on the stony path: herman de vries

11 March – 1 July 2017

GroundWork’s Spring season 2017 saw the first exhibition in the UK of the work of herman de vries. Then aged 85, herman de vries, is a grand figure in the world of art and environment, renowned for his sensitive attention to nature.

This exhibition was all about stones and earth, presenting the artist’s assemblages of the world’s natural resources. The title, on the stony path, is a reference and tribute to another great artist, Ian Hamilton Finlay, (1925-2006). He had famously established a remarkable artistic garden in the Scottish borders. At one time he called it called Stony Path, from the name of the original farm-house. Now it is better known as Little Sparta. But herman’s harking back to its old name is something of a tribute and memorandum from one artist to another.

Earth museum

herman transformed remarkably varied soil samples from the Seychelles Islands and the Jura Mountains into rubbed drawings. Through these he reveals the range of colours which are otherwise hidden beneath the undergrowth. A framed lapidarium on the wall transformed what began as a seemingly random collection of the world’s pebbles into a little display of wondrous order and variety. A floor installation of precisely cut stones from the Steigerwald became a museum for a lost landscape. Many of these stones have since disappeared, covered by development. The exhibition included his life’s work, the comprehensive ‘earth museum catalogue’, privately published and for sale as a limited edition.

herman de vries’s studio is in nature

herman de vries always says that his studio in nature. (see the film below where he talks about the Steigerwald) He is Dutch, but lives in northern Bavaria, in a region called Unterfranken (Lower Franconia). His home is on the edge of the Steigerwald natural park. For his work he collects specimens of all kinds of natural materials and plants, and presents them in ordered grid forms. For this exhibition, he concentrated on stones and earth, creating a kind of natural museum in its most direct form.

herman follows his own intuition and experience. he prefers to wonder at nature’s randomness and chance and wants to create for us a sense that we are part of nature, integrated with it rather than a separate species.

A film for the opening

A film of herman de vries in the Steigerwald woodland which he made for the opening of ‘on the stony path’. Film and editing by Joanna Schwender.
Watching the herman de vries film at groundwork
Watching herman’s film upstairs at GroundWork Gallery

Both poetry and measure live in his work

herman de vries is a poet both with words and images. From his beginnings as a scientist, he has retained some of the attitudes from that profession. He has a totally investigative attitude to the world. He constantly experiments and has a great clarity of presentation, with an interest in measured geometry and precision.

herman trained as a natural scientist, but was then part of the Dutch arm of the international Zero group in the 1960s, a movement prioritising silence, simplicity, order. At that time he made works which were entirely white. He brought that restraint to his vision of nature, so the sense of order in this work is an artistic one based on repetition, and minimal abstract aesthetics, combined with the precision of science.

This is a new work made in 2016 by the artist, a collection of earth drawings from his local region, the Steigerwald of North Bavaria

Venice Biennale 2015

In 2015, herman de vries was the artist representing the Netherlands in the national pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Since then he has exhibited in France, Switzerland, Germany, Czech Republic. He continued with major exhibitions for 2017 at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon in Spain, at Ludwig Gallery Oberhausen, Labs Gallery Bologna. In spite of growing fame, he is adamant that his name should always be spelt modestly, in the lower case. www.hermandevries.org