We recently explored the therapeutic benefits of healing gardens and nature’s impact on physical well being. But what about the importance of experiencing art, more specifically, abstract art? Why are we drawn to abstract art? What effect does it have on our brain and psyche? Some people believe that experiencing abstract or contemporary art gives our brains a type of neurological “workout” which makes us think more creatively. Creative thinking often leads to innovation. It may be that the evolutionary need for humans to innovate is one reason why we are attracted to abstract art, and one explanation as to why contemporary art makes us feel so good.
Our perceptions of art follow the same neural pathways we use to comprehend reality. These pathways help us acquire and analyze sensory information and adapt to our environment. On the timeline of visual processing within the brain, early stages identify elementary components such as light, lines, edges, simple forms, colors, and movement while later stages reconstruct the components into recognizable objects. Art functions outside of these visual restrictions of reality, allowing artists the freedom to manipulate and deconstruct objects. Movements such as Cubism and Surrealism made use of this artistic freedom.
According to brain imaging studies, viewing beautiful objects translates into pleasure. In his book, Modern Art at the Border of Mind and Brain, art historian Jonathan Fineberg explains, “‘Art, like falling in love, simultaneously disorganizes and nurtures the self toward a creative reordering.” Beautiful objects that encourage creativity can range from art to architectural spaces while attributes like contrast, curvature, and symmetry are more pleasing to the eye and may be perceived as being more beautiful.
Free from the constraints of reality, abstract art engages visual processing within the early stage where we identify only simple components like shape, color, and movement. Exercising our brains in this stage allows us to explore new cognitive connections. Looking at an abstract painting or sculpture causes our brains to attempt to identify recognizable shapes. Finding none, our brains create new connections and encourage creativity.
Our brains feel rewarded by these new connections. Interestingly, brain imaging reveals that we recognize abstract art only when we fail to recognize it as a form of representational art such as landscape, portrait, or still life. Freedom from later stage object recognition allows us to tap into our emotions. In fact, abstract art is so deeply linked to our emotions that our responses depend on our inner state at the time of exposure. Our brains are free to connect to the art on a more personal and emotional level, making it a positive and rewarding experience.
In an NPR interview on Here and Now, Fineberg explains: “Great (abstract) art has a disorganizing character to it. It can be both frightening as well as exhilarating. If you have a deep encounter with a great work of art, it’s disorganizing and you have to allow yourself to experience that in order to really grow with the work. You open up your consciousness so that everything around you looks like you never saw it before….If we look at art, especially art that we don’t understand like abstract art, it may help us re-wire the brain.”
As abstract artists, we want you to deeply connect with our work. Our modern outdoor sculpture and contemporary interior sculpture include abstract elements which we hope reward with an impactful cognitive experience. Abstraction allows our pieces to function in many different settings reflecting back the emotion and environment of each, never the same experience.
Sacred spaces have long been a part of human history. Within our modern plugged in society, we tend to overlook the connection between nature and well-being. Hospitals assume the vital task of ministering to us when we are sick or hurt and these institutions are increasingly aware of the important role nature plays in the healing process. Many of them are enlisting artists and landscape architects to design healing gardens which are accessible to staff, patients, and sometimes even the wider community.
Healing gardens, designed to connect indoors to out, are being integrated in mental health facilities, schools, hospices, and nursing homes, as well as hospitals. Some are pocket gardens cultivated in unused spaces while others are vast swaths of grass that boast walking loops, outdoor stages, and may even be open to the community at large. Access to nature is restorative to all visitors, but is especially therapeutic for patients. Many healing gardens have art integrated into the landscape design. The research of Roger Ulrich, as explained in this Scientific American article, suggests that even small doses of naturescapes can have a healing effect on patients.
