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Plants & Gardens Blog

Talking with Artist Shayne Dark

This month, Canadian artist Shayne Dark brings his work to Brooklyn Botanic Garden as part of a yearlong sculpture exhibit. Over the past week, he installed three large-scale works, and in the coming weeks he will create a new site-specific sculpture as an artist in residence at the Garden.

Shortly after he arrived, Dark talked to Garden staff about his three existing pieces—the inspiration behind them, how he chose his materials, and how he goes about installing such large, complex pieces in a public space.

Tanglewood (2014) | Osborne Garden

This work was inspired by Dark’s childhood growing up along the Ottawa River, in Ontario.

“In the spring, logs coming down the river would get tangled up in the bend, and the men would come running out to break up these log jams. As a child, I was fascinated by this.”

The sculpture is constructed of cedar poles normally used as fence posts, painted a vivid blue. “For me, color is one of the easiest things to respond to and enjoy.” Dark used a matte theater paint that he discovered years ago while working with his brother on set designs in the Ed Sullivan Theater.

“It’s also the same color used to create a blue screen effect. When you use it, there’s an optical illusion, a blurring effect, which is kind of surreal.”

The sculpture sits in the center of the Osborne Garden lawn, which allows viewers to approach it from a distance.

“Other pieces you might place so as to hide and reveal, but for this particular piece, it’s crucial that there be space around it so that your perspective changes as you come that it becomes monumental,” says Dark.

Each installation is unique, and Dark added individual posts to the sculpture once it was placed on-site.

Windfall (2010) | Steinhardt Conservatory

This hanging sculpture is made of apple gnarls, lumps of woody tissue that form when apple tree cuttings are grafted onto rootstock.

“They have this interesting vascular quality, so they reference other living things besides trees. You look at them and they’re definitely wood, but they also look like organs, or maybe skulls,” Dark says.

Dark believes that he used about 43 gnarls to create this work. Each one weighs about 15 to 20 pounds, and they are suspended from stainless steel cable.

“I love hanging them. There’s no front, no back. You can view this from so many different angles.”

Drop Stones 1, 2, and 3 (2014) | Lily Pool Terrace

These three steel pieces reference erratics—boulders left behind when the glaciers receded. This work was also inspired by Dark’s childhood in rural Canada.

“You’d be walking in the woods or a field when all of the sudden you’d come upon these humongous rocks that didn’t seem to fit the surrounding geology. Maybe they’d be granite in an area that’s mostly sandstone,” Dark said.

During his design process, Dark carved solid models out of balsa wood; the finished pieces are made of Corten steel and are hollow.

“Kids will often come up and drum on them. I love that interaction,” he says.

This week through July 29, Dark will be working on-site in the Osborne Garden to create a new work using materials salvaged by the Garden’s Horticulture staff. It will be remain on display at the Garden through July 2017.

Sarah Schmidt oversees BBG's digital editorial content, including the blog and how-to articles, and edits the Guides for a Greener Planet handbook series.

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