There is an inherent beauty in nature that induces a sense of awe and magic. It leaves us speechless and surrounds us with the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world and generates ephemeral, fleeting sensations that are difficult to describe in words. In facing nature, we experience a diminishing emphasis on the individual self, a connectedness, a sense of encouragement to improve the welfare of others, and a deep appreciation for the complexity of life and one’s existence. Shifting our lens toward larger entities and simultaneously surrendering the ego can trigger altruism, compassion, and magnanimous behavior. Perhaps beauty serves a vital social function.
The same sense of beauty and awe can be found in art. While there are experiences that can only be described as “once in a lifetime,” such as going on an expedition to the Arctic Circle or the Amazon rainforest, an expression manifested by an artist can be equally interesting and inspiring — fulfilling the common phrase, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” The 42 acres of curated and manicured landscaping, and masterfully rendered sculptures at Grounds for Sculpture (GFS) certainly evokes a visceral sensation beyond the mundane. There is a sense of harmony and wonder.
When I arrived for the International Sculpture Center (ISC) Residency at GFS, I attempted to navigate the park without a map. While it was difficult to decipher the way back, getting lost was an enjoyable experience. There were moments where I was pleasantly surprised by hidden gems — the gems, of course, are Seward Johnson’s painted sculptures. They effuse a life-like presence that often times require a double take, both near and far. They look oddly familiar, on the account that they are based on famous impressionist paintings, but immersive due to their sculptural nature. It made me wonder how often the landscape had to be pruned to stay true to the artist’s vision, and the commitment required by the botanists and field workers. I admired the dedication and walked back feeling humbled.
Today marks the 4th day out of the 36. Alongside with my new Pittsburgh friend and fellow resident artist, Tyler Gaston, we presented our works to the ISC and GFS community. While I am getting antsy to start making, I want a clear idea of what I want to convey or create. So instead of diving right into the studio (located at the Motor’s Exhibits Building), I decided to engage with the part of the community closest to the sculptures in the park — the grounds staff. I had an opportunity to share a dialogue with the horticulturist, Janice Napoli, which led me to deepen my interest in the park’s garden cultivation and management. I made a verbal commitment to aid her and the crew with the trimming this upcoming week, in hope that in exchange, they will share their wisdom, knowledge, and life stories. As someone who always appreciated the art of “guiding nature,” I am looking forward to facilitating the harmonious environment worthy of human affection.
By Shohei Katayama