Art Outdoors - Energy in the Air

Art outdoors is a state of mind. It is a garden, large or small;
it is public and it is hidden; it is constructed out of the earth or insinuated into it.
Art outdoors gains its life and its energy from the air.

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Public Art

Among the earliest forms of "outdoor art" are the petroglyphs and other forms of rock art: ancient carvings and paintings on rock faces that illustrate human use of the earth as a canvas. There are particularly fine concentrations of rock art throughout New Mexico . . . especially near Galisteo, outside of Taos and, most spectacularly, on Albuquerque's West Mesa.

A modern, urban response to the irrepressible need to convey messages in a public forum is the flourishing presence of graffiti in our cities. More accepted and admired, perhaps, are murals and frescoes painted on community walls. Public art is art available to everyone. It willingly subjects itself to all opinions. The City of Albuquerque's Public Art Program remote with artwork throughout the city (some controversial, making it all the more interesting), is a model for the country. For example, Terry Conrad's Nob Hill Gateways mark the historic Route 66/Nob Hill district with tremendous energy and panache! In Santa Fe, there are literally hundreds of pieces of artwork in public places . . . from frescoes to sculpture to fountains and murals. Recent additions include Dave McGary's "The Founding of Santa Fe" in Peralta Park and E. Pedro Romero's tile work "El Torreon de El Torreon."

We asked artists to give us their thoughts about creating outdoor art, about working outdoors or about spaces that are themselves works of art or that are built to contain or display art outdoors. Understandably, a common thread is the weather and a natural world not controllable by human beings and which make their imprint on the artist or the work of art itself. There is an impulse to import art into a natural environment. The success of creating a piece of art, designed to harmonize with the land, relies on the artist's sense of that landscape.

Elliot Norquist

When I walk in the landscape I am drawn to certain places—drawn by either some feeling about a place, or by the natural features there: a spring, a group of trees, a clearing, or just an intimate space bounded by its own forms. These places are sites and as such become potential sculptures. My work attempts to describe the nature of a site. I usually use contrasting elements to set off the site as a frame might set off a photograph or a painting. I make the equivalent of the frame. As in Japanese landscape, the irregular patterns of rock forms are best described by the geometry of raked sand--the element in contrast. I am always searching for gardens in the landscape, and then making what I need to point them out. A small set of marks to sit the viewer down or to show a new space. Something as simple as a path, a cairn or bench can be enough. The pieces are quiet, the subject is rich and beautiful. I am only the guide who creates the context.


Norquist sculpture
E.E. Norquist
"North View"
Painted steel
8' x 3' x 4'
Goodnight horses

Veryl Goodnight "Freedom Horses"
Bronze / 1.25 Lifesize
Lely Resort-Naples, FL

Veryl Goodnight

In 1990 Lely Development Corporation commissioned five 1 1/4 lifesized running horses for the entrance to their luxury country club community in Naples, Florida. The "Freedom Horses" were surrounded by an outstanding setting of rock and waterfalls and were unveiled in 1992. John Agnelli, Lely's president, estimates that the horses received in excess of 40,000 visitors in the first eleven months. He feels that my sculpture has not only given Lely a unique advantage of recognition, but that the "Freedom Horses" have indeed become a landmark for Naples.

The sense of pride the residents of Lely have for "their horses" and the worldwide recognition Lely has received are immeasurable. Public art can say much more for the corporation or institution than volumes of advertising. These factors, along with the excellent sculptures available today, are behind the many new monuments we are seeing.

Landscaping trends that encourage outdoor living spaces and water conservative planting have also had an impact on sculpture. Today's gardeners are increasingly sophisticated and the addition of fine art to their creations is part of the evolution. Small bronze sculptures priced under $1500 and mounted on pedestals can add greatly to an outdoor "room." Life-sized animals, adult figures and sculptures of children can easily be incorporated into any landscape, and a simple waxing twice a year is all the maintenance that is needed.

