On a frigid morning in March 2010, Santa Cruz’s Jim Denevan walked onto the frozen Lake Baikal in Siberia and began to draw a circle with a broom, brushing aside snow to reveal the ice beneath. This was the first in a series of soon-to-be expanding circles that over the next two weeks would cover the nine square miles of Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest lake. In honoring this body of water, thought sacred by many in the region, Jim broke his own record for the world’s largest artwork, set in the Nevada desert in 2009.
For 17 years Jim has used earth, sand and ice to create large-scale landworks that have taken him to the corners of the globe. Washed away by tides, wind swept or simply melted away, these ephemeral drawings last an hour, a day, sometimes a week. These are the elements that appease Jim’s creativity, drawing on the land.
I spoke with Jim by phone from Wisconsin where he is on a national tour with Outstanding in the Field, a roving culinary service reconnecting people with the land and the origins of food.
Kirby Scudder: What started your drawings in the sand 17 years ago?
Jim Denevan: At the time I was going through some stress caused by family issues. Restless, I went to the beach with a rake and drew large-scale fish and animals covering the entire beach. I felt like a caveman, when I climbed the cliff to see my drawings, I decided that I would devote my life to pursuing that work. Some people create using musical instruments, paint, pen, I do it with large stretches of beach and a rake. It relaxes me.
KS: Your projects take a lot of time to execute and yet they exist as a completed work for only a short time. What is it about the temporary aspect that interests you?
JD: There’s a freedom in the transience of it. When I was working in a restaurant in Santa Cruz I would stop by the beach every day at low tide, before work, and draw in the sand. I took pictures of the work, but I didn’t feel burdened by having to frame them or sell them. I go to the beach with nothing and leave with nothing.
KS: One of your sand drawings created in San Francisco recently was used in an international commercial promoting U.S. tourism. How did that come about?
JD: There has never been a tourism campaign for the U.S. like you might see in Canada or other countries. The campaign is communicating a connection for visitors with our land and our people. They approached me because the work that I do fit with the concepts of art, people and where our food comes from, ideas that were central to their theme. It’s called Land of Dreams’ with music by Roseanne Cash.
Jim is traveling the country until November where he ends his tour serving dinner to 200 people on the roof of the Smithsonian in Washington. For more information, go to www.jimdenevan.com
Kirby Scudder is the director of the Santa Cruz Institute of Contemporary Art. Details: www.scica.org