Abnormally Cool Garden Furniture – Helen Nock

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She lives 3,900 miles from here on a different continent, but Helen Nock’s inspired craftsmanship just about ripped my heart out. I have rarely had such an avid appreciation of someone’s excellent work – and make no mistake, there sure are plenty of folks who do amazing things – but Helen’s work had me from the get-go.

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The two bird baths – above and 2 below -  give an idea of her material and her general concepts. She – like me – loves mosaics and the crazy imaginings one can get from colored glass. Yes,  it’s a weakness, I admit it. ;-)  I thought the Indians got a great deal selling Manhatten for $22 worth of glass baubles, myself. I’da been cheaper! I am moved by the baubles made by the human hand. Just as the stained glass in the great churches moved men and women to forget their meager and hard-fought existences, witnessing God’s glory and the promise of better lives in those Holy Places – be they Mosque or Temple or the Great Cathedrals of Europe – now, from the hands of fabulous craftsmen and women such as Helen Nock, we get yet another near-religious experience. We are now enabled to witness a shameless exposure to radical artistic design – equally powerful in many ways and definitely as mesmerizing.

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Helen – like the architects of those inspirational devices of churches – also loves experimenting with her own version of killer baubles, enjoying the dimensional frames they fool us with and beguile us with so dearly – and with a playful sense of love at the same time. Art with a smile never looked so good. So? It’s A Garden Fer Pete Sakes!!  Get Real! Sue me! What could be cooler? I’m just a gardener!! These handcrafted products bring ferocious and gorgeous new colors into a garden, all season long – no matter the season. Plus, Helen has a hysterical take on symmetry going for her too – balance is structural, by all means, but hardly designed that way above her very substantial steel footings. I find much of her work positively “Antonio Gaudi-like” and love it. In those times of the year when color is so desperately desired, we have this incredible artifact – or many others shown below by way of tables, seats, bird baths or just standard ornamentation – all glitzy, translucent, shimmering and special and all our own. Man, am I ever a fan!

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Here’s a close up of the picture above – and, yes, please ask about materials…………

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This isn’t some small time girl.This is a serious pursuit and we gain from these gorgeous artworks.

I have no problem whatsoever in comparing what she does with the great artisans of our – or any – era. Art is a trick – we take standard average elements and make them something far, far more than they began with. At my most presumptuous, I think that about my best work. Helen Nock, as many others of us, works hard at her chosen craft. Her products are often commissioned by individuals with very particular wants. Take this Sunflower Table for example:

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A stunning fact of her work is not just in its artistic sensibility alone, either. These items are not your everyday flimsy, department store items. They are made with the connivance and aid from her local blacksmith, as Helen’s demands go to such materials as Stainless Steel, bronze, copper and the slates and stone sets which need a firm footing, attached for super permanence. These are, after all, outdoor products for the most part. They need to accomplish sturdiness and stability facing the greatest conniving for failure devised by man or Diety – children, for one thing, rain and wind and the elements in general, for others – including freezing and thawing. Outside of the Sun, Nature’s most  universal killer of man made things is the alternating temperature during a day’s passage.

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Her “smithy”, Nathan Bennett, is a busy man, and thorough. Not only do they conspire to build these edifices extremely well, they build them to last. And not only do they build them to last, but Helen does these series’ of acid washes of the metals themselves, bringing colors out with each application, fastidiously producing her desired product. She works until she gets it right. I think I like this aspect best, but then I would. The thrill of producing permanent things is a wonderful accomplishment.

Here are her own words as to how she arrived at this craft: (from her website profile)