In my own garden, there are twenty sculptures; I enjoy them most with changing weather. Rain, snow frost and sunset reflections add new dimensions. I jokingly tell visitors that bronzes are drought tolerant and freeze resistant—but any gardener will tell you, this is no joke!


Beverly Magennis

As the weather warms up in the spring I long to be outdoors. So it was an easy and liberating transition to make when my exterior mosaic work demanded that I work outside from May through October. Outside, there is an exhilarating feeling that the whole world is a playground with unlimited possibilities for creative exploration. The issue of scale changes dramatically with the integration of an artwork into an environment which includes trees, buildings and specific landscape considerations. Often the site for a piece will not only determine what is required for it, but will be the inspiration for the piece itself. The lack of scale limitations allows for projects that take long periods of time to complete, works that demand a commitment to a daily discipline of physical labor. There is a lack of intimacy with objects created outdoors compared to those made in the studio.

Magennis mosaic
Beverly Magennis
Detail of tiled house exterior in Albuquerque

Details change—marks and textures that might be important elements of smaller works often disappear outdoors. The energy in the air is different. I am acutely aware of the weather and how it will determine how long and under what conditions I work on any particular day. Traffic, children playing, dogs barking or many hours of little noise at all provide an atmosphere that is completely different from the controlled studio environment.

In the spring and early summer my energy is high and I work long hours. With the heat of mid to late summer, it is necessary to begin work at sun-up and to stop after 1pm. There is something very appealing and leveling about enduring and adapting to the elements. At the end of the workday it is not only what I produced that interests me, but under what conditions I produced it.

An example of Beverly Magennis' tile work can be seen at The Albuquerque Museum. During your visit to the Museum's Sculpture Garden, look for Magennis' mosaic Pathway, a collaboration with artist Robert Stout.

Allan Houser Art Park

The Allan Houser Art Park at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum was dedicated in August 1993 for the generations to come. It was lifted up as a special place of honor and of meditation. The Art Park is a commitment to embrace "thankfulness to the Creator," the essence of the vision statement for the future campus of the Institute of American Indian Arts to be built south of Santa Fe.

The space affords opportunities for Indian artists to exhibit works of large size and for many to create pieces especially for the Park's unique expanse. Other artists who work with Indian people will also have the occasion to show their works in the Art Park. For example, Jesús Moroles will show his large granite works in a special installation this summer when he works with IAIA development programs to benefit students and faculty.

The only permanent art installation in the Art Park is Evolution, created by the Park's namesake, Allan Houser. It was unveiled as an example of innovation in sculpture and a challenge to all artists to do what they are driven and inspired to create.

Future exhibitions will reveal the diverse nature of sculptural forms in the art of Indian people and its historical precedents. Totems, earth works, architectural forms, installations are but some of the artwork to be experienced at the Art Park.

Tibetan Prayer Flags

From artists such as Christo, Europe's great master of Environmental Art, we have learned that it is not only bronze or stone or hard sculpture that "communicates" with nature and weather or which are enhanced by the elements. Tibetan Prayer Flags, accepting of all weather, are hung on special and ceremonial occasions: annually for the Tibetan New Year, the Dali Lama's birthday, when starting a new venture. On each banner is printed a prayer; each of the five banner colors signifies a different element. As one prays, the elements of sun, wind, rain, earth and space touch the flags . . . imprinting both the flags and the prayers. All year long, prayer banners are caressed by the elements outside of Project Tibet, just behind the galleries at 403 Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Visitors are always welcome.

Thanks to the artists for their thoughts and photographs.

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide Calendar - Volume 3, Number 3

Related Pages

DAV Vietnam Veterans National Memorial article
The Lightning Field article
Petroglyph National Monument article

Star Axis: A Theatre in the Sky article
David Schwindt: Diary of a Painter article
Frederico Vigil: The Art of Buon Fresco article

Collector’s Resources

The Evolving Genre of Land Art in New Mexico Feature Article by Suzanne Sbarge |


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