We have been honored to have several of our sculptures placed in various healing or therapeutic spaces including the gardens at Ronald McDonald House in Long Beach, CA and Newbridge on the Charles, an innovative assisted-living community near Boston, MA. More recently two of our works were placed in the new Percy Malone Healing Garden at the University of Arkansas Medical Center Psychiatric Research Institute. Contributions by the namesake Malone family and Vic Jacuzzi brought the garden to life. Jacuzzi donated two of our abstract metal sculptures, Snap and Tempest, in honor of his late daughter, Stacey Jacuzzi Antes. The garden is a healing space for those dealing with mental illness.
Another therapeutic garden called Annie’s Healing Garden was recently installed at Norton Hospital in Louisville, KY. This outdoor sanctuary and sculpture garden honors nurse Anne Stuart Robinson who worked at the hospital for thirty years. Friends, family, and co-workers cooperated to bring the healing garden to fruition after Anne lost her battle with cancer in 2014. Terra Sculpture had the great pleasure of providing two modern garden sculptures, Flight and Closer, for the dedicated space designed by Luckett & Farley Architects & Engineers. Annie’s Garden is ADA accessible and designed with colors, patterns, lighting, and focal points that add texture and warmth to the space.
Kelley Parker, the landscape architect for Annie’s Garden explained, “Gardens naturally create feelings of calmness and peace. Healing gardens are important spaces in healthcare design because they offer an escape from the indoor hospital environment. The opportunity for patients to momentarily escape and be in an outdoor garden setting is an important part of healing therapy.”
Through mindful design of both the landscape and art, healing gardens can be sacred spaces that nurture the powerful connection between nature and healing.
More of our conversation with landscape architect Kelley Parker who offers her insight into the design process and importance of public healing gardens:
TS: We love this idea of healing gardens in hospitals! What was the mission for Annie’s Angel’s and the hospital in creating this space?
KP: Annie’s Healing Garden was created out of the desire to transform an existing 1300 square foot ballasted roof space into an outdoor area of respite for patients, families, and caretakers. The opportunity for patients to momentarily escape the indoor hospital environment and be in an outdoor garden setting is an important part of healing therapy.
TS: What has been the reaction of employees and patients in the hospital?
KP: The reaction has been very positive! The healing garden is named for Anne Stuart Robinson, who was a registered nurse at the hospital for over 30 years. She lost a battle with cancer and the garden serves as a memorial to her great dedication to nursing and Norton Hospital.
TS: How did you translate the mission (physically and aesthetically) into the space?
KP: With special attention given to patient ease of use, the healing garden is ADA accessible and utilizes a variety of large colorful planters to provide structure and form to the linear space. LED lights strung in Japanese maple trees add a glowing warmth to the space. The plant palette was selected to provide varying color and form throughout the seasons, including evergreen ferns to give texture in the winter. The benches incorporate a grass pattern in the seat back, while table and chair arrangements offer additional flexible seating. A recycled paver flooring system provides the opportunity to incorporate memorial engravings. The space is completed by free standing colorful metal sculptures that provide focal points within the garden.
It’s hard to believe that we are already firmly planted in 2015! We’ve been very busy at the Terra Sculpture studio, excited to debut four new landscape sculptures to our collection. But as quickly as the new year has snuck up on us, these new pieces have been a long time in the making.
In his book “The Elements of Sculpture” Herbert George writes that sculpture has 14 elements. Elements such as material and scale are obvious (think marble or metal and grand or diminutive), while others such as memory are subtle, like a secret shared between artist and form. Some sculpture is a literal representation of an object or event, while other sculpture merely hints at the ephemeral.
Sculpture ideas can ruminate over long stretches of time and contemplation. Sometimes a memory plays a dominant role in the initial design, and sometimes the memory doesn’t surface until the sculpture is complete with the memory finally revealing itself like a reflection from an earlier place and time.
Our sculpture Leap was inspired by a modern balletic move in an elegant Martha Graham dance performance. Embrace was informed by a memorable kiss. Ephemeral events also play a role in the four new sculptures we recently debuted.
Joy was informed by a childhood memory of first signs of spring: seeing fresh growth on crocus bulbs bravely pushing through lingering winter’s snow. It was also partly inspired by a piece we created for a farm commission in Wisconsin.
