This Veggie-Based Van Gogh Can Only Be Seen From Way, Way Above

Stan Herd's all-natural take on Vincent van Gogh's 'Olive Trees' painting, one of a set van Gogh painted in 1889. . (Photo: Screenshot from video. )

When they look out an airplane window, some people see just undulating land interspersed with human construction. Artist Stan Herd sees a canvas.

He's been creating what he calls "earthworks" — large-scale art made from plants and earth that can only be seen from above — for about 40 years. It began with a 160-acre artwork of Kiowa Chief Santana and has included 35 more pieces over the decades.

Stan Herd mulching a curved line from above.
Early days of the design involved laying out the base lines. (Photo: Screenshot from video)

Now he's given the giant treatment to Vincent van Gogh's "Olive Trees," currently on view at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. But you'll only be able to see the earthworks version if you fly in or out of Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, as it can really only be seen from above.

Created over the past year from pumpkins, squash, cantaloupes, grasses, soil berms and rocks, the piece is an incredible example of planning and a beautiful use of native plants and compostable "art supplies."

An intermediate stage in Stan Herd's earthwork Van Gogh masterpiece.
Before the plants grew into the design, the basics gave it shape. (Photo: Screenshot from video)

It's also a great way to get anyone who bothers to look out the window interested in the Minneapolis museum. The earthworks design is part of the organization's centennial celebration as well as the 125th anniversary of van Gogh's death.

"...when I see this painting, the first thing I look at is what plants, and what soil and what mulch and what things might I pull into this," says Herd, of how he began plans for the monumental artwork.

Which is what Stan Herd is all about: human use of, and interaction with the environment is one of his chief areas of exploration as an artist.

"The amazing thing about van Gogh's painting is that there is not a single straight line in the whole canvas. Everything is organic, and curved and flowing and it's like a pulse," said Herd. That's at least part of why he chose to use vine plants to design areas of his canvas.

A close-up of Stan Herd's Van Gogh earthwork.
This close-up shot allows you to see how Herd imitated van Gogh's intense brushstrokes with soil and plants. (Photo: Screenshot from video)

Next up, Herd is working on a piece called "Young Woman of Brazil" which recognizes the poor of Brazil prior to and during the 2016 Olympics. It's not only a piece of art — it will provide edible food to the people of the favelas, Brazil's most destitute housing areas.