In the forest, just down the road, I recently came across something pretty magical. Something unique and intriguing but hidden and secret, and yet open to everyone. You may be lucky and stumble upon this surprising place, this French forest art, but more likely than not, you won’t. Deep in the woods in the small village of La Colle sur Loup on the French Riviera, an artist has been hard at work, creating a number of unusual, organic, mystical and ephemeral works of art. For a year, from sometime in 2014 to 2015* British sculptor Spencer Byles spent all day every day producing around 40 amazing forest sculptures out of materials he found in the surroundings. He called his project “A Year in a French Forest”.
French Forest Art
Spencer Byles created his art from bark, twigs, branches, leaves, shells, stones and other forest finds to blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings. Even the twine and wire, and other non-natural items like nails, were found on-site, all probably discarded by farmers and local artisans in an unauthorised dump. The creations vary from large pendulous nest-like shapes to intricate, delicate orbs – “dream-catchers” as described by my son.
There are spider-like creatures and figures made out of branches and two very different, and to my mind altogether unorganic – a beehive structure that brought to mind Kapla (the construction toy made of lengths of wood, a great favourite of my boys when they were little) and a bear.
You’ll also find magic circles, archways and plinths. Some pieces look like traps or natural animal lairs, some are big and bold, others camouflaged in the trees. The pieces are not named, leaving everything up to the imagination of the audience.
Spencer spent the first 3 months of his “Year in a French Forest” just observing the forest and getting a feel for the place before starting on the sculptures. He would work on several at any one time, moving between locations as inspiration struck.
Each work of art came about organically from its surroundings and nothing was planned or formally worked out. Pieces would be left for weeks or months before being finished off, giving Spencer time to reflect and decide if anything else was needed.
A couple of years later, not all the sculptures remain, some have been vandalised, others reclaimed by nature which is exactly the aim (the reclamation, not vandalism!) These installations were not designed to last forever, they were created to fade away with time.
Spencer explains: “the temporary nature of my sculptures is an important aspect of my experiences and understanding. I feel my sculptures are only really completed when nature begins to take hold again and gradually weave its way back into the materials. At this point they slowly become part of nature again and less a part of me.”
When I visited, I explored for an hour or so and am quite sure I didn’t see all the works of art, even Spencer himself believes about 50% of his works never get seen. Part of the magic is that there is no official explanation of where to find the sculptures, no directions or map. You just have to get lucky, hiking in the forest or walking your dog.
Or, like me, you have to know someone who’s already stumbled upon them and agrees to let you into the secret. I’m not going to break the magic by detailing how to find these magnificent works of art here but if you’d like to see them for yourself you can get in touch and I might just let you into the club!
Spencer Byles has now left the region and moved to Malaysia to weave some more of his intriguing magic on the other side of the world. No matter whether you like his work or not, I feel it can’t leave you untouched, unmoved. It’s so utterly original in both concept and style. I personally love it and feel hugely privileged to have experienced the result of his year in the forest. I am very lucky this is just on my doorstep.
What do you think of Spencer Byles’s approach to art, and the works themselves?
* These dates are worked out from dates of published articles, I couldn’t find the exact timing anywhere.
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Could you share directions with me as well, please? We’d love to go see them, but with two little kids we don’t have the luxury of searching them for hours. Thanks
These are absolutely beautiful. What a talented man he is. It makes the forest almost seem like it enchanted. Congratulations on being featured on #GoingGreenLinky and sharing your wonderful pictures. Have a healthy, happy & blessed day!
Wow – they are stunning & