Stan Herd, a Kansas-based landscape artist, recently completed his very own museum-worthy masterpiece. Only, it can’t be moved because it’s actually made out of plants growing in a field!
The 1.2-acre crop art ‘painting’, located on field near Minneapolis, is a replica of Van Gogh’s 1889 masterpiece ‘Olive Trees’. Herd was commissioned to create it by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, where the Van Gogh original currently hangs. It took him six long months of digging, planting, and mowing a giant grass field before the ‘earthwork’ was finally complete on September 11. It is best viewed from high above, especially if you happen to be flying in to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“When you’re on ground level you can’t tell what the cuts even look like, but when you get up there you can see the patterns,” said Rick King, board member of the Minneapolis Museum and the Metropolitan Airports Commission. “If you are landing from the southeast and flying northwest, it will be on your left-hand side as you approach the airport.”
Herd revealed that he used kale, squash, cucumbers, oats, and wheat straw to create various colors – green, yellow, orange, and gold colors on the landscape art. He’s quite satisfied with all the effort he put into the piece, and he’s happy that the result is quite close to the vision he had in mind.
“It’s an iteration of Van Gogh’s painting writ large in native plants and materials,” Herd said. “The opportunity to engage with one of my favorite artists in the world was pretty unique for me.”
Herd’s work is referred to as ‘crop art’, but his designs aren’t actually grown from seed. It’s more of a ‘mowed art’ because he cuts the image into a meadow of long grass and other plants. He begins by outlining the design by rototilling a frame around the edge and he then trims the plants at various heights. Furrows are dug in strategic spots to cast shadows and accentuate certain features of the image. This lends a three dimensional quality to the painting.
“The most important thing is to have a pristine canvas and something to subtract from,” Herd explained. “If we had more time, I could have planted soybeans, sorghum, wheat – but I’m using different types of squash, gourds, and melons. Time may even push us to bring in some things in pots. I wanted to plant wheat for the sky because Van Gogh painted wheat fields, but oats grow better here so I planted that.”
Herd grew up on a farm, which explains his intimate knowledge of various crops. He was never a farmer himself; he knew early on in life that he wanted to be an artist. “They work 70 hours a week and that was not my thing,” he said. “I wanted to go to art school and drink wine and be an artist.” Today, he is a sought-after landscape artist with artworks in Australia, Cuba, England and Brazil.
According to Herd, his art is not just an individual project, but a community effort. “At the end of the day it’s about leaving something and making friends in the process. People come away with something. I certainly do.”