Art is an amazing thing. We don’t know exactly what it is or where it comes from. We don’t always understand the place in our minds that inspires us to create art, or the mindset of the artist. Being an artist myself, I know that – for me – art just happens.
Sure, I plan things out, but I don’t worry about why I’m creating something from nothing. I just do it.
And when art becomes truly transcendent, when the viewer of art feels as though they have been taken from their present time and place and moved to a completely new world – then somehow an artist knows they have accomplished their goal.
And I can’t think of a better example of art that is both transcendent and transitory than the amazing sand art of Manu.
The first look at the geometrics that Manu rakes into the sand along the Irish coastline affects people in several ways. The first for me was, “How beautiful”, but as I realized that the tiny blip I was seeing next to the geometric was the artist himself, I realized that the image in the sand could be well over 30 meters wide. I looked again and again because the image was as perfectly arranged as if it had been laid out with a ruler and compass.
So I simply had to know more, and I am so very grateful that Manu has agreed to share his story.
Art always had a place in my life. Even though I didn’t get a place in college for arts (I studied architecture instead) I kept creating abstract art, mostly on canvas.
After moving to Ireland, I found my love of creating art on beaches. It all started with picking up some driftwood and scratching a personal message to my better half into the sand – a message I designed in the 90’s and by now it’s the tattoo we both have instead of a wedding ring. The simple contrast in the sand was fascinating me, and straight away I had plans for something bigger. My first ever proper drawing had a diameter of almost 40 meters containing 6 circles and a random freehand design. From this day I was hooked up on art on beaches.
But for a long time, I didn’t exceed this size as I more and more focused on sacred geometry which meant more planning had to go into the drawings – and the more intricate they got the more I was limited in size.
My aim of symmetry and geometrical perfection on a big scale often lead to the question of how this can be achieved. I design on the desk on A3, and work out a geometrical construction plan for the beach. There, I always use the same main tools: bamboo sticks, strings and measuring tape help me to find construction points and to outline the drawing.
From there on it is freehand. The drawing itself is done with a set of rakes. Tidal sand contains a lot of moisture underneath the dry and bright surface, and raking the sand brings up the more wet – and therefore darker – sand. It creates a contrast, and this is how I draw.
I never check the process from above from a cliff or with the drone, time is too limited to do so. When I start with tide going out I have a maximum of 6 hours of drawing time until the incoming tide claims everything.
When raking I’m like in a tunnel. Sometimes I don’t even hear the sea anymore as I’m fully soaked into this geometrical path to fulfill my desired design. Focus is the key. But you can easily get lost within a drawing which can cover areas of up to 20,000 sq ft. Mistakes can happen but are rarely noticed by the viewer, if I make one I only discover it in the evening watching the drone footage when the actual drawing had already been claimed by the incoming tide.
The shading is achieved by increasing or decreasing raking strokes. The darkest patches are fully raked 2-3 times, while a brighter shaded area is barely raked. It’s always a challenge to do the same grade of shading on different places within a drawing. Often people think I’m using bright and dark coloured sand or even photoshop the images afterwards. No, all the effects are done with an ordinary garden rake.
Inspiration comes from all sorts of areas – sacred geometry, Celtic drawings, 3-D effects, illusions, crop circles and so on. I rarely copy. I take on ideas and work them out in my way. Most beach designs are well planned out beforehand, but sometimes I also walk onto a location, soak up the environment and stick to a spontaneous theme.
My art is more a passion than a job. Even though I get paid for contributions on festivals or for taking on commission work like birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, companies logos etc. – I’ve even designed a book cover for an author in the States – the main reason for doing it is the experience of impermanence, the taking and giving of nature, the letting go, the art for the moment.
And there’s no better place than working by, along and with the sea. Being surrounded by beautiful landscapes combined with the sounds of the sea, interacting with passers-by or enjoying the peace and tranquility of a remote beach that is yours for the day.
I never leave a beach design before the tide reaches the drawing and starts erasing it. It’s a very special moment. Nature – in my case the incoming and outgoing tides – provides me with a perfect blank canvas, I use it in the time I’m given, and then nature claims it back. It’s a fair deal, and needs to be accepted. Where else would I have such big areas to draw? It’s part of it. I’m thankful for receiving so much feedback about my art. It is a good feeling, bringing a smile to people’s faces, especially in these strange times we’re in.
Each drawing means a lot to me, so it’s hard to figure out a favourite piece. But some of them are linked to little personal milestones, and I want to put a highlight on a global art project I got invited to in 2017, the Sri Yantra Landart Project, coordinating land artists from around the world to create Sri Yantra mandalas on the beaches of 5 continents.
This really opened doors for me. Now there are plans to hold large mandala workshops, and once restrictions are lifted I will finally be offering Airbnb experiences. These were set up 2 years ago so that groups can book me to spend a day creating sand art at one of the most beautiful remote coves of the South East coast of Ireland.
I’ve had the pleasure to work with so many photographers and drone operators. I enjoyed everyone’s efforts, and now I’m collaborating mostly with the professional cameraman Paddy Barron on bigger projects. We are a perfect team.
People can find my art at Facebook.com/Ballydwan
There will be prints available shortly, and by the end of the year the first yearly calendar will be published.
Perhaps someday I will see you on one of the wonderful beaches of Ireland.