EarthPoem Archives
Site Map
Teacher Resources
Teacher Resources
Learn Ecology
Kids' Earth Art
Members' Writing
John Caddy
Contact MorningEarth


Artist/Naturalist Pages
Nils Udo
1937 -

 Nils Udo is a German artist of the earth. He began in the 1960s as a painter on traditional surfaces, in Paris, but moved to his home country in Bavaria and began planted creations, putting them in Nature's hands to develop, and eventually disappear.

As his work evolved into more ephemeral creations, Nils Udo began to photograph them, to document and share his art. Udo's practice oscillates between planned installations, some urban, and extemporaneous use of found natural materials after he has immersed himself in a place and season. Some of his public installations are monumental, such as the Nordhorn Tower and STONE-TIME-MAN, but the artist recognizes that they too are as ephemeral as flowers floating on a leaf, over a longer, inevitable time.

Udo has a keen grasp of the phenology of European wild places, especially of the Chiemgau area of Bavaria, his home turf. He knows what fruits and vines and flowers are likely to be available in their seasons, what woody growth will enjoy the flexibility of youth, and what grasses, roots and vines will help him bind and reorganize Nature.

Udo's primary metaphor is Nest, that circling down into the comfort of Earth; his deep playful affinity is for berries and blossoms.

In 2004, Nils Udo returned to painting again, as he puts it, "in parallel" with his nature art.

See In His Own Words, below.

A Sample Gallery of Nils Udo's Work

Bindweed flowers held in their journey on a stream by a stick dam. Reunion, Indian Ocean, 1990

Robinia Leaf Swing: robinia leaf halved, ash twigs, Valle de Sella, Italy,1992

A rare opportunity to work with the slender symmetrical form of robinia leaves, which have fascinated me for long. A small pond in the mountains. Horsetail swimmimg under the surface. Reflections. I selected a leaf, removed the leaflets from one side, and hung the bisected leaf in the small forked branches of two ash switches that I had stuck into the pond bottom. - Nils Udo

Chestnut leaf, vetch flowers, pond, Vassiviere, Limousin, France, 1986

Willow Nest: pollarded willow, hay, fern stalks, poppy petals, Marchiennes Forest, France, 1994

A pollard willow in a meadow. I removed the center branches and filled the hollow space with hay. Then I covered the bottom with fern leaves from nearby. The tree as nest—the nest in the tree. Later, I placed a ring of poppy petals on the nest floor. -NilsUdo

Tower: Benthelm sandstone, Nordhorn, Germany, 1982

quartzite monolith weighing about 150 tons, fir trunks blown over in storm, Forest Sculpture trail, Wittgenstein-Sauerland, Bad Berleberg, Germany, 2001

sunflower head with seeds removed; guelder rose berries, bishop’s mitre; seeds of bishop’s mitre afloat on a stream, Danube marshlands, Bavaria, 1993

A summer day. A small river, crystal clear, flows through a wooded pasture in the Danube marshlands. A lush carpet of submersed plants undulates gently in the current. Along the stream I found guelder rose bushes, spindle trees, rowanberries, and a few scattered sunflowers. I stripped the seeds from the blowsy sunflowers, loaded the heads with the berries I had gathered, and floated them on the water. - Nils Udo

March Altar: ash poles, reeds, clematis
Priental, Bavaria, 1981

Romantic Landscape: fairy-tale natural landscape for children's play, on platform--
installation, Aachen, Germany, 1992


Nest in red clay, Clemson College, 2005

A steep grassy slope leads down to a hollow flanked by trees and located on the edge of a forest. Profound clay soil. The project reacts and works with the natural conditions encountered there. We dug and modeled the hollow for the nest deep into the bright red ground.

Afterwards, we built the high nest walls joggling and wedging long pine trunks with one another. We lined the interior of the nest with green bamboo sticks narrowing more and more towards the inside. The nest ground stayed uncovered. Clay as a metaphor for birth and life. - Nils Udo

lava flames--flowers & lava flow, Reunion, India
The Maize, plantation,1994

The Nest: earth, stones, silver birch, grass; Lineberg Heath,Germany, 1978

Untitled: blue spiral

River Altar: floating raft of ash and hazel branches, clematis, dandelions--Priental, Bavaria, 1980

May in Chiemgau, Bavaria

Meadow covered in dandelions. Build a raft in the shape of a cross. Bind two ash branches together with celematis. Attach two bent hazel switches to the ash cross. Bind the hazel with clematis to the intersection of the ash cross. Bore holes in the hazel.  Bring raft to the riverbank.