“I was formally trained in fine art and design with a special interest in painting but a series of unnexpected turns led to my current practice. My professional carreer began working with teenagers and young adults disaffected by mainstream education shortly after gaining my B A Hons as a mature student. A fantastic six years of lecturing and teaching both professionally and personally stretching, but by September 2006, I felt the need to focus my own practice. I assumed a return to painting on a full-time basis but working in a disused stone quarry surrounded by wildlife, some training on the resident blacksmith’s forge and a strong interest in nature and natural materials strongly influenced my decision to make beautiful and unusual things that live outside. The metal working opportunity led to developing work where I could integrate wrought iron, and commission the blacksmith to manufacture from my designs.  Exploring mosaic method seemed a natural progression to combine with wrought iron furniture.  Latterly, I explored the potential of mosaic method for individual sculptural work. I will use a range of methods and material as work and inspiration suggest, not all exclusively mosaic but my abiding interest in mosaic method is fired by it’s flexibility and hardy utility, and diverse possibilities it offers in combinations of media and technique.” Works for me!!  ;-) 87082_mosaic-and-metal-detail-of-metalwork-surface-finish Here is Helen herself, decked out in her most decadent and oh-so-fashionable working attire and doing those lady-like things we all expect our wimmins to do.  Yes, she is grinding away with a Super Industrial strength grinder. Oh still my heart!!! ;-) That grinder, by the way, is like what we use for shaving cement blocks and bricks. It is about as safe as a loaded gun and needs that much care to avoid accidental disaster – they are, in fact, so powerful, they can also ruin some work in a split second, too. (She’ll kill me for this, I am sure, lol) Hey. I’m in love, don’t listen to those other guys!  ;-) 4858200074_1a3cce5777_b What we get, from the developer of this art’s perspective, is this – the elemental series of constructions I found incredibly fascinating, to say nothing of the end product: Raw stuff: 4821762119_b1d36ea1b5_b 4821767675_528bbca777_b A forged stainless steel detail: 4832142374_00c716dc84_b The Home Stretch – almost there! 4834696775_780dd45da7_b Still some buffing necessary yet: 4860317729_61ce96bec9_b Final Product: 4864266353_20763149bb_b Pretty amazing stuff. Here is her website:  http://www.helen-nock.co.uk/sculpture–and-wall-art This is where she exhibits just some of her stuff. A word – she also does sculpture and she also does – get this – lighting for gardens, which I show here. This one is entitled “Wall Urchin”: 4287061743_f925380384_o Here it is, lit up: 4287796014_90a45b760b 4287803860_49eeb90a0e_o Helen Nock. My current most favorite artist in the world and also a great gal, I hasten to add. I’ve only spoken with her by mail, asking her permission to spread the Great Word and we definitely made one another laugh. There can be no higher praise. Thanks, Helen and keep it up!! She does a great Pig, by the way!! And in a shirt, no less, for the more modest of us.

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180417_andamento-flow Absolutely wonderful work. 65570_cluster 3894054799_b3ae17dda3_b 87286_garden-table-spira-top-view-scroll-down-for-more-views 139860_garden-table-shingle-dreaming 3894835854_3d8d64e1c6_o 3894048341_e75921d290_o

Blending Light With Water

The mixtures of physical elements reaches a real sort of crescendo when we combine the simple concepts of Nighttime and artificial lighting humans install around their various architectural concoctions of water-based landscaping. From tiny doorway ponds, set just beside our front doors to provide the gurgling sounds of Peace and the small lights we install to enhance its nighttime appearance to the massive structures of light and water magic itself in cities like Barcelona, Dubai, Las Vegas and Singapore, our craving for beauty never stops. The fact that these altogether wholesome and wonderful urges get met by designers and inventors with our highest hopes implicit yields the fabulous work we see below.

The illusions Noguchi sought in his “9 Floating Fountains” constructed for the 1970 Osaka Worls’s Fair still glimmer in the Osaka nights, seemingly dumping tons of water from tight square clouds.

What seems most remarkable, in the end, is the role lighting played in this marvelous bit of architectural whimsy. We do also understand that lights combined with water both bend and refract the light rays in incredibly pronounced ways. We see this from far smaller scale water features in lakes, ponds and the more strictly residential and homey edifices we make ourselves.

We are so fortunate, in the end, to have modern specialists who now seemingly routinely embrace the lighting and water phenomenon and who have designed a great series of total wonders as our own eye candy and inner thrills. Light Shows have made not only the lexicon of modern life but also have come to represent many of the highest achievements in architecture.

Barcelona’s Magic Fountain was among the first to accomplish lighting wonders on such a massive scale when they opened in 1929 for the opening of The Barcelona International Exhibition. 

 

The magnificent urban setting set the standard in the world for what would come next. Other cities proceeded to become equally fountain-famous – Kansas City, New York for the World’s Fair in 1936, Osaka in 1970, leading to the extravagant masterpieces of the casinos in Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore.

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Singapore, for instance, new machinery creates a foggy, wet background upon which to display video and laser elements in a near 3D fashion. Their light shows are becoming totally legendary. Here’s a video from a show taken by an individual’s phone:

Making the Unusually Wonderful is getting easier. We can all be glad of this.