Fascinated by space exploration, Gravity was inspired by the power, shock and wonder of a rocket launch. Breaking free from confinement, is what came to mind when Egress was conceptualized. The form forces the eye up, freeing the mind and spirit from the mid-line cross section. Three distinct shards of form take flight, pointing away from the earth upwards to the sky.
The female human form was the inspiration for Figure. This memory was from a transformative moment, drawing a female nude while studying life drawing in Italy.
All of our work is intended to create a form of dynamic tension in the environment. We hope that you come away with your own interpretation, drawing from your own experiences and memories.
Outdoor sculpture adds dimension, visual interest, surprise, color and movement to both interior and exterior spaces. Ask any of our collectors if their outdoor environment was greatly altered by the presence of a sculpture and their answer would be a resounding YES. With so much at stake, deciding where to place art within a courtyard, garden, or expansive outdoor space should be thoughtful and precise, so that both the space and the art are tethered by a symbiotic connection.
Over the years we’ve been fortunate enough to see our sculptures placed in some wonderful gardens. We’ve become experts at some key principles of choosing the best location or analyzing a site for integrating sculpture.
Below are some important points to consider when integrating sculpture into the landscape:
Scale and background
Gardens offer up different rewards. Some provide utility and sustenance through edibles and fruiting trees. Other gardens provide vitality and excitement through color and form. Many landscapes offer peacefulness and sanctuary through reflective surfaces and patterns. Some are left natural while others are highly planned and manicured. Determining what type of overall design and function your garden provides is the first step to deciding where a piece of landscape sculpture should go.
Background should always be considered in placement, especially with a sculpture that has a “see through” quality like Sisters or Embrace. The height and stature of the outdoor sculpture should be in scale with the background to support an expansive view, and provide a place to rest the eye as a focal point.
We often “scale up” the size of our sculpture for clients with a more expansive or spacious site like a 10 foot Kismet sculpture we created for a collector in the San Francisco Bay Area (above). But you don’t need a grand sweep of space to support a piece of art. As long as the piece is proportional to the space, it can complement the garden or courtyard. Using texture and color to support a piece’s placement is another way to determine a proper site.
A Louisiana client installed a 7 ft. tall Curvas in their front courtyard (above). The weathered steel of the sculpture connects to the brick on the home and the curved of the pavers and stones lead the eye vertically from bottom to top. The jutting waves of the sculpture provide a sensual but stark contrast to the straight lines of the client’s traditional home.
Every lead actor needs a good supporting cast. Similarly, a bold piece of landscape art needs the support of a well-grounded garden. Some pieces do well with a simple garden with subtle lines and minimal color. Other pieces work well in gardens with sculptural plantings and natural elements in harmony with the sculpture’s shape.
We love how our Taffy sculpture is integrated as a focal point into this modern garden in Pacific Palisades, California (above). The rust-hued foliage of the plants are so interesting alongside the weathered steel sculpture. The billowy curves of the grasses mimic the curves of Taffy’s curled form, while other spiky grasses offer a wonderful contrast.
Saturated colors and bold shapes of our Closer and Leap sculptures are extremely impactful jutting out of the naturalized meadow plantings of this summer garden in Arkansas (above).
Impact creates emotion. When you connect with a piece of art, it should stir something inside of you. It’s the reason you commissioned or purchased that piece and that feeling should emerge every time your eye glances at the sculpture. Everyone is drawn to different characteristics of art. Things like color, form, texture, and scale have the ability to elicit a response. The key is to acknowledge that response by placing the sculpture in a landscape that will maximize the reaction.
Create an element of surprise in the garden with the sculpture placement. Coming upon an interesting sculpture while walking on a meandering pathway is a magical and interesting way to integrate sculpture – and to further enjoy the wonders of the garden.
It may take a few trials to determine the best spot for an emotional reaction to take place. Remember that sculpture can also be moved and experienced from places in the landscape during the years. When the spot is right, you will know it.
