Interview: Ephemeral Land Art by a Man Who Discovered His Creativity in Nature

ice installation Richard Shilling

‘Sunrise Solstice Sentinel'

What’s the installation that has the most significance for you personally?

It's difficult to pick just one but again the deepest significance is always when the revelations I find are unexpected and hard-won.

In the winter of 2010, there was an especially long cold spell that has not been repeated before or since when I have been creating nature art. Daytime and nighttime temperatures were consistently below zero for 10 days across the winter solstice that year. This meant that I could create sculptures each day from ice and snow that would not melt by the following day. Living near the prevailing westerlies from the Atlantic meant this was a really unusual occurrence.

I created several ice discs each day until I had enough of them to create a sentinel high up on the hill where I first discovered Goldsworthy's stone sculpture and therefore where it all began for me.

I found a large icicle nearby that also would not be as large as it was without the extended cold spell and set everything up to photograph it lit by the moon on the solstice itself. I returned before dawn the next morning to witness the rising sun and how it lit each disc orange in turn as it rose.

This was all an extended mindful and meditative experience designed to draw me deeper into what was happening in the environment and to me at the time. That is really what this is all about for me. A method to feel everything more deeply in my soul and to experience the essence of things all around.

ice installation Richard Shilling

‘Moonrise Solstice Sentinel'

Richard Shilling Land Artist

‘St. Bees Stack'

Where do you see your art going in the next 5 years? 

What is important to me throughout what I do is the ephemeral nature of our environment, the cycles, how everything is in flux and ever changing and how all existence is transient. Much of what I have described here was only witnessed by me and beyond my images, a viewer of my work will not get to see and feel the process itself, before and after and all the wonderful discoveries that can be made. A photograph is only one moment in time and there is so much more that can be felt.

It is the magic of raw ephemeral nature art that I want to bring to more people so it isn't just the artists themselves that get to experience these epiphanies. I am working more and more on creating larger scale and longer lasting installations.

So much land art and commissioned work made for festivals and other events lack some of the most important aspects you discover when using ephemeral materials. Many artists use wood, stone, and other long-lasting materials for these projects and for me, much of the real magic is lost when less ephemeral materials are used.

Over the last couple of years I been working more extensively on larger installations with the express intention to bring the magic of nature's ephemerality into this work and therefore a much wider live audience. It is a challenge as it is much more difficult to create work that will last for days while not using any artificial non-foraged materials such as wire and nails and introducing materials that change and degrade over a shorter period. It isn't always possible but it is very important to me to use only what I find in nature and to be pure to the essence of this art form. I have had some success with this despite the challenges and I look forward to bring the experience of real ephemeral nature art to as many people as possible including inside to the gallery space.

Richard Shilling land artist

‘Beech Leaf Water Box'

Richard Shilling Land Art


You also teach workshops on Land Art. What is the most satisfying part of teaching as opposed to creating your own work?

It's very rewarding. Coming from a place where I didn't think I was creative I particularly enjoy showing others who also don't think they are creative that they're wrong just by giving them permission to play.

If you ask a bunch of 8-year-olds to get creative they all will without hesitation, but amongst a group of adults, there will always be quite a few who think they can't or don't know how. They've had it taught out of them along the way in my opinion and they just need to be given some freedom.

This is especially so with nature art, the techniques I teach are unique and easily accessible to all and result in striking installations. Just like the experience all human beings share when they are sat in front of an open fire there's also something particularly unifying about creating art with natural materials in a natural setting that is built into our DNA.

We spent much more time in the past doing just that in the societies we used to live in than we do in our modern lives, but give me a group of people in nature and some time, and before long we will bond together into a little community while creating little magical sculptures.

I really believe that the whole process reconnects us back to nature and our natural way of being. When we lived in hunter-gatherer societies we understood our environment, lived in harmony with it and as a consequence lived mindfully and in the moment. The teaching of my nature art is a technique that can take you back to that mode of living even if for a short while.

It's a very satisfying thing to share with people and I consider it an extension of creating my own work and not a separate thing. And it is always fascinating to see what each new group do with my ideas and how it inspires them and what they end up making. Every group has their own dynamic and the end results are always fresh and new.

Richard Shilling Land Artist

‘Nexus Flipped'

Richard Shilling land art

‘Leaf Lightning'

You are also very supportive of children learning about land art. Can you tell us about the motivation for starting Land Art for Kids and what you hope children (and parents) get out of it?

I think that the benefits of finding a way to commune with nature are universal and nature art is but one way to reap those benefits. It's about being human and age does not matter so all the things I said apply to children and adults alike. So Land Art for Kids is for kids of all ages from 0 to 100+!

Unfortunately, there is a generation of kids who are becoming more and more sedentary and don't have the opportunity to spend time in nature. In fact, as time has passed there are kids that were brought up that way and are now becoming parents themselves and are fearful and distrustful of the outside world.

With Land Art for Kids we teach at schools and with kid's groups in an effort to foster a love for nature and hope to inspire a lifelong interest in the world around us by showing them what you can do with nature and what is right there in front of you all the time, you just need to open your eyes and see. But sometimes it's the adults that need their senses opened so we also regularly appear at events and festivals throughout the year and try and do the same with whole extended families by getting to the parents and grandparents through the kids, a child may want to join in with us and will drag mum and dad, grandma, and grandpa to join in with them. The reluctant soon are absorbed into the throng and will be building all sorts of constructions from rocks, leaves, sticks and whatever else. It really is something for everyone, we just try to bypass any cynicism and give you a chance to let your inner child out whatever age you are. That's Land Art for Kids, a guilt-free zone where anyone gets to play and I'm very passionate about it.

Richard Shilling Land Art

‘Laurel Leaf Spiral'

Richard Shilling environmental art

‘Norwegian Maple Autumn Fire Wheel'

Any upcoming projects you’d like to share?

As you can tell by now I'm on a bit of a mission to share with anyone and everyone all the joys I have found within this activity. I've recently begun a new project called Land Art for Health to bring the same universal benefits to all who need it in our modern world.

As many of us become more disconnected from nature and more obsessed with technology and live more and more stressful lives the need to have a time-out and reconnect back to nature and our inner selves becomes even more urgent and necessary.

The website has only just been launched and will certainly appreciate any support that anyone can give us as we try and spread the word far and wide.

And lastly, I am delighted to tell you that I have been invited as a guest artist to the Llano Earth Art Festival (LEAF) in Texas this coming March.

I will be hosting workshops throughout the festival and for a few days beforehand too. I am really looking forward to sharing my passion and philosophy with as many people as I can.

Richard Shilling Land Artist

‘Floating Berries'

Richard Shilling: Website | Facebook | Instagram | Flickr

My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Richard Shilling.

Related Articles:

Richard Shilling’s Lovely Land Art

Spectacular Works of Land Art Celebrate the Beauty of Nature

Spectacular Land Art Installations Complement the Beauty of the Irish Countryside

Interview: Land Artist Walter Mason

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Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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