Collect dandelions and thread heads through stems to make chains. Hang the chains in the hazel arches, and set the raft adrift in the stream.The moment is well chosen. In the late afternoon sun, the altar shines bright as it floats downstream. -Nils Udo

Dune Edge: pampas grass, sand, wind --Namibia, 2001

Lost in the immensity of the mountainous red sand dunes of Namibia. One of the oldest deserts in the world. Not a breath of wind, not a sound. The tracks of a solitary gazelle crisscross the huge immaculate hollow at the foot of one gigantic dune. The shadow of late afternoon sun rapidly draws closer. - Nils Udo

Winter Nest: snowballs dyed with guelder rose berry juice, Upper Bavaria, 1996

Winter in Chiemgau. On the edge of the forest I found a bush of red guelder rose berries, gathered and pressed juice from them. I came across a small hollow in the snow. I made a few snowballs dyed with the berry juice, and lay them in the hollow. Then I made a garland from from nearby brambles that were still green, and laid it round the nest. -Nils Udo

Untitled: cliff face rubbed green with tree leaves, Island of Cres, Yugoslavia, 1988

Small Lake--earth, water, hazel branch, bluebells, dead leaves, Vallery, France, 2000

Root-Sculpture, Mexico City, 1995

It was toward the end of the dry season. It had  not rained for months. The earth was concrete hard. We had to proceed most carefully so as not to damage the more delicate roots. Seven people dug, scraped and shoveled for a week. After the photograph, the hole was, of course, filled in. - Nils Udo

Waterhouse: spruce trunks, birch branches, willow switches and sod on tidal flats--
Waddensee mudflats, Holland, 1982

The Installation was far out on the mud flats. The surface of the flats, stretching endlessly to the horizon, was covered by billions of tiny mud-worm casts. To start we piled up excavated earth to form an arrow-shaped pool, then we set up spruce trunks with their birch brushwood before building the island, which was planted with turf. - Nils Udo

In His Own Words

The works I created in Paris in the 1960s using living plants and natural materials marked my first step towards moving away from panel painting and studio work. Moving from Paris to rural Bavaria, perceiving the endangerment of nature, its growing destruction,
I lived through a profound change of awareness.

Being a part of nature, being embedded in it and living on it, it appeared to me that acting in com-pliance with the laws of nature was something self-evident and necessary for survival.

To preserve the original character of nature, its unscathed condition, was like preserving the air
I breathed, the basis of my existence. Human interference could bring about nothing but des-truction and extinction. Every newly detected piece of destroyed nature brought me to the verge of despair.

Turning nature into art? Where is the critical dividing line between nature and art? This does not interest me. What counts for me is that my actions . . . fuse life and art into each other. Art does not interest me. My life interests me, my reaction to events that shape my existence.

Even though I work in parallel with nature and create my interventions with all possible caution, they will always remain a fundamental contradiction to themselves. It is this contradiction on which all my work is based. Even this work cannot avoid one fundamental disaster of our existence. It injures what it draws attention to, what it touches: the virginity of nature. To realize what is possible and latent in Nature, to literally rmake real what has never existed, utopia becomes reality.To unite, condense and amalgamate the specific possibilities of a landscape at a given season to form a unique pinnacle, the apotheosis of that season in that landscape. Even one second of a lifetime is enough. The event has taken place. I have only awakened it and made it visible.

In the early years, the idea of planting my work literally into nature - of making it a part of nature, of submitting it to nature - its cycles and rhythms, filled me on the one hand with a deep inner peace, and on the other with seemingly inexhaustible new possibilities and fields of action, putting me into an almost euphoric state of readiness for new departures. As a part of nature, I lived and worked day after day in its rhythms, by its conditions. Life and work became a unity. I was at peace with myself.

The aspect of art now completely faded into the background. What I wanted was to live, act and work in symbiosis with nature in the closest possible way. The living nature itself, all of its characteristic phenomena , were all of a sudden potential issues. The sphere of nature simultaneously became the sphere of art, in which I inscribed myself.

By elevating the natural space to a work of art, I had opened myself to reality, to the liveliness of nature - I had overcome the gap between art and life. The roundabout way of two-dimensional abstraction in painting had been overcome. Henceforth my pictures were no longer painted, but planted, watered, mowed, or fenced. I associated my existence with the cycles of nature, with the circulation of life. Henceforth my life and work proceeded under the guidance and in keeping with the rhythms of nature. 

Sensations are omnipresent. I just need to pick them up and release them from their anonymity. Utopias are under every rock, on every leaf, behind every tree, in the clouds and in the wind. The sun's course on the days of equinox; the tiny habitat of a beetle on a lime leaf; the pointed maple's red fire; the scent of herbs in a wooded gorge; a frog's croak in the duckweed; the primrose's perfume on the banks of a mountain creek; animal traces in the snow; the remaining trajectory of a bird darting through the woods; a gust of wind in a tree; the dancing of light on leaves; the endlessly complex relationship of branch to branch, twig to twig, leaf to leaf.

Everything perceivable through human senses takes part--Natural space experienced through hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting and touching. By means of the smallest possible interventions, living, three-dimensional natural space is reorganized, unlocked and put under tension.

Reorganized, of course for a finite period of time. One day, the intervention is wiped away, undone by nature without leaving a trace.

indebted to an interview by John Grande

Nils Udo in his studio in Chiemgau, Bavaria, in 2007; photo credit Christian Topel


top of page

Return to Artist/Naturalist Index