Avante Garde Things – Real, Not Trends

Yes, this is another recycled post from about 3 years ago which I feel good enough to re-post with a couple of additions. Inasmuch as I am officially a “retired landscaper”, we will not be seeing more pictures of myself and friends on the job.  My last one was about 2 years ago, here in Louisville.

For a landscaper, any intensity of interest towards something Avante Garde might seem unusual. But these are the bizarre personal complications our Maker has decided to afflict some of us with. The inspiring nature of art needs to be a part of any grade school and especially junior high school curriculum. Artists hang out way out there in their own whimsy, dedicated beyond the norm to present a weird brand new world of wonder for we admirers to sensually and mentally take in. They perform these works selflessly and most often wordlessly.

Enjoy.

My good fellow blogger Frances the other day lamented the curse of “trends” in gardening, speaking to an irritation I can cop to as well. Here is her rant – fairegarden -and I sincerely implore people to check it out – for the colorful explanations of her angst as well as her usual stunning pictorial abuse of her very own garden. It made me consider the qualities of art and, really, everything – and it also made me consider those things which move me most.

I have a very real fascination with what I consider to be current  ‘Avant Garde’ artists. I also like the connoisseurs of those artists who blog, review and attempt to describe their heartfelt relationships with wild ideas. A restless pursuit of new things can be an addiction – at its worst we become unseated from our table, off chasing the current butterfly. At best – and these are the moments we cherish – we discover something new, uplifting and which cracks open a window into another world entirely. The sheer differentness of utilizing normality to express meaningful connections in new and unique ways shows us our own potentials in their amazing variety. It reveals, too, a depth which is so fortunately unfathomable at its highest expression.

Here is Ernst Reijsiger and Mole Sylla last Summer at a workshop in Amsterdam using classical elements of beat, instruments and the rest but putting it into a stew of cross cultural and uniquely human celebration:

Nor does the stark ability of an artist in his or her moments of great achievement mean any less simply because of the era. Our discovery makes it contemporary in all the important ways, be it the Avant Garde qualities of Antonio Gaudi or the painted styling of Hieronymus Bosch. The unattributed photo below illustrates an incredibly stark imprint of time and place on the part of the artist. In its enlarged state, perhaps you too can find why and how I found myself utterly riveted by it.

A partially-excavated Sphinx looms in its unfinished excavated form and quite broken splendor over the relatively tiny bodies of workmen or perhaps passing Bedouins who had used it as a shady rest stop for Centuries. The contrast of modernity – which is the picture itself – mix with the grandness of scale and the breath of living subjects amid the ruinous nature of Time.

Clicking to enlarge this picture reveals far more than the compressed visual here. Indeed, all of these are prone to enlargement, although I have scaled back the monster shots which take up so much bandwidth, to Annette’s relief.

Less than a pursuit of genius – which is another level of inquiry and surprise – I glory in little discoveries of felt presentation which move me in mysterious ways. Needless to say, among the Avant Garde of modernity, architects and builders tend to rule over a region of art and accomplishment like few others – and I include landscape design artists such as Isamu Noguchi who make indescribably evocative and massive sculptures out of land and the products of Earth itself.:

Below is what was a landfill in Sapporo, Japan before Noguchi changed things:

More Personal – My Private Enthusiasms:

An absolute favorite artist of mine is a lady named Helen Nock – website here – who plies at garden furniture construction, sculpture, iron work, roofing tile salvage and who puts together gloriously beautiful and impractical pieces over in merry Olde England and with whom I share yuks on Facebook. Her overall body of work is absolutely and utterly unique:

Michael Eckerman of Santa Cruz, California is an artist in stone – among other mediums – website here – who constructs structural landscape elements using a bizarre variety of forms and materials. In the case of this landscape retaining wall, hard by a driveway, his love of surfing and the ocean display an uncanny sense of motion and force. Nor is this the only case where Michael works with nature to provide breathtaking works of landscape and interior home art.  His work has to be seen to be believed:

In closing, I can hardly think of a more interesting sampler of sound and depth than Joe Zawinul and his usual collections of the best musicians on the planet:

The Nature Of Genius – Werner Herzog & Ernst Reijseger

Once again I have opened up the archival Vault of Uselessness in this blog to give another look at some of the things I like most. As is the case in any blog, the selfish interest of the author is thematic – and, in this case, plain fun. I watched this movie again the other night just for giggles and it amazed me for a second time. The carcasses of ancient animals which had become glazed with stalagmite juice, basically “Quartzified” into stone, reminded again me of the sheer scope of this discovery.

