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‘Sand Painting’ Artist Tony Plant on Finding His Place in a Landscape

“There’s no protocol, no hierarchy, and I don’t have to ask permission.”

U.K.-based artist Tony Plant is known for his intricate, geometric “sand paintings.” The work, captured in epic images as well as time-lapse videos, has found many admirers on social media. But before becoming an internet sensation, Plant made his sand paintings with the hope that just a few individuals might randomly encounter them and form lasting memories around the work.


Plant hails from Cornwall, England, where he still lives. There, he grew up surrounded by the sea; before and after school he was on the beach, checking to see if the items that had washed up on shore were worth claiming. For Plant, the Cornish beaches, walled off by cliffs, were always in vibrant flux—they were living entities. Later in life, these beaches and cliffs, in both day and night, became his canvas and tools. The Cornish coastline’s impact on Plant is on full display at the artist’s new exhibition, Walk. Stop. Walk, which opens March 18 at the Royal Cornwall Museum.

Walk. Stop. Walk finds Plant debuting dozens of paintings and drawings based on the Cornish coastline. Plant’s sketchbooks, composed over several years, will also be on display, along with a video in the foyer titled “Forever Skylarks,” which shows Plant making beach paintings that are quickly erased by the tide.

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“Nothing stays the same, and beaches change shape based on weather patterns and storm fronts,” Plant tells GOOD. “They not only change shape, but color, and different winds will make a beach into a completely different color. The whole thing for me growing up on the coast was being open to all of those different events as they happened.”

The Royal Cornwall Museum contacted Plant nearly two years ago about doing a show, and he was happy to oblige. He sees the museum exhibition as an opportunity to take his “outside work” to an indoor space. Plant describes the difficulty in capturing his work for this kind of show and how natural elements like time of day impact what he produces.

“I’ve drawn under every full moon for many years, because often the light is amazing—you can’t actually photograph it,” Plant says. “So I started to do these night walks and paintings and drawings along coast paths and cliffs I know really well with my friend and filmmaker Lee Evans. So this exhibition is paintings from drawings and memories from those night walks.”

“At nighttime it’s your peripheral vision that really works, so you can’t really be looking at anything—if you want to see something, you’ve got to look to the side, and you can see horizons really well,” Plant says. “I’m interested in horizons and crossover points and edges, whereas with the beach drawings I’m playing with scale.”

Plant says it’s never his intention to impose a piece of work onto a landscape. If he ever felt he was doing that, he’d feel “gutted.” Instead, Plant likes to make work that fits into or is an extension of a given place.

“Although the beach paintings are really big, they’re less than five millimeters [a fifth of an inch] deep—they’re like scratches, and literally the only thing you see is a shadow,” Plant explains. “If you’re in the wrong position to see the shadow, you’re not going to see a thing. You can be in the middle of a 500-meter drawing and be totally oblivious to the fact that you’re even there. I’ve seen people do it, and it’s amazing when they realize. They stop and freeze in their tracks because they don’t know what to do.”

Plant adds, “That’s what I love about making these drawings in public spaces.” He appreciates that “there’s no protocol, no hierarchy, and I don’t have to ask permission. And there is no correct way to behave in those situations. That’s one of the reasons I’m excited to be in the Royal Cornwall Museum—I want to see what happens when my work goes into a gallery space where there is protocol and an acceptable type of behavior.”

One might look at Plant’s sand drawings and see works that are ephemeral. That is, the elements will eventually erase them. Sure, the internet, whether through images or video, preserves or archives them in a way, but Plant doesn’t even see the original sand paintings as ephemeral. For him, they have a permanency that occurred to him when struggling with the difficulties of photographing his work.

Plant started recording these images years ago, and he did so with big clunky gear. While he was working on the beach, the camera would sit on a tripod up on cliffs. And when he was finished, he would hike back up the cliffs to retrieve his gear, where he would meet people who had been watching him work.

“What I’ve noticed over the years is that while these images are not long for this world, people will come up to me who have been watching me work from the clifftop and they’ll start talking to me, and they tell me stories of why they’re there, whether it’s a journey of remembrance or discovery,” Plant says. “But the narrative that is associated with that landscape isn’t ephemeral for them.”

“I had a guy come up to me once about three or four years ago, and I could see him with his two small girls, and he said, ‘I’ve never seen the tide come in, so we had to stay and watch the picture go,’ and I thought that that was just fantastic,” Plant says. “Now the piece wasn’t ephemeral—it was locked into a collective narrative between the father and two daughters.”

Beyond that, Plant thinks it’s misleading to call the sand drawings ephemeral because it implies that other things, especially other forms of art, are not. Again, nothing is fixed in Plant’s world. On the other hand, he sees memories and stories locked into landscapes.

In a gallery, Plant says, people will look at a work for a couple of minutes, but when they turn around they might as well have forgotten it. But with a beach painting, he can stop someone for at least 20 minutes. So, in a sense, Plant believes that these beach paintings might be more permanent than art hung in a gallery or museum.

“If you turn your back on a beach painting and it’s still chugging around in your head, and you mention it to someone else or remember it in relation to something else 10 years down the line, it’s not ephemeral,” Plant muses. “It’s become something else that is associated with a landscape and locked into a memory.”

In recent years, the internet has changed how Plant shares his art, and how others experience it. Unlike some artists he knows, Plant has no problem ceding control of his art to the whims of the web—letting social media take it where it will, and redefine it in the process.

“I can literally make a piece of work and know that maybe one or two or three people have seen it,” Plant says. “Put an image online and then it goes, and it can literally go around the world with a click of a button. That becomes very, very powerful: the way the image travels through social media without any kind of editing in some sense. But then it gets warped and moved away from its original intention really, really quickly. I like relinquishing control in that way, and seeing where it will go next.”

While he enjoys what the internet does to his work, Plant takes the greatest joy from people’s experience of his work in the actual landscape in which it exists, however temporarily.

“I just want someone to stop and look at the landscape,” says Plant. “This is my response to the landscape—what’s yours?”

Articles

The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.

Health

Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Cocostation

Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger

Dizaul

Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head

Speakman

Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor

Zomchi

Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

The Planet
Instagram / Leonardo DiCaprio

This August, the world watched as the Amazon burned. There were 30,901 individual fires that lapped at the largest rainforest in the world. While fires can occur in the dry season due to natural factors, like lightning strikes, it is believed that the widespread fires were started by loggers and farmers to clear land. Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, cites a different cause: the actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio wasn't accused of hanging out in the rainforest with a box of matches, however President Bolsonaro did accuse the actor of funding nonprofit organizations that allegedly set fires to raise donations.

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The Planet