Top Environmental Artists Shaking Up the Art World

Photo of a work of art featuring woven branches in a forest

Ilion / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

As the primal creator, Nature could be considered the world's most powerful and influential artist. And standing at the junction of art and nature are environmental artists, who are often balanced on an intermediary edge, searching and synthesizing creative, unimagined new ways to redefine our relationship with nature. Working with a wide range of materials--ranging from the raw, the found, to the discarded, environmental art can be evocative, provocative or sublime, and oftentimes communicates an urgent message. From the scores of talented environmental artists out there, we've rounded up some greats and a couple of emerging ones too--read on, and feel free to add to the list!

1. Andy Goldsworthy: Raw Environmental Art

Photograph with yellow-green grass in the foreground, a stone wall, and trees on a hill
Espresso Addict / / CC BY-SA 2.0 

Probably one of the better known environmental artists, British-born Andy Goldsworthy is famous for his site-specific, ephemeral work employing colorful flowers, leaves, mud, twigs, snow, icicles, and stones. He typically uses his bare hands, teeth, even saliva to prepare and assemble his pieces. Some of his art pieces, such as those featured in video Rivers and Tides, are designed to decay or disappear with the ebb and flow of nature. Goldsworthy characterizes his art in this way: "Movement, change, light, growth, and decay are the life-blood of nature, the energies that I try to tap through my work."

2. Artist-Naturalist Nils-Udo: Potential utopias

Photograph of artwork showing a pod of woven branches hanging in a forest
Ilion / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Bavarian artist Nils-Udo has been working directly with nature for more than three decades. His lyrical pieces--or what he calls "potential utopias" of giant nests, misty forestscapes--all have an air of mystery and playfulness. As a response to the surrounding landscape, the pieces use materials found locally--ranging from berries, leaves, sticks, to the movement of water and the growth of plants.

Nils-Udo recognizes the paradoxical character of his work however, saying that:

Even if I work parallel to nature and only intervene with the greatest possible care, a basic internal contradiction remains. It is a contradiction that underlies all of my work, which itself can't escape the inherent fatality of our existence. It harms what it touches: the virginity of nature...To realize what is possible and latent in Nature, to literally realize what has never existed, utopia becomes reality. A second life suffices. The event has taken place. I have only animated it and made it visible.