Human art dating from over 20,000 – 30,000 years ago and just as subtle and beautiful as if it been accomplished by talented modern hands, displayed gallery-like on the walls of ancient caves, is only one of the fascinating wonders which Werner Herzog takes us through. His mix of music throughout the film is another glory of novelty. The best browsing of this post would be to begin the music video below and then read the text. Try that.

Reading Henry Miller some years ago, I never forgot his delighted discovery and his fascination with the term “Chthonic” – as if it had appeared to him as a magical key to describing ineffable events. This film and even its sounds are completely “Chthonic” and of a piece. It reminds me of nothing – they both stand on their own.

chthon·ic
ˈTHänik/
adjective
  1. concerning, belonging to, or inhabiting the underworld.
    “a chthonic deity”

To the archives, then……….(pictures enlarge by clicking).

For further investigation, here is the delightful Wiki entry for these incredible caves:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chauvet_Cave

OK, this is a stretch for a simple landscaping blog. Just know this: I know that and let me say my piece. 😉  It’s never stopped me before, has it? This one deals with the Earth, having said that, and that’s my own area. Dirt rocks and so do rocks.

I recently went to the movies, chucked on my 3D glasses and watched one of the most stunning movie events I have ever seen. The film is called “The Cave Of Forgotten Dreams” and I cannot possibly recommend it high enough. It was directed by Werner Herzog and deals with an inside look at the astonishing Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, where artists as long ago as 32,000 years plied their art of cave-paintings, using the walls of this gorgeous, previously-hidden cave as their canvas and using the folds and 3 dimensional aspect of the terrain itself to provide depth, apparent motion and breathtaking artistic ability.

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The extremely cautious French Government goes overboard in scrupulous preservation paranoia, and the film mentions this. Protecting the inside treasure is testified to when references to them shutting the cave off to visitors for a few months was felt necessary owing to “The breath of visitors is causing a mold to adhere to the walls.” This is a look inside – a rare moment in time and one which may or may not ever be replicated.

The cave simply reveals life at that time in a manner which nothing else possibly could. The genius is inside the art itself, of course, but the creative genius of Werner Herzog amplifies it, juxtaposing all this with modern perceptions of an era, seen from the best anthropological, psychological and paleantological minds of our generation.

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Borrowing this piece of breathless excitement emitted by  a movie review in the New York Times:

“The cave was discovered in December 1994 by three French cavers, Jean-Marie Chauvet, Éliette Brunel Deschamps and Christian Hillaire. Following an air current coming from the cliff, they dug and crawled their way into the cave, which had been sealed tight for some 20,000 years. After finally making their way to an enormous chamber, Ms. Deschamps held up her lamp and, seeing an image of a mammoth, cried out, “They were here,” a glorious moment of discovery that closed the distance between our lost human past and our present.”

How cool is that?

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The movie possesses so much depth and range of emotion and the hidden tension of discovery, that it nearly stands alone as an experience of brotherliness linking ourselves with our incredibly ancient past. I have to suspect this is an instant classic, no matter how uneven it might seem at its start. The punch is delivered as we advance, revealing all the incredible wonders this cave has to offer. Bear skulls, complete vertebrae of gigantic land animals, pictures of the rhinos, the Ibex, horses, lions, bison adorn these walls in graduated impact as the camera gets released later to fully explore.

