Ephemeral Arts Part 1: Peter Donnelly, Sand Painting
There are of course many, many schools of art and design ranging from abstract expression to photo-realism, and the form vs. function debate has continued for centuries at least. But something I want to focus on here is a slightly different philosophical dichotomy, that of the ephemeral versus the concrete.
Many artists working in traditional media such as painting, jewelry or sculpture create work with an express intent of that work becoming historical. And in fact the very value of the work is determined by this factor as those working with precious metals and gemstones can attest: these materials are valuable not only for their decorative qualities and scarcity but also -and perhaps primarily- for their qualities of longevity.
Yet artists also create simply for the joy of the creative process, and in this vein they often produce works which are ephemeral in nature: retaining no intrinsic concrete monetary value, but providing a brief glimpse of pure and unbridled creativity. Indeed, the actual concentration and physical issues involved in the creation of artifacts (What’s my budget? Will that part break if somebody bumps it? How do I ship it?) often inhibit the creative process.
So, I’m going to look at some folks who simply create for the joy of creation.
New Zealand artist Peter Donnelly is a poet and expressionist, and has been publicly embracing the concept of “ephemeralism” for over a decade below the New Brighton pier in Christchurch. Eighteen kilometers of beach stretch along this area of the coast, and Donnelly uses the sand as his medium: creating large elaborate patterns in the brief period between tides.
Working without measures or even the ability to clearly see the entirety of his work from ground level, the natural time constraints turn his process of creation into a rhythmic dance. His tools are a simple rake and a pole. Donnelly claims that he doesn’t work for the audience that regularly gathers on the pier above to watch his performance, although he welcomes their participation: an upturned hat lays nearby to collect coins tossed down by the viewers but otherwise he’s unpaid.
He describes himself as a “symbolist”.
In 2006, Valerie Reid produced the short film “Sand Dancer” documenting Peter Donnelly’s philosophy and art.