Landscaping As Radical Art

The term “radical” stems from the original Latin radicalis - “of roots” and from Latin radix “root”. Whereas, this term ironically resembles “Conservative”, owing to Conservatism’s high valuation of something’s earned past (especially when confronted with “radical change”), I really like the application of “radical” to art as something very nearly opposite of the spirit of its definition. “Radically opposite”, in fact. The term is loosely applied here, but in the overall “sense of things”, it fully meets the spirit of my claims regarding the stunning evolution of a trade which has seen periods of high fashion – from Ancient Times and Babylon’s Hanging Gardens to Frederick Olmstead’s White City and his incredible collection of urban designing accomplishments. Currently, right now, we see regular people create masterpieces of riveting detail and interest in their own fabulous yards, inspiring more public artists and landscaping specialists in a wider realm. I have always said that the best work I ever ran across were productions made by homeowners in the experimental privacy of their own homes. It also is true.

My current usage of the term “Radical Art” indicates an actual and literal departure from “regular” cosmetics of a trade so long defined as an adjunct to buildings and their grounds – the General Field of Landscaping. It is my conviction that landscaping has evolved into its very own architecture, indeed, outgrowing “Dad” –  into it’s own sort of identity and utility – of Architecture, per se, and has subsequently evolved further into real art. Of course, architectural renderings oversee the more vast properties of our urban environments. They must, actually, owing to simple organizational difficulties in their construction and implementation.

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What we now see all around us in growing profusion are swaths of land, of urban and suburban wonders, we can simply no longer take for granted and which rivet our minds and souls in ways by which we find ourselves utterly challenged. Some are larger than others:

This work of art in Australia, known as ‘Mundi Man’ or ‘Eldee Man’ was constructed by noted painter Ando (website here) and is located on Mundi Mundi Plains, NSW. It is the world’s largest art work, covering some 4 million square meters, or 5 million square yards. That’s a lot of “cosmetics”!

Antonio Gaudi may have set the Lunatic Fringe of Radical Art in landscaping with not only his remarkable building designs, but in the incredible complexity and bizarre designs so rife at Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain. His admixture of “primitive” and ultra-modern are well-illustrated in this photo I gathered from this website, dealing with Cruises.

The stunning work of Isamu Noguchi, as offered in the first photograph above, has also offered a primary glimpse of landscaping radicalism for long years prior. Now fully enacted by a fabulously and numerically-rich coterie of building designers, the arresting visual and sensual 360 degrees of 3 dimensionality of landscaping reaches an exemplary peak in his work. Below is his spare, yet incredibly evocative construction of a park erected on the site of a former garbage landfill.

Moerenuma Park, Sapporo, Japan:

My view of these installation includes the packages relative to the advancement of technological breakthroughs in the machinery itself of construction. If Da Vinci could conceive of “lift”, “displacement” and the eventual forms which encourage Mankind to fly, then the wildly impractical new wonders of Drip Irrigation, water pumps and advancements in adhesives have opened an entire realm of gravity-defying work of its own.

Vertical Gardening will produce many Babylons, right before our every eyes:

 

Even residences will gain from inexpensive-yet colorful profusions of verticality, a technology now just getting underway.

 

The advent of the Mini-Excavator, in my world of installations, has produced amazing wonders, quickly-accomplished, only requiring an imaginative combination of designers and installers to implement the next wave of the booming field of water features. Note here the incredible handsomeness of the stud at the business end of such a handy little monster of torque:

Fountains, water, radicalism, sound and senses…………………..

(Noguchi again):

Lighting has caused a Mini Sensation and a completely outrageous burst of creativity in the field as well, from simple, well-placed uplights and filters of a smaller but ineffably gorgeous dimension:

To the radical fringe of massive urban production such as this Mall Fountain in Singapore – the world’s largest fountain:

More Radical yet, we have the entire realm of fountains and the myriad new applications of water, beginning, once again, with Noguchi’s completely impractical 9 Floating Fountains at the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair:

My belief is that we are just entering a field which promises a burst of fabulous artwork of increasing meaning and relevance. I honestly believe we are being pushed outdoors, kicking and screaming, as our back yards become “destinations” and extended living rooms, kitchens and dens. Our cities become more vibrant when we supply other “destinations” to please the eyes and senses. The factor of radical art in landscaping may even supply microcosmic pleasure in our very ytensils and those items which we have so long merely taken for granted, such as garden furniture, as Helen Nock (website included)  so brilliantly illustrates:

Walls and fences take on some structural interest when in the hands of Micahel   Eckerman of Santa Cruz, his website here. A surfer and gatherer of native materials, his formations show movement and form which closely resemble the behavior of ocean waves:

The creations we see today raise our vision and stop our wandering eyes so that we can better focus on their message. The “message”, as in all art, is that of celebration of our shared humanity. These spiritual accomplishments encourage us all to be better people, in every way.