Anyway – I guess you can tell I enjoyed the film!  😉

And here is where we return to the premise of this post. That Herzog has created a masterpiece I have little doubt. When you feel literally blessed and extremely fortunate to view a film, then these emotions tell us something very important: either we are nuts, or else this guy put together a magnificent piece of pure genius. I naturally choose the latter. As I said, the uneven beginning to the film requires a bit of patience. There is information coming in rather placid and somewhat pedantic ways, although there are indeed gorgeous pictures of the paintings and the access to them at the same time. The geological wonders alone are fantastic and impossible. Calcite galore, stalactites and stalagmites adorn the view – some literally impacting the paintings as well as such things as footprints of a bear as well as that of a child. The protective measures taken by the French is also droned on about at length – but – and here’s the thing:

It all makes sense and comes together incredibly effectively as we witness what a treasure this is. The drama of this discovery is served well by Herzog and the ineffable music streaming from the cello of the master cellist, Ernst Reijseger, which takes on an increasing urgency and even pathos as we discover this enormously ancient past of all of ours. The musical work of Reijseger is of a quality I have rarely seen before – it is clearly evocative and it seems utterly spontaneous as it impacts us concurrently with the images we behold and the verbalized statements from the long list of exceptional people. It courses through the film in a sensuous, even mysteriously sinewy way – somehow absolutely perfectly emotive and even responsible as we peer into who we once were. It is somehow totally fitting that we should answer the very height of their art with some of our own.

There is humanity here and a respect for our past. I mean a deep respect for our past. Oddities galore – it appears Neanderthal man was around as well as our own Homo Sapiens species evolved in the same neighborhood. Entire skeletons of the animals of the day appear, close up and personal.

I’m including aspect of Herzog and Reijseger’s traveling “Cine-Concert” which is entitled “Requiem For A Dying Planet” which toured to rave reviews globally. The reason I include this apparently non-related and somewhat disjointed piece is merely to illustrate the level of artistic genius this group operates at. Obviously, their goals are as high in terms of the stewardship of our planet – a message it would seem we could use ample measure of. I give you the “Requiem”:

Details And Their Importance

As I progressed in landscaping as a career – and especially in my own projects – I came to realize how vital “finishing” can be. As the business owner who had a “speak freely” attitude I promoted among my crews, I learned many things I would otherwise not have attempted or known without their input. Nor is this some false modesty – it is simply truth. The only thing I did right was listen.

Finishing A Project

Well, it came to pass that my crews could get pretty upset with my behavior during finishing – the last day or two on a project where the time seems to slow down and a business begins chewing into profit lines. As well as I may have insisted we perform installing things, my frustration always seemed to emerge just about now.

We’ve used fire hoses tied directly into fire hydrants, using 2-3″ hoses to blast large projects into cleanliness. Needless to say, the need for an excellent pressure washer is must-have for projects where brick dust, soil amendments, bark mulches, street dust and – Heaven forbid – oil stains from standing, dripping vehicles (including the machines used for the work, like Bobcats) -can produce stains of potentially disastrous impact. Brooms, fine rakes for bark mulch, snippers for the tags which always accompany plants and which – if left – reduce the entirety to a more amateur status, blowers, you name it, all of which seemed diabolical to someone with my level of ADD, ha ha.

But the real fact was, they were prescient. They were totally capable of leaving a project looking as perfect as it could look. Plus, I would get the call when we were done and drive over to assess it all. I could still set standards, even if I was awful at the work. So they basically kicked me off the jobs. And I’m serious. I was hard to live with. The reason I say it was a factor is because crews from 2 different eras and 2 different countries did the same thing. I am a mess at the end. Luckily for the crew, it was so obviously unsatisfying to me, they both recommended that I go to the next project and begin. The truth is, I am, having said all the above, a monster at starting things. This was pretty much always where I saved and made money. I could destroy stuff at a dizzying pace!!  😉

Add that I was a sole proprietor in effect, we then saw how the wisdom of moving along rapidly and seamlessly became a truism in how to handle the work. An early or prompt arrival gave me time for the ‘soul-to-souls’ I could have with clients, as well as ascertaining potential changes they may have conceived and wanted to talk over. It also allowed me to arrange deliveries for the future, from machinery to sub trade scheduling.

The picture below is somewhat typical of the crude beginnings of a project. This is about the third day of work on a large residential project in Reno. I have spirited away one guy to run the larger machine, separating out boulders by size as I played around with actually setting the rocks into soil. Meanwhile, the other guys were finishing a project elsewhere.

