Drawing in the Sands of Time
Conceptual artist Jim Denevan turns the classic dictum ars longa, vita brevis (art is long, life is short) on its head. His elegant, large-scale sand drawings on vacant beaches last only as long the incoming tide. Then they are swept away forever.
Denevan, is a chef, surfer, and sand artist from Santa Cruz, CA. I met him last weekend in Maine where he was producing one in a series of his Outstanding in the Field farm dinners. Denevan spends summers and falls crossing the country in an old bus with his crew of culinary nomads, staging al fresco feasts of local foods on local farms. He then spends winters and springs pursuing his transitory, ephemeral art.
The day after the Maine farm dinner, Denevan and company motored off to Dennis, Masschusetts, on Cape Cod, where Wednesday and Thursday he drew on Chapin Memorial Beach before producing the 149th Outstanding in the Field dinner. As he found no driftwood (his preferred drawing tool) on Chapin Beach, he took a dead branch from the nearby farm and scored one of his signature drawings, a series of circles expanding in size like two-dimensional bubbles.
On Thursday, when I phoned him to see how his drawing going, he was in the process of using a rake to create an abstract design of repeated patterns inspired by the geography and geology of the beach. He had chartered a helicopter to take a photographer aloft to document the drawings before the sea erased them.
Denevan began his sand drawings in 1995 in response to illnesses in his immediate family. Walking the local California beaches in a meditative state, he began marking the hard sand at low tide. Over the ensuing years he has expanded his practice to include beaches on both coasts as well as desert sands and dried lake beds. Amazingly, given the apparent precision of his geometric lines, circles, and spirals, he draws freehand, taking no measurements. Just a man on the sand with a stick.
In recent years, Denevan has been commissioned to create sand drawings for advertising shoots and movie credits and in 2007 he had an exhibition at PS1 in New York that consisted of photographer Ari Marcopoulos’s aerial images of his drawings, which typically exist for only four to six hours.
Jim Devevan’s farm feasts are meant to be devoured and his sand drawings are meant to be washed away. The dinners help subsidize his art, which, in the finest tradition of fine art, is not generally for sale.
“People ask to buy the photographs, but I don’t really want to do that,” says Denevan. “I’m enjoying it too much to turn it into a commercial thing right now.”
[For more information about and images of Jim Denevan's elusory sand drawings, go to www.jimdenevan.com. ]
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