I am glad Landscaping enters the realm of art itself. The scope of the trade has no conceivable limit, from the very tiniest of realms to those of massive scale. It is Man tickling Man and the sooner we understand that, the more we can create and enjoy more of the same.

 

Great Walls

Not of China, although that is sure a great wall.

No, these walls will be of a smaller niche, involving landscaping and the pressing need at times to fit structures into our dwindling resources of available land. More and more impossible building sites are becoming completely practical as we erect structures which can hold back and cut into slopes, rendering them usable, flat and of planes with which we can live.

Some most unusual solutions have arrived which now not only perform the task of extending a building’s footprint but which also extend or reduce an area to be landscaped. They can also end up looking fascinating. This stacked concrete block wall at the University of Oregon’s Athletic Complex is rather ultra-modern in that it replicates the roughness of natural rock in purposefully random ways and yet is engineered on the back side completely perfectly. This look is a bit bizarre, I admit fully, but I enjoy the effort, if nothing else.

The changing levels of a landscape provide an interesting counterpart to the more mundane roads and walks of our lives, offering visual interest as well as often featuring the walls themselves as art.

Traditional dry-stacked native rock walls are a technology as old as society itself. From prehistory until now, gorgeous examples of this technological social skill exist on every continent. Modern landscapers have resurrected this low-tech formula into some really beautiful wall series. Here’s one I took part in. It’s purpose, too, was to extend the landscape out from the home level and then drop the 3-4 feet to another flat plane of lawn and green, lush color in a warm contrast of natural textures.

Other walls made of rock have similar purposes in function but hilariously and rewarding tweaks on the theme. Michael Eckerman of Santa Cruz, California provides scintillating river and coastal rock edifices of breathtaking form and function. A true stone mason unlike myself, Michael has pioneered his own art form in stone in ways which we can only admire.

Michael approaches his walls with a deepest love for the Ocean in mind, being a Santa Cruz surfer boy at heart. His sense of crashing waves and moving surf is evinced in all his work from a certain period and thence morphed into the concept of motion in general, later on.

But I can hear the ocean in his retaining walls built in the hills surrounding Santz Cruz!

A closer look…………

From the sublime to the more normal, we visit a modern development in wall-building which has made life yet easier by substantial degrees. The preformed cement wall block has been engineered to perform incredible feats of retention and grade changing. It is somewhat “plastic” in its ability to meander along the lines of whimsy as well, providing landscapers wonderful opportunities to soften lines and to create more pleasing environments. Below are a couple of angles on a Reno project we did, from the start to a more finished look.

Other cement wall edifices performed other duties, although grade changes were always a primary goal. On the one below, we look down a wall put in more for security purposes than the art. A look at the precipice leading away from the landscape shows its functional safety feature.

This one features 2 Falling Water fountains embedded in the forward wall. This is a Winter Time look back at the fountain as we completed the project. The owner was delighted and he has re-landscaped nearly everything from these basic beginnings. The water is running here in exactly the “sheet” we expected and designed. This was a fascinating gig.

For the longest while, in the early 80s in Vancouver, we were building walls almost exclusively of Railroad Ties – huge, 150 pound creosote-soaked uglies 8 feet long which made the most incredibly sturdy walls of the era. One had to drill holes to pound in the 1/2″ rebar to connect these edifices, complete with “dead men” sent perpendicularly back into the soil in a Tee, for anchoring. But one could also be creative, even here. Note the sets of stairs in the distance in this picture, a system of walls nearly a quarter mile long on two-and three-levels. The use of angled off-shoots to the walls provided an architectural joy for the builders and made them as interesting as they became later as the plantings overtook them.

Wall work has always been challenging and somewhat fun, actually. As permanent structures, their solidity and form provided ample rewards for those who made them the right way.