Penone’s vision of nature at Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The work of Italian artist Giuseppe Penone is currently on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire).
The work of Italian artist Giuseppe Penone is currently on display at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire).
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Giuseppe Penone is an acclaimed Italian artist whose work is the focus of an impressive exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Chris Bond reports.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park is a place where art and nature converge, where even the trees begin to morph into sculptures.

Giuseppe Penone's work intrigues the viewer.  (Picture: Jonty Wilde).

Giuseppe Penone's work intrigues the viewer. (Picture: Jonty Wilde).

This can be seen in artworks dotted around the woods and fields in the park and is vividly captured in a hugely impressive, and long-awaited, exhibition featuring the work of acclaimed Italian artist Giuseppe Penone.

I say “long awaited” because the exhibition, which opened earlier this summer, is the culmination of conversations with Penone stretching back decades.

But it has been well worth the wait. Penone has been dubbed the ‘David Attenborough of art’ because his creations heighten our awareness of the beauty and innate power of nature.

His exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), Giuseppe Penone: A Tree in the Wood, is drawn from work covering five decades of his career, stretching from the late 1960s to the present day, trace his evolving investigation into the relationship between the human body, sculpture and the natural world.

These ideas play out in the various works, some of which haven’t been seen in the UK before, that pepper the landscape and the towering open-air tree sculptures, displayed in the light-filled spaces of the Underground Gallery.

Penone’s art has been inspired by his background. He was born in 1947, in the Piedmont region of northern Italy famous for its wine and its striking, mountainous countryside.

This sense of place was crucial in shaping Penone as an artist. Trees, in particular, have always fascinated him and he describes them as “not a subject but much more, they are the substance itself of my work”.

This was something that stemmed from exploring the woods near his home when 
he was growing up and it’s a recurring motif throughout 
his work.

It runs through the heart of the indoor exhibition at the sculpture park. At over 30 metres long, Matrice (2015) spans almost the entire length of the gallery, which caused a bit of a logistical headache as YSP programme director Clare Lilley explains. “We had to cut a hole through the gallery walls because it shoots right through the entire building.”

This remarkable sculpture consists of the trunk of a fir tree, bisected vertically, placed horizontally and hollowed out and carefully carved to follow one of its growth rings. In two locations along its length are cast bronze elements that mirror the thickness and shape of this single ring, marking a year in the tree’s life and reflecting Penone’s interest in time and the cycle of life.

Lilley is among the many admirers of his work and is delighted the sculpture park is hosting such a high-profile exhibition. “He’s been labelled an eco artist because his work comes out of the environment and the way we look at the earth and how nature and humans connect with one another.”

The exhibition is proving popular with visitors, too. “There’s a peacefulness about it that people can relate to because it’s all about touch and time. I think it’s important to feel connected to the earth we walk on because without touch our lives would be hugely diminished.”

Giuseppe Penone: A Tree in the Wood, runs at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until April 28 next year.