Rock in Art

Rock in Art
I will be speaking about natural and man-made rock, not the music genre. From pre-historic days to today, rock has been used in art and architecture for its durability and beauty. I will discuss.

Around the world, nature's beauty abounds with mountains, rocks, stones, pebbles, and sand. From the highest peaks to the bottom of oceans, most people have encountered some form of rocks.

Early cultures may have used stones as tools, decoration, weapons, or in rituals. Rock consists of stone and minerals. Stones are cut from rock.

Today, cairns are rocks stacked to create art, but in ancient times, they were built to honor the dead, or as a marker on land. 'Cairn' comes from the Scottish Gaelic word 'carn'.

In nature, there are colors that boggle the imagination. Red ochre is believed to be the first color used in paint. A combination of clay, sand, and ferric oxide, it was used as far back as 300,000 years ago in African Middle Stone Age, 50,000 years ago in Australia, and 40,000 years ago in Asia.

Yellow jasper was used in ancient Egypt in "Fragment of a Queen's Face" (1390-1336 BC). It can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.

Porphyry is a purple stone containing crystals of feldspar quarried in the Egyptian desert and prized by ancient Romans for sculpture and architecture.

The former Met Breuer building in NYC (2016-2020), soon to transition to the Frick Collection, has wonderful basalt stairs made from a hard, black volcanic rock.

When natural stone becomes inaccessible, expensive, rare, or out of fashion, that's when the artist or artisan steps in to fabricate a facsimile.

Even the ancient Egyptians poured concrete into blocks for the pyramids. Terracotta was used outside of central Italy for utilitarian as well as decorative objects, where marble was not available.

Bricks were made from clay and used for building materials. The oldest are mud bricks or air-dried bricks which also contain straw as a binder.

Today, reclaimed bricks are prized as being for their strength and longevity. Facades of buildings in New England (and elsewhere) can be dated from the position in which bricks were laid (alternating long and short).

Pablo Picasso was said to have used sand as a medium to draft concepts and draw designs.

Japanese abstract artist Kazuo Shiraga, best known for his 'foot painting' embarked on performance art with "Challenging Mud" in 1955. Wearing only a loincloth, he struggled with large mounds of earth. It was documented in photography and film for posterity.

Land/environmental art is a wonderful way to celebrate Mother Earth. From Robert Smithson's "Spiral Jetty" (1970) made of black basalt and earth in Utah, to Andy Goldsworthy's "Roof" (2005) made from slate (rock) at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, enjoy the magic and beauty of nature!

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This content was written by Camille Gizzarelli. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Camille Gizzarelli for details.