Andy Goldsworthy makes art where he finds it — in decaying forests, in snow-covered fields, on streets where he might lie down just as a light rain is beginning. His “ghost” is his dry body shape, which you see on the wet street after he gets up.
It is natural art — made of wood, clay, leaves, flower-petals spewed into the air, and stone — “site-specific” and often mind-bogglingly ephemeral, and not just the wet street he might decorate with what looks like with his dry spot.
He’s world-famous for his stone carvings and assemblages, fallen trees that he covers with yellow leaves, in season, snowballs when winter comes. And he’s something of a muse to art documentarian Thomas Riedelsheimer. Riedelsheimer has filmed or directed a number of documentaries about artists, including “Breathing Earth,” about Japanese “wind” artist Susumu Shingu, and the film that first brought Goldsworthy to the attention of many of us, “Rivers and Tides: Andy Goldsworthy Working with Time.”
“Leaning into the Wind” is their latest collaboration, following the artist from rural Brazil, admiring the sturdy, hand-built houses, the care with which an old woman patches and polishes a homemade floor out of clay and “bull-s–t,” to the fields and hills of his home in Scotland to the stone walls overrun with forest in the hills of New Hampshire.
A favorite — “Wood Line,” a minimalist wavy path of connected logs in the Presidio, San Francisco.
Riedelsheimer listens as Goldworthy talks about “trying to understand the process is how something is made” (the hovel in Brazil) and embraces the decay in a broken-down tree line. “This sliver of trees, a burn (creek) running through it” makes him appreciate the lifetime of work decorating the fallen elms (Dutch Elm Disease) he sees, art made by nature itself.
It takes a team of craftsmen — tree surgeons, New Hampshire stone-cutters — to realize Goldsworthy’s visions. His daughter Holly also pitches in, and Goldsworthy himself seems handy with all manner of stonesaws and chainsaws. “The farm” was what inspired him, long before art school, he admits.
One fascinating sequence lets us watch a dead tree dropped and scored, by chainsaw (by the artist himself) for an installation that will move that tree into a cottage which he will then coat in clay, the tree as well, which changes appearance as the clay dries and cracks.
There’s a limit to how much interest something as static as the creative process can create on film. Films like start to feel repetitive after an hour, even if we’re seeing static works of art in the process of creation. But Riedelsheimer manages a deft portrait of a creative mind in a simple scene that unfolds under the opening credits.
Split screens capture Goldsworthy as he notices a beam of light boring a spot on the floor of that Brazilian hut. He tosses dust in the air, outlining the beam all the way through the room, changing it from moment to moment.
The objects he assembles or carves out of stone will outlive him, but it’ll only be a hint of the mind that saw beauty in the destruction, decay and rebirth that nature itself was creating all around him.
MPAA Rating: unrated
Cast: Andy Goldsworthy, Holly Goldsworthy
Credits: Directed by Thomas Riedelsheimer. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:35