It took five days to etch a sprawling sand sculpture into a sandbar on Tofino’s Chesterman Beach that was washed away by the tides last weekend.
But Jim Denevan was satisfied.
The internationally renowned land artist usually works alone. This time he wanted to try a casual collaborative process and see how many people would join him.
At all came together on July 9 with the help of more than 100 rolling volunteers: rings of small circular “anti-hills” surrounded by larger circles that to the untrained eye resemble a tunnel illusion or a stylized flower seed pod. Denevan’s 420 circular sculptures together measure approximately 518 meters by 396 meters.
The resulting mix of individual work and community society made Denevan happy with his experiment.
“It was better than I expected,” he said. “It was kind of nice for me to try something different.”
In some places, volunteers used all 18 extra shovels he bought. Families and individuals would come and go, tourists and locals would all work together, he said. Getting to know the different walks of life of the volunteers reminded him of meeting people in his hometown of Santa Cruz, California.
During quiet times on the sandbank, Denevan enjoyed working alone with his son, who is a multi-media artist. Denevan is proud of 30-year-old Brighton Denevan’s photography career and has enjoyed editing all of the Tofino project photos, he said.
Normally, Denevan’s beach sculptures are washed away after only a few hours, but he chose this spot knowing he would have days without a tidal break. He knew the weekend would wash away the drawing, but he didn’t know the exact day or time.
He was originally hoping for Sunday, but on Friday, as the waves began to “nibble” at the edges of the sculpture, Denevan realized he was running out of time.
“I knew then that I only had one chance on Saturday,” he said.
He and his volunteers pulled through. The project was completed by 4 p.m. Late in the evening the tide crossed the center of the sculpture while a crowd looked on. Children often responded with joy, while adults were more thoughtful, Denevan said.
The cosmopolitan artist created land art in various countries such as Argentina, Australia, Spain, Russia and Saudi Arabia. In 2010, the Vancouver Biennale exhibited a freehand sculpture designed by Denevan on Vancouver’s Spanish Banks Beach.
He also holds the Guinness World Record for largest work of art created out of sand, which he completed in 2009 in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.
The record-breaking land sculpture was an Apollonian seal nine miles in circumference and containing 1,000 nested circles, according to Guinness. The term Apollonian poetry refers to a geometric process in which, within a large ring, smaller circles are repeatedly nested in negative space around three larger ones.
Although he does not use measuring instruments in his work, mathematics influence many of his geometric etchings. His mother, Dorothy Denevan, was a mathematician known for her expertise as a Fibonacci theorist who died in 2000.
Denevan believes that working with the geometric shapes gives him the same feeling she had when working with numbers on a chalkboard. His strengths are patterns and improvisation, so he has a different relationship to math than his mother did – but he feels connected to the same feeling she had about problem solving.
“Maybe when I walk through the sand, I solve problems in a different way. She solved math problems, and for me maybe it’s the walking and moving and moving around the shapes and sizes that gives me a different kind of ‘math high,'” he said. “She really seemed filled with this powerful personal and universal energy that came from working on math.”
When not creating land art, Denevan travels to events where people eat in the place where their food is made, called Outstanding in the Field.
For more information on Denevan’s sculptures, visit his website: www.jimdenevan.com.