Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Richard Long

In Spain I also rode my bike through the Isla de Esculturas, a little island with an outdoor sculpture collection that includes a Richard Long stone line. That’s of course not me in the drone video above, I found this video on the internet after my trip, but I did that exact thing, riding my bike past the line, and I’m a little obsessed with this video, it captures my memory of that day and even something of the feeling of riding a bike through Europe. Long says his work is about walking, but I’ve mostly seen it as 2D-ish images, shapes he’s created in the landscape or in a museum. This was the first time I really experienced it as movement. I took photos of the line, and I like them, I like how it resembles the remains of an old stone wall you might see alongside a road or path, but there is a subtle but distinctly experiential effect of the line when you see it in person and I think you can see it in the video too. And also I love when the dog appears in the video.

Richard Long has been hit or miss for me, but over time I’ve realized that I’ve liked everything that he sited and built himself, while every time I’ve seen one of his works that was sited and built by other people — I’ve seen a couple of his stone circles that had been installed by teams of volunteers — I’ve thought it was lame. I kind of respect that after he’s finished a piece, he’s fine with a crew packing it up and shipping it somewhere else and then a bunch of strangers putting it back together in a new home, but I think it shows how much his work really is site specific and tied to his participation in an experience and place. Like the bad cover songs that make you realize how good the original is.

I thought the rest of the sculpture collection was pretty weak, but the island’s a nice spot, with several nice bridges and there’s a swimming beach on the other side of the river. I ate peaches and watched ducks and enjoyed the sunshine.

The Jorge Oteiza Museum

The day before Chillida Leku, I went to the Jorge Oteiza Museum in Pamplona. Oteiza was a mid-century Basque sculptor. He was friends with Chillida and other modernists, and his work overlaps with them and was influential, though I don’t really know if he’s well-known these days or not. He was an ideas guy, a lot of his stuff is interesting, and some of it is almost good, but almost all of his ideas seem to have been developed into better sculptures by other artists. The museum paired well with a visit to Chillida Leku the next day, though I don’t think Oteiza does well by the comparison. Chillida’s sculptures are much much better.

Oteiza started with figurative work and did pretty well with it. The works are pretty good but noticeably derivative, almost every one can be identified as a Giacometti or a Henry Moore or a Brancusi, etc… He seems to have realized that, because he gave up on figurative work and only did abstract work for a while, and then eventually he gave up on that too. I’m not sure when he got the idea of turning his house into a museum, but after he died they built a modern concrete structure around the farmhouse where he had lived. The building is — like the sculptures — interesting and almost good, with some odd details such as windows that only go up to your waist. Read the rest of this entry »

Oudolf Leku

A bonus from my visit to Chillida Leku was that the entrance sports a newish planting by Piet Oudolf. It immediately caught my eye as the first interesting planting I had seen in Spain, and I was thinking, well well well, who did this, it looks like an Oudolf planting. And of course it was an Oudolf planting, his style is unmistakable at this point. The planting beds gave him a bit less space to work with than the gardens I saw in the Netherlands — Vlinderhof, Singer Laren, and Rotterdam — but it had that same loose meadowy feel, and it was far and away the best planting I saw in Spain.

I think bloom color is usually not his first consideration, but the pink in the Echinacia, Stachys (I think?) and Filapendula seem clearly chosen to match the pink granite sculptures.

It’s a nice compliment to the sculptures. He has now done about a half dozen plantings at museums — Chillida Leku is owned by Hauser and Wirth who previously hired him for Durslade –which makes it verge on a specialty of his. This planting isn’t really integrated with the sculptures the way his planting is at Singer Laren and it doesn’t really contrast with his non-museum ones, but I wonder if there is anyone else who has done as many museum plantings as Oudolf. I can think of landscape architects who designed a few museum gardens in their careers, and maybe there is an analogue with the Zen or Japanese-style gardens that have been added to museums over the years, but this number of ornamental plantings seems pretty unique.

Chillida Leku Stone Scuptures

In Spain I visited Chillida Leku, the museum Eduardo Chillida developed to display his work. It’s great, a wonderful sculpture garden around a 16th century farmhouse and one of the best single-artist museum’s I’ve been to. Chillida is most famous for his work in steel, but he also did a lot of work in stone. The steel sculptures are great, but I’m mostly going to post photos of the stone and the farmhouse. Read the rest of this entry »

Spain and Portugal Drawings

This is my first blog post in a couple of years. I’ve spent the Covid years either working or hunkered down, and haven’t really felt motivated. This summer, though, I took my first significant trip in three years, riding a bicycle for six weeks in Portugal and Spain, and I got some of my blogging mojo back; Spain and Portugal are absolutely filled with subjects right in the drystonegarden wheelhouse. I expect to do at least a half dozen posts before my mojo runs out, and maybe I’ll keep going after that.
To start with, these are my drawings from the trip, almost one per day, loosely following my progress from Lisbon up through the interior of Portugal, then through the northern interior of Spain to Pamplona, then along Spain’s north coast loosely following the Camino de Santiago Norte to Santiago de Compostela, and then back down to Lisbon. It was a great trip, my third bike trip in Europe, and I can’t wait until my next one.
Read the rest of this entry »