(click any image to enlarge)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA   Eventually of course, the entire crew showed up and we were wholly underway, a glorious sensation to me as our attentions bent to newer projects. Soon, we would be doing the “mid project” Phase 2-3 work of final rock placement, irrigation and planting. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I would always collect the final check on a walk-through with owners, listening to any corrections they may have had from punch lists we both created and/or listening to them rave. The latter was always my favorite. 😉

Detail In The Work Itself

“The devil is in the details……..” .but so are some excellent angels.

Eventually, what I found was a profound sense of feeling well-served on the parts of clients who almost daily checked out our progress and who expressed the severest appreciation for how we handled details. I learned, for example, to actually work to produce details someone would admire. Rather than shy away from difficult aspects of projects, I learned to embrace them instead. For example, this rock grouping clustered around a gas-fed fire pit we designed and installed was never even spoken of during the original design consultation. I just went and thought it was too cool not to try.001 The “trick” here is the absolute snugness of the bricks which were custom cut to nestle in next to these boulders with zero tolerance for clearance. It made them look far more natural. (double click to get a better idea of how perfect I required the fit.) SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERA The owner later lamented he overspent on chaise lounges and bar seating in his back patio “because everyone wants to go sit on the dam rocks!” 😉 (He said it with a smile, let me add, lol).

Below is a picture 20 feet away from the fire pit, illustrating how I would use the same “snug” technique with boulders I would insert to break up boring and predictable lines on the outer edge of the patio. I always thought it gave a far more “lived-in” look and seemed incredibly more interesting if not natural. 001

Here is the same patio, looking out at a small hill we created in order to supply the owner’s requested waterfall, creek and fish pond.

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A view of the same project from a different angle, looking back………..

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More detail, this time merely providing an interesting edge, snugging up nicely to the concrete border.

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This entryway to a home – below – was a process of gluing bricks onto the existing very bare concrete left by the builders. Note, on enlargement, the circle pattern we cut and forced into the mix right at the door way itself. I wasn’t asked for this, either, but this detail proved a winning formula and honestly didn’t take too long to manufacture.

From the very front:

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A better look, when enlarged, from the side.

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“Detail” also took place at the very end of jobs, during the cleanup I mentioned I was forced to avoid. 😉  (kicking and screaming………not). Below is the day of completion at the finishing touches around a small pond in the woods we created by falling trees, digging a hole, and trying to make it look as natural as possible. In the end, this is probably the best detailed finishing I ever saw. It looks like it’s been there forever.

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Inasmuch as most of our larger work looked something like the below about mid-way through, the “End” so often seemed so remote. Imagine all the work involved and then imagine not attending to the small stuff.

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But rescue is at hand by some willing labor and the good vibes we always tried to support.

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Great Walls

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

(I have adapted an older post into what follows in a bit more detail. Please note that one can click on the pictures themselves to enlarge them.)

No, these walls are 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. They result in a raised area, 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 often offer almost breathtaking purely artistic license………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.

I often semi-gag when I realize how incredibly raw things began on these projects………

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Here is the eventual disposition of that dirt above………….

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.

Meanwhile, some “walls” can show an investment in the motion and kinetic energy of water, while still retaining the earth behind……..

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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 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.

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From the front, the items below began quite a bit less tidy………..note the trees on the berm are all blooming cherries. It makes quite a show in Spring….all bloomed out.

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This became this………………

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The above were right next to a walled hole in the ground – to the left – which we attempted to make solemn, quiet and reflective for our very devout Catholic client……. Bo wanted his very own personal “Grotto” – a challenge I could not resist. 😉

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Sometimes, we make walls which aren’t totally walls, lol:

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This is a “Hybrid”, owing to the available material left behind………….these boulders perform the trick as a “rockery” – semi-retaining a fairly serious slope and providing anchors where the roots of the eventual plantings knit a more serious retaining capacity.

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This was always one of those gigs where you felt like it was so much fun, we were stealing money. 😉 I mean, the toys I got to use!!

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“Planted up”, we can see the sensibility involved:

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Not too shabby considering the origins………….. lol, the infamous “After-Before Series”.

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Complete with a killer Hot Tub………. 😉

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Boneheads make the purtiestest landscapes.

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