Richard Shilling (a.k.a. escher1) is a sculptor, photographer and filmmaker working in the field of land art.
Land art involves making sculptures using only natural materials gathered near to where the sculpture is made. Many of them will last only a few short minutes before the elements sweep them away. Richard attempts to capture the most vital and vibrant moment of each sculpture in a photograph.
He makes his sculptures in beautiful natural places, particularly in Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire, but has also created sculptures in Scotland and the Himalayas.
Tell us a wee bit about yourself.
I’m Richard Shilling and I live in Lancaster in the North-West of England. I was brought up in the country and would spend endless days exploring the woods and fields around my childhood home. I’m an IT manager by day but I need to spend as much time as I can in the outdoors: walking, exploring and creating. That’s the way I’ve been my whole life. I didn’t study art at school and never really knew I had any potential to be an artist. But ever since the cork came out of the bottle I have been consumed by the need to express myself in this way.
How did you begin your foray into the world of land art?
A number of years ago I moved from the South-East of England to the North-West. I was out on the nearby hills one day and came across a fascinating structure made from stone. There seemed to be no practical purpose for it and I was intrigued as to what it was. Eventually I found out they were made by Andy Goldsworthy so I bought one of his books and was absolutely entranced. I studied Goldsworthy’s artwork in detail. I tried to recreate some of his work, almost like serving an apprenticeship with a master. I wanted to see what he had discovered by following in his footsteps. I found out there is much more to land art than is first apparent. You can’t simply “copy” a sculpture, you need to understand nature — its cycles and processes, how materials change and grow. From that point on I discovered my own voice and a need to express it.
Educate us on your artistic methods; what’s the physical process like and why do you love it?
The process involves just wandering somewhere without any preconceived ideas. I will see a shapely rock or a beautiful leaf and it will inspire me to make something with it. The important part is the being there, the seeing of nature with open eyes and heart. Land art just allows you to immerse yourself even deeper in those things. The goal is to open my eyes more fully to what is there by setting myself the challenge of creating something from the materials I find. I have learnt endless things about thorns, how leaves change and so much more. Every time I go out and make something I discover new and wonderful things about nature. That is why I love it.
Tell us about your affinity for natural materials and the decidedly ecological nature of land art. Does this translate into your personal style and home also?
It’s the ephemeral nature of land art that really appeals to me. There is a point a sculpture reaches where it is at its most vibrant and it is then that I take the pictures and it is often just before it completely falls apart. There is a tension and vividness revealed through their delicateness. I think this is an analogy for life. Life creates order and beauty from basic building blocks and then they return back to dust once again.
Just as I seek to learn about natural places and materials I also want to learn about the cycles and processes too, and the ephemeral nature of land art helps me to do that through learning how things change and degrade. The more I do it the more conscious I become of our connection with nature, and how everything is intertwined and interconnected and how important it is that we do everything we can to reduce our impact. I hope in some small way that my work communicates some of that. But it can be as simple as seeing a leaf and thinking it is beautiful — it just follows from there. As for my home, I do have quite a number of leaf boxes, balls and spirals dotted about the place!
What handmade possession do you most cherish?
I have a small collection of Nepali/Tibetan mandalas and Buddhist paintings or Thangka. One in particular was painted by Avaya Lama who is a renowned Buddhist monk and artist. It is very beautiful and sits proudly on my wall.
Do you have any advice for budding artists who want to give land art a go?
I try to encourage everyone I can to discover the joys of making land art. I have a website called Land Art for Kids, but it isn’t just for children: there are loads of ideas on there for anyone of any age to try their hand at making natural art sculptures. But most of it is about just getting out there and looking — finding the beautiful, colourful and intricate things in nature, and for them to inspire you. If you make something from them then all the better!
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Land art is about the doing, not the viewing of the end result. If you have any sort of love for nature then I encourage you to make your own. A few hours spent somewhere studying the materials you find and the place you are in can be magical, calming and peaceful. You will discover many things that you wouldn’t expect and each discovery will spur you on to make more. Don’t just take my word for it — go out there and see for yourself.