What happens when you visit a public or private sculpture garden or an expanse of land that has art on view in an outdoor setting? Does the visitor have to work harder to enjoy or experience the art when the setting is natural? Does the sculpture interact with the surrounding natural environment to create a new, transformative experience?
For some, public landscape art provides a quiet and contemplative respite from noisy urban areas. For others, a public sculpture garden is an extension of an indoor space or gallery like a museum, where larger substantial pieces of art can be viewed without the typical constraints of walls and crowds. Across the U.S. there are extraordinary outdoor environments to experience landscape sculpture including the Storm King Art Center, the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum , the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Nasher Sculpture Center.
There is no doubt a great love and appreciation for outdoor sculpture in Washington D.C. As artists, we are fortunate to have many sculpture commissions and installations in the Washington D.C. area in both private and public settings. As we have thought about how our pieces interact with the environs of our clients’ settings, we can’t help but also wonder how the public interacts with art in an outdoor public space.
One of our favorite places to experience outdoor sculpture is the The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden in Washington DC. The outdoor gallery resides on 6 acres adjacent to the National Mall and contains 18 pieces of original art. The garden was designed by Philadelphia-based landscape architectural firm OLIN in 1999 after the property’s jurisdiction was transferred from the National Parks Service to the National Gallery in 1991.
When we visit the garden, we appreciate the garden’s structural bones, the soft grass berms, the well-placed understory shade trees, and the benches that provide perfect vantage points from which to enjoy these oversized marvels like Spider by Louise Bourgeois.
The variety of art that the sculpture garden supports is wide and is made up of post-WWII pieces. Installations include Ellsworth Kelly’s Stele II, Claes Oldenburg’s Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, Joan Miró’s Personnage Gothique, Oiseau-Eclair, and Roy Lichtenstein’s House I. Lead architect Laurie Olin created each room to provide a comfortable enclave for visitors to rest and reflect, using American trees and shrubs to define the space.
Whether experienced in a walled gallery or in the open space of a sculpture garden, the power of art is it’s ability to manifest an idea, emotion, or a concept. The expression of an outdoor sculpture can be comforting or disturbing, revelatory or transformative. The presence of a sculpture in the landscape is undeniably impactful.
Being a California-based sculpture and design studio we are constantly surrounded by mid century modernism and its influences. Many of our sculptures are placed in treasured buildings from this nostalgic era—where connecting the indoor space to the outdoor environment creates a certain harmony throughout the home. When we received an inquiry for a commission of our three-ringed, stainless steel modernist sculpture Sisters, we had no idea that it would be placed in this stunning minimalist garden, the centerpiece of an extraordinary mid century modern home in Newport Beach, California.
California architecture, art and design was forever changed thanks to Midcentury Modernism. More than 50 years after this style benchmark we are still impacted by its design ethos, which plays heavily on what most would define as the California lifestyle. Expansive multi-room living spaces, clean-lined clerestory windows, and seamless indoor/outdoor transitions typify some of the founding elements.
Much of the architectural landscape in California changed when Joseph Eichler and A. Quincy Jones descended on middle-income enclaves, bridging the gap between Northern California architecture and Southern California architecture and blurring the lines between private and public spaces. John Lautner, a Frank Lloyd Wright prodigy, also designed residences that capitalized on vistas and expansive views.
Our client’s 1966 Newport Beach home was designed by Arthur Erickson (1924-2009), one of Canada’s most celebrated modern architects. The homeowner Mark Weber wanted to surprise his wife Laura for their anniversary with the gift of sculpture. Mark asked us if we could create Sisters and have it ready to surprise Laura within a week.
Erickson was a proponent of concrete, metal, and expansive use of glass utilizing the surrounding nature often with water views. We were thrilled to have the sculpture reside within view of the home’s interior. We love how it alters the space with its expressive 6-foot abstract form, juxtaposing the home’s classic angular lines with the softness of the rings. We also love how the shapes of the smaller succulents mimic the spherical shapes of the sculpture.
