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Nico Laan’s sand paintings are a play with nature to explore its beauty

Dutch artist Nico Laan’s sand paintings carved on the beaches of the Netherlands reaffirm the importance of anamorphosis to the work of art.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Dec 19, 2020

Dante Alighieri, the 14th century Italian poet, in Divine Comedy mentioned how “art would follow nature”. Taking nature as a canvas to draw artworks is Dutch artist Nico Laan, who has made sand paintings on the coasts of his home-nation, the Netherlands.  The vast expanse of the sand at the beaches turn into a vibrant space where the artist showcases creativity to a variety of audience that comes to partake of the pleasure of the waters. 

In an interview with STIR, Laan explains, “It is important for me not to add any material but just use the material on the spot, in fact, I only move sand. The aim is to create an image that is in balance with the environment but at the same time takes the necessary distance from it.” Here the concept of anamorphosis is instrumental to the work carved on the sand beaches. The work that appears to lack a final finish, when seen through the eyes of a drone, carries a holistic appeal. 

Out of the water | Nico Laan | STIRworld
Out of the water Image: Courtesy: Nico Laan

The art of anamorphosis for Laan is the key to unlocking the beauty of his work, “at the beginning of my sand drawing activities, I used the beach as a kind of blackboard and was then particularly intrigued by the phenomenon of anamorphosis. More specifically that you see something that is true and not true at the same time. More recently I have been concentrating on the action of drawing itself, the effect of light and shadow, the influence of water and the change over time.”

It would come as a surprise that the artist formally read textile design before trying his hand at sand drawing. Laan admits that “from studying textile/monumental design to working on the beach, it does indeed sound a bit strange. But in those days textile/monumental was a very versatile department at the Royal Academy. Fashion was one of the options, but in practice, it was possible to work with a variety of materials. My graduation project concerned a floating moving sculpture made of steel. No textiles at all.” It could be said creativity is not bound by a particular genre; rather it just needs a medium to give it wings to fly.  

Artist’s Portrait | Nico Laan | STIRworld
Artist’s Portrait Image: Courtesy: Nico Laan

Since the work does not have a permanent value attached to it, the task to preserve it in a form that would allow its circulation and mobilise attention is heightened. For Laan, photography is the means to tangibly realise this thought, “archiving through photography is essential. Not only because the works are very ephemeral, from a few hours to a few weeks at the most, but also because of the point of view that is out of reach in practice.”

Sand Cones | Nico Laan | STIRworld
Sand Cones Image: Courtesy: Nico Laan

Given the nature of the beaches, the surprises that could change the design of the artwork are many. Laan creates a simulation of the work on the computer in order to ease the execution process. Every line and space between each shape is calculated beforehand to remove any scope of a discrepancy between what lies on the surface of the sand and what drone, floating in the air, captures. The compasses, protractors, ropes, besides a series of measuring equipment come handy to sketch the curves on the sand. Laan adds, “In the beginning, the design is usually very basic. Later on, it is further developed by experimenting with this specific material. Also, the experience gained in previous work, the use of certain tools or specially designed tools, often give rise to new opportunities.”

Sandmen | Nico Laan | STIRworld
Sandmen Image: Courtesy: Nico Laan

But any kind of preparation cannot withhold the surprises that nature has to offer. The blow of the wind, flow and ebb effect of the tide, the shadow of the sunrays make their contributions to lend a new form to Laan’s work. For instance, the work does not completely disappear under the flow of the tide but reemerges in a novel form. The play of light and shadow accentuated by the sun adds the beauty of silhouettes around the work. Or the blow of the wind leads to a completely new design of the sand painting. 

Laan embraces the unassuming nature of his work, “I like to see the public in a state of mild astonishment, especially because it is so simple,” only to underline the rooted essence of his art practice. 

Also explore British artist Simon Beck's snow and sand art on Swiss Alps and the shores of Brean respectively.

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