by Connie Oswald Stofko
Shayne Dark doesn’t want you to be intimidated by his artwork.
Dark took a break last week from installing Tanglewood, the blue artwork you can now see on the front lawn of the Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens, to talk about his art and how it connects with nature and gardens.
His works are being showcased at the Botanical Gardens in a collaboration between the Albright-Knox Public Art Initiative and the Botanical Gardens.
Dark’s works are displayed both inside and outside the Botanical Gardens, 2655 South Park Ave., Buffalo. Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily through Oct. 4.
Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors (ages 55 and older) and students (ages 13 and older with ID), $5 for children ages 3-12 and free for Botanical Gardens members and children 2 and under.
Growing up, the Canadian artist spent summers at a cottage north of Ottawa. The Ottawa River flowed past to a paper mill, and in the spring, logs being sent down river to the mill would get trapped and tangled.
That was the inspiration for the Tanglewood piece.
Just as you don’t need an art or gardening background to see the beauty in a field of dandelions, you can enjoy Tanglewood simply for its color.
“Color is the easiest thing to enjoy,” Dark said. “It’s emotive. It does something to us.”
While you can spend time investigating the piece’s “physicalness,” its aesthetics, its intellectual properties and the ideas behind it, Dark said, you don’t need to contemplate all its layers of meaning. You don’t even have to know it’s made of wood.
“I like people to like it because it’s blue,” he said.
It’s public art that can be enjoyed quickly as you drive by.
“You can take a breath, have a bit of nature and then come back into our busy lives,” Dark said. “You can enjoy it all day” if you have time to stop for a visit, “or you can drive by and get a moment.”
And while taking time to contemplate the intellectual properties of contemporary art is wonderful, beauty is important, too, he said.
“I think in the contemporary art field, beauty has a bad rap,” Dark said.
Dark creates images of nature and often uses natural materials such as branches, limbs and roots of trees.
Windfall, which hadn’t been installed yet when I visited, consists of the gnarls of apple trees suspended from the ceiling. It tells a story that gardeners can relate to: grafting of apple trees. People have long grafted limbs of one type of tree to another type to certain benefits, such as resistance to pests, Dark said, and a gnarl forms at the joint. Wind blows the apples down, and the ones that land on the ground– the windfall– are used for cider.
The sequence of growing and ripening and falling is embodied in the gnarls suspended close to the floor.
The Dropstones on the front lawn mimic the huge boulders that can be found in some forests. The boulders were left behind when the glaciers receded.
“People wonder, ‘How did those big stones get here?'” Dark said. “We’re drawn to those things.”
His art appeals to gardeners as well as art lovers, and you’ll like it “if you like nature and the hand of man– because that’s what this is,” Dark said, gesturing to the gardens in which his art is displayed. It’s nature, shaped by humans.