To learn more about mid century modern architecture, we recommend a beautiful documentary Coast Modern. The film showcases the pioneers of West Coast Modernist Architecture, including Erickson, who designed spaces with a “sense of place, light and a deep connection to the earth.” This stunning and captivating film, directed by Mike Bernard and Gavin Frome, is screening at film festivals around the country and is also available on Itunes and Amazon.
About Sisters sculpture:
Artist Jennifer Gilbert Asher was born the middle child in a family of three sisters. When she conceptualized Sisters sculpture she reflected on how she fits in to her own family unit. The rings suggest the supportive and interdependent relationship between the women in her family. Each sphere facing a different direction, yet still strengthening and supporting one another. There’s no doubt that nostalgia played a role in her design, just as fans of the Midcentury Modern design movement continue to flock to the era’s nostalgic homes, furniture and works of art.
On any given day in our studio, you might find us designing, shearing, bending or welding our limited edition modern abstract steel sculpture or sculptural trellises for TerraTrellis. We are often asked by private collectors, landscape architects and interior designers to create large scale versions of our limited edition sculpture or sometimes we are asked to use a different type of metal. Below are some studio and site photos of commissioned sculptures not seen on our website. And some behind-the-scenes of us at work, as we imagine and craft our modern abstract sculpture for public and private spaces.
Seattle’s award-winning landscape design firm Sublime Garden Design called our studio about a year ago, inquiring if we would create a commissioned sculpture as a focal point for a garden they were developing for the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. This is the second largest garden show in the U.S. with 60,000 visitors and six acres of display gardens. (Luminary garden experts and best-selling authors Amy Stewart, Debra Prinzing, Billy Goodnick and Nan Sterman also drew crowds this year.)
As soon as we saw the stunning garden concept by designer/owner Heidi Skievaski we said yes. Heidi and her team created a lush, modern garden, complete with a star-gazing deck and telescope, naming it “Living Amongst the Stars.” The finished space proved extraordinary. Blooming Narcissus, Angel’s Trumpet, Abutilon, Helleborus and a towering Monkey Puzzle Tree (all an amazing feat in the middle of a cold, wet Seattle winter) created a dramatic, layered backdrop for the twining metallic Kismet.
The sculpture was so impactful, we decided to offer a special, limited edition of Kismet (created with twisted solid steel bars and a special clear/silvery powdercoat finish) through TerraSculpture.com. The original larger-scaled Seattle Kismet never made it back to L.A. A Seattle collector purchased it right from the exhibit floor and the sculpture is now sited in a private garden on the shores of Lake Washington.
“Living Amongst the Stars” also won a well-deserved gold medal. To learn more about the behind-the-scenes of this spectacular installation, read Sublime Garden Design’s blog.
Fine Gardening Magazine was also a big fan.
We are often asked by clients, designers, architects and art consultants to create large scale versions of our limited edition sculpture for commercial and private projects. We recently collaborated with talented landscape architect Steve Kikuchi of Kikuchi and Associates to create a 10 foot commission of our sculpture Kismet for his clients near Palo Alto, California. The large scale of this sculpture was challenging to create, but the results are thrilling and the clients (well-versed and highly appreciative of art) very pleased. The setting of this commission is one of the most dramatic we’ve seen. Photos by Ali Altri.
TerraSculpture, Kismet, steel and bronze powdercoat (10 ft. commission)
TerraSculpture, Kismet, steel and bronze powdercoat (10 ft. commission)
We also recently created 10 foot commission of our sculpture Embrace for a client in the Hollywood Hills. The sculpture was sited in a reflecting pool in an ultra-modern residence which was recently acquired by the Winklevoss brothers of Facebook fame.
TerraSculpture, Embrace, stainless steel and marble (10 ft. commission, Hollywood Hills, CA)
This October’s issue of C Magazine is as beautiful to look at as it is intriguing to read. The entire issue is devoted to innovative California-based artists and designers, so we were thrilled when they chose to feature our studio (“A Bright Idea” pg. 86) in the mix. A shout out to photographer Lauren Devon for her beautiful photography of our trellises. p.s. notice the exquisite monarch butterfly seen below our story–a true specimen of living sculpture!