last for centuries, perpetually young if harvested regularly with none of the shoots actually allowed to mature into a full tree.  I'm sure there is a rather brutal metaphor there, if one cared to work it out.  It is a dying practice, the need for hop-poles and thatching spars sadly diminished.  Ray Arnatt once showed me his car from the 1920s he'd brought from England when he emigrated, which had a wooden frame and was sheathed in painted canvas: the frame was bentwood, like bentwood chairs, steamed into shape.  This would have been coppiced wood, probably ash — strong and inviolate, the integrity of the whole cross-section of a tree complete.

In comparison, our clear cut treatment of softwood forests seems shockingly impatient.  It is a habit we do not investigate, perhaps because we don't inhabit our forests with any kind of intimacy, they are a hinterland to our cities or our agricultural territories, a backdrop we don't know very well.   Aboriginal peoples knew the forests well, they had those centuries of cohabitation, but the proportion of people to trees was low.  There were many trees they did not know individually either.  

But we have the tools and technology to harvest full trees and make them into any kind of shape we want – it is a luxury of excess product and we are profligate with it.

Monday
Nov252013

Wayne Thiebaud's San Francisco

because it is just so beautiful.