Titles and Descriptions


Titles and descriptions of the works contained within this website. All works copyright 2014, Alan Sonfist.



LANDSCAPES

In Sonfist’s landscapes, vast seas of time are compacted into tiny spaces. These projects are often re-creations of the environment as it existed before man’s interference. For example, with his Time Landscape in downtown Manhattan, Sonfist replanted the kind of forest which once blanketed all of New York City. Man had long since obliterated nature in favor of skyscrapers and concrete. Sonfist claimed a section of land and returned it to its primal state.

“In the vaunted works of Art, the master stroke is Nature’s part.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Labyrinth of 1001 Endangered Oak Trees within a Stone Ship

1994
Stones, native plants, earth
Langeland, Denmark
2 acres

A recreation of a stone ship used in Denmark during the Viking period to protect the dead surrounds endangered Oak trees which would have been used to make the original Viking ships. The oak trees planted inside of the stone ship are in the vein structure of the oak leaf.

Birth by Spear

2010
Indigenous plants, terracotta tiles, stainless steel
Tuscany, Italy
1 acre

The Birth by Spear reintroduced the original olive trees to Tuscany in 2011. Through research, he found the original olive trees along with tress which would have coexisted with them two thousand years ago. Surrounding the forest are Renaissance terracotta tiles that were specifically fired in kilns from the 14th century. The spear at the center of the environmental landscape is an allegory for Minerva giving birth to the olive tree by thrusting a spear into the earth. Inscribed on tiles were comments from the community of Tuscany, young to old, expressing their meaning of the olive.

Charlemagne Fortification

1995
Native plants, stone, and wood
Aachen, Germany
Sculpture Collection in Ludwig Museum, Germany

The stone wall is representational of a fortification that Charlemagne made around Aachen. Within the fortification is a Celtic fortification, with vegetation from the corresponding time period. As the walls once protected humans, it is now necessary for them to protect the Carolingian forest.

Circles of Life

1985
Bronze, trees, and earth
28 x 50 feet
Kansas City Art Institute in Kansas City, Missouri

Centennial sculpture for the Art Institute represents all endangered trees of the area casted in bronze, surrounded by a young prairie and forest of endangered species that were meant to eventually engulf the sculpture over time, making it disappear into the forest.

Circles of Time

1986
Indigenous vegetation, bronze, and stone
Tuscany, Italy
3 acres
Collection of Villa Celle, Italy

Circles of Time, that began in 1986 in Villa Celle, tells a narrative history of the Tuscan landscape. Each ring represents a new milestone in land usage. The inner core represents a primeval forest before human intervention, an herbal ring represents the Etruscan use of the land, and bronze sculptures of fallen endangered trees represent the Roman gods. A wall of laurel represents Greek influence. Within the wall are small entryways that can be used to access the work. A concave geological ring contains stones collected from various elevations, positioned precisely in the ring as they existed in the mountain range so that the ring becomes a geological mimicry of Tuscany. The outer ring is composed of contemporary agricultural use of the land: olives and wheat.

Natural/Cultural Landscape of Tampa, Florida or the Curtis Hixon Park

1993 – 1995
Natural vegetation, concrete, steel, wood, and water
Tampa, Florida
7 acres

Concrete pathways running through the park are in the shape of indigenous trees to the Tampa area. The entrance to the park is a mural visualizing the transformation of the area over time from dunes, to warehouses, and eventually, skyscrapers. Throughout the park, there are islands of ancient landscapes representing the unique ecological niches of the Tampa region. The seating areas echo the ancient leaf patterns, the trash disposal containers are cast surfaces of the original. The entryway has four columns representing the Cardinal directions, each covered in ancient indigenous plants. The park becomes a reflection of the narrative environmental history of the city.

Natural/Cultural Landscape of Indianapolis at the Eiteljorg Museum

1991-92
Bronze entranceway, native plants, and concrete
Indianapolis, Indiana
50 x 400 ft

The long buried White River is echoed in the shape of the concrete pathway adjacent to the Eiteljorg museum while the vegetation beside it is a wave of history of the ancient indigenous plants of the area.

Labyrinth of South Bend, Indiana

1986
Indigenous Vegetation
South Bend, Indiana
1 acre

The Labyrinth of South Bend, Indiana uses indigenous vegetation that would have existed in each area of the city. The river that would have ran through the city now flows through the piece in the form of a dry riverbed.

LaQuinta Nature Trail

1992
Indigenous plants
LaQuinta, California
3.5 miles

The LaQuinta Nature Trail commissioned by the Department of Waterworks CF is a three and a half mile walk visualizing the history of the land from an oasis to the zeroscaping of the future. The path demonstrates how humans have shaped the land agriculturally, with a grid of palm trees shading a citrus tree in the center, colonially, with flowering bushes from the time of the Spanish, and contemporaneously with the formal clipped hedges of suburban estates. The trail ends with a snake unfolding itself made of native flowers that require almost zero watering.

Lost Falcon of Westphalia

2004
Indigenous plants and stone
Westphalia, Germany
Estate of Richard Casimir Karl August Robert Konstantin, 6th Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg

The Lost Falcon of Westphalia, 2004, is a Celtic fortification protecting the pre-ice age landscape that would have existed ten thousand years ago. The specimens used were selected due to their ability to survive with the rising temperatures of today.

Pool of Virgin Earth

1975
Stone, clay, earth
Lewiston, New York
50 ft. diameter
A sealed clay pool filled with virgin earth was placed on top of toxic soil in Lewiston, New York. The seeds were naturally blown in by the surrounding environment and the pool developed into a small oasis of the natural habitat. Eventually, the park system used this method to cover the entire site.

DRAWINGS

Lost Falcon

(see "Lost Falcon" in Landscapes)

Time Landscape

#12
Secret Waters of New York City
graphite on rag paper
1969
22x30 in.
The ancient waterways that existed beneath New York City.

#13
Secret Waters of New York City
graphite on rag paper
1969
22x30 in.
Contemporary street patterns of New York over the Secret Waters of New York

#15
Bronze Protectors
mixed media
1983-84
24 x 36 in.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

(see "Time Landscape" in Landscapes)

PAINTINGS

Paintings

When he was a child, Sonfist’s fantasy world existed in the Hemlock forest near his childhood home. He would talk with the trees seeking the secrets at the heart of Nature.

Growing up caused his disconnection from this childhood empathy with nature. Only through hypnosis did the spirits of the trees resurface, inspiring a period of fertile creativity.

#1
Burning Earth of California
encaustic
burnt trees and leaves
2003
48 x 48 in.

#2
Leaves Frozen in Time
encaustic and leaves
1968
48 x 48 in.

#3
Impression of Dry River Bed
mixed media
1983
15 x 30 ft.
ARCO Research Center lobby mural, Houston, TX

Surface Memory

Surface memories are a reflection of Sonfist's childhood. He would climb trees and feel the rivers of bark and how they varied like the skin on his own body. When he returned to his childhood forest, Sonfist became aware of the different surfaces of the trees of his past and how they had changed. Each of the artworks captures the story of the tree, covering the entire circumference of young and old trees from the roots to the limbs. The specimens used are from the indigenous forests of the Northeast.

"I never saw a discontented tree. They grip the ground as though they liked it, and though fast rooted they travel about as far as we do. They go wandering forth in all directions with every wind, going and coming like ourselves, travelling with us around the sun two million miles a day, and through space heaven knows how fast and far!" John Muir

"As I caressed the trees, I saw their skin become mine." Alan Sonfist

Time Landscape

(see "Time Landscape" in Landscapes)

PHOTOGRAPHS

Photographs

Sonfist created each of these works to be as ephemeral and transient as a mist. They were left to pass away, their elements reclaimed by nature like a body decaying into earth. Each work is a reflection of the natural processes of birth, death, and rebirth.

As John Muir has said, “Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plans and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.”

These artworks no longer exist in their original state. Only their photographs survive. The secret languages of the forest and the city are exposed through these photographic essays, collected over time. Each photo landscape selects a fragile moment, which will disappear as quickly as it is photographed.

#3
Forest Micro/Macrocosm
photocollage
1970
20 x 8 in.

#4
Nature’s Crosses
photographic series
1971
33 x 42 in.

#5
Book of Leaves
photograph
1974
11 x 14 in.

#6
Nature/Culture Markings
photograph
1971
11 x 14 in.

#9-#11
Aging Leaves
photographic series
1971
8 x 30 in.

#12
Three Views of Light
photographic series
1970
10 x 24 in.

#13
Walking into Myself
photographic series
1974
44 x 14 in.

“As a child, I wanted to become my shadow.”

#16
Branch Reflecting Itself
photo collage
1970
22 x 28 in.

#17
Leaf Caressing Limbs
photograph
1990
16 x 24 in.

#18
Concrete Cross
photograph
2001
16 x 20 in.

“As I looked for geometry in nature, I would find the same geometry in urban centers.”

#20
Double Yellow Moss
photograph
1975
11 x 14 in.

#21
Nature’s Time
photograph
1977
11 x 14 in.

#22
Tree Cradling Leaf
photograph
1979
36 x 48 in.

#23
Leaf Cross
photograph
1971
24 x 36 in.

#24
Leaves Reflecting the Milky Way
photograph
1981
36 x 48 in.

#25
Finds in Snow
photographic series
1977
11 x 28 in.

#27 and 28
Leaf Painting
paint on canvas
1968
8 x 30 in.

#30
Mother Tree
photograph
1989
24 x 36 in.

Animal Fantasy

Sonfist breaks through to the primordial and becomes animal. Every culture has identified with the animal within. Hidden in all of us lies the animal, crouched, waiting. The artist taps that savage energy. His body becomes the universe as he explores the animal within.

Animal Fantasy Series
photographs
1972-1973
8 x 10 in

#8 and #9
Animal Markings, My Markings
paint and earth
1972-73
24 x 36 in.

#11 and #12
Myself as a Tree and Myself as a Leaf
photographs
1969
8 x 10 in

#13
Becoming the Animal Within
photographic series
1972-73
24 x 10 in.

Nature Culture

Nature Culture is a juxtaposition of how humans have interacted with our environment while also juxtaposing historical and contemporary ideas of nature. Even his artworks as a child instantly reminded the viewer of primordial cave paintings. Though he did not know it at the time, the major concerns of his life's work were already in place. Unlike many of the environmental artists who later joined the movement and became contemporaries, Sonfist was reconciling the relationship of Humans vs. Nature even during his childhood.

"We are made from Mother Earth, and we shall all go back to Mother Earth." Shenandoah belief

#1
Hand Interacting with Tree
photographs and live trees
1971
8 x 2 ft.

#3
Nature’s Hand
photographic series
1969
22 x 14 in.

#4
Myself Becoming One with My Tree
photographic series
1969
16 x 60 in.

#5 and 6
Portholes of Ancient Rivers of New York, 100 photographs
1999-2000
2 miles
Sponsored by the Thomas Sprengel Foundation

“The portholes are a metaphorical shadow of the city’s natural history.”

#7
Nature’s Time Sidewalk
photograph
1977
11 x 14 in.

#8
Bark/Steel
photograph
1976
11 x 14 in.

#9
Nature Culture Mirage
photograph
2000
24 x 30 in.

#10
Nature Culture Maple and Rose Pyramid
photograph
1999
16 x 20 in.

#11
Golden Cross/Yellow Line
photograph
2001
16 x 40 in.

#12
Nature’s Dripped Graffiti and Nature’s Sprayed Graffiti
photograph
2001
30 x 40 in.

#13
Monet’s Landscape and Raining Leaf
photograph
2002
30 x 40 in.

Installation View, Dokumenta VI, Kassel, Germany, 1978
The photographs visualized the four seasons in the forest, creating a time landscape of the historical forest of New York.

SCULPTURES

Animals

In his work, Alan compares humans to other animals and how they relate to our contemporary society. He explores how humans interact with other animals and the life and death of all living beings as part of his vocabulary. In creating the Army Ant environmental sculpture he had a brush with death after falling off a cliff in Central America. He then explored his own fragility and communicated it through his art.

#3
Abandoned Animal Hole
plaster
1974
3 x 22 x 8 ft
Elizabeth, New Jersey

Sonfist excavated an abandoned animal hole, exposing the damage caused by pollution. By exposing the abandoned home, he visualizes the unique structure that the animal had created.

#5
Running Dead Animal
animal, plaster, and wood
1973
4 x 6 x 2 ft.

#10 and 11
Army Ant Movements
drawings
1972-73
24 x 30 in.

A visualization of army ant movements in relationship to human movements of the city.

#12
Tracking 100 Viewers of the Whitney Museum
drawing of museums floor plan
1969
8 x 10 in.

#13 and 14
Animal Mimicking Human/Human Mimicking Animal
video/photographic series
1971
11 x 14 in.

#16
Frozen Fish Released
fish in ice
1973
6 x 6 x 12 in.

#17
Snail Habitat
snails, algae, and water
1970
24 x 24 x 24 in.
Institute of Contemporary Art London

Bronze

Sonfist created these artworks from natural materials, and then transplanted them into urban environments. We see nature seizing territory back from the city’ we have a rare opportunity to witness nature triumphing over technology.

The following artworks juxtapose nature’s maternal curves with the rigid angles of human construction. As Walt Whitman has written “After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on – have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear – what remains? Nature remains.”

#29
Natural and Bronze Branches
1974
24 x 24 in.
Natural: $3,000, Bronze: $3, Purchased together.

Metal

Sonfist recognizes how a natural material has its own life and forms. His time capsules are made of different types of metals that dissolve at a constant rate, each eventually releasing the seeds contained within. He has also used metals to explore the material itself and its structure. Sonfist utilizes the flexibility of the metal to capture the curves of natural leaves.

#1 and #2
Natural and Gilded
natural and gilded leaves and twigs
1974
24 x 24 in.

Stone

These geological artworks use technology to expose the hidden dialogue of the earth. Each one of the drillings reveals the dynamic shifts of time below the urban centers in which the process was conducted. The drillings go from 0 to 150 feet below the surface level of the cities. Each contextual artwork visualizes the geological life below the site that had been hidden by concrete and asphalt. The presented sculputres are site-specific and depend entirely on the sediment and rock deposits of the region. They show the uniqueness of the geology and the land from which the drillings are made. These works of art have been commissioned for the opening exhibition for the Ludwig Museum in Koln, Germany and the Art of the Decade show in Chicago. In these works, Sonfist is capturing a specific moment in time and bringing the immense scale of geological history to light.

Wood

The works in this section mirror nature’s asymmetry. The elements appear as if they’ve fallen together, like leaves forming patterns as they tumble from the trees. Instead of imposing a mechanical human structure on them, Sonfist allows them to flow together, positioning elements as a river deposits rocks, silt and branches.

In other works, Sonfist creates a dialogue to discuss the integrity of nature. Sonfist uses found branches from forest fires to save seeds for future generations in the form of remnants of trees which contain the seeds of the endangered forest within them. The time capsules are on display in the Boca Raton art museum. The Burning forest is on permanent display in the Smart museum in Chicago, Illinois.

“Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do.”
Michel de Montaigne

#2
Element Selection
mixed media
1969
6 x 20 ft.
Adirondack Mountains, New York

#3
Element Selection Living Museum
mixed media
1974
6 x 12 ft.
Koln, Germany

#5
Element Selection
mixed media
1971
6 x 12 ft.
Terrytown, New York

#6
Natural/Cultural Element Selection of New York
mixed media
1981
6 x 15 ft.

#9
Element Selection
relics of natural fragments displayed exactly as they were found within the Koln forest
1974
6 x 12 ft.
Koln, Germany

#10
Twigs Become Photograph
mixed media
1971
24 x 36 in.

#17
The Burning Forest
1,000,000 seeds, concrete, steel, burnt wood
2002
size variable
Sponsored by Santa Fe Art Institute
In the Collection of the Princeton Museum

#19
Aging Doors Protecting Forest
doors, trees, and earth
1993
8 x 7 x 8 ft.

Through the cracks in this door one can see a landscape.

#20
Nature/Culture: Scarecrow
mixed media
1994
8 x 15 ft.

#21
Collections
mixed media
1971
1 x 8 ft.

“I would walk through the woods and select fragments. Each velvet bag became a landscape within itself.”

COLLAGES

Aves

The Aves visualizes the plight of the endangered birds of the world, with each formed by natural cultural images exploring how the birds' fragility is affected by its environment.

Natural Cultural

Sonfist demonstrates nature’s relationship to man through visual analogy. Like the Taoist masters of the past, he believes humankind to be deeply rooted in nature. Man doesn’t dominate nature; he’s a part of it. Man finds happiness when he tunes into nature’s rhythms. Even in an age replete with technology, nature and man are indivisible’ the two are entwined like vines on a branch.

Endangered Forests of the East and South, Various Seasons
mixed media
1990
42 x 60 in.

Time Landscape

#12
Gene Bank of New York
mixed media
1974
6 x 8 ft.

Relics of the forest of the world, photographed from 180 to 360 degrees. Included are genetic element selections that represent the entire forest for future generations to recreate the forest.

#14
Nature/City
photocollage
2000
48 x 60in.

#15
Gene Bank of Westchester
photocollage
1977
66 x 84 in.

SELECTED DESCRIPTIONS

Time Totem
1987
Stone and Steel
18 ft x 4 ft x 4 ft

The indigenous stone used represents the two major fault lines intersecting as well as the different strata, each reflecting on the geological history of Anchorage.

Rocky Mountain Arch
1991
Stone and Steel
16 ft x 6 ft x 5ft

The stones represent the geological history of the Rocky Mountains, ranging from the base to the tip.

Rock Monument of Buffalo
1991
Stone and natural earth
7 ft x 24 ft x 24 ft

A series of stones found from different geological periods, in an attempt to recreate the geological stratification of the stones below the museum. The angle of the stones are precisely positioned in relationship to the strata and the spacing is in proportion to how thick each layer is.

Rock Monument of Chicago
1980
10 ft x 10 x 3 ft
Commissioned for the Art of the Decade exhibition

Drilled rock corings taken from zero to 150 feet below the surface represent a geological history of Chicago.

Fallen Limbs Rising
1975
Bronze
4 x 6 x 5
Lehigh University Art Galleries loan

Bronze castings of the endangered trees of the northeast rise from the Earth, translating the fragile to a classical form.

Burning Forest of Aspen
2009
Charred wood sealed with resin
10 x 10 x 12
Collection of the Smart Museum, University of Chicago

The sealed remains of a forest fire contain within them capsules of protected seeds of the ancient forest.

Time Enclosures
1990
Seeds of a forest encased in metal
5 enclosures, 24 x 24 x 24 inches each
Collection of the Boca Raton Museum, Boca Raton

Five metal enclosures, designed to decay at different rates, contain the contents of a forest of the entire Southeast United States.

Deus ex Machina
2009
Stone, grass, wheat, and twigs encased in steel
12 x 12 x 9 ft

Each of the four columns represents a different layer of earth from its vegetation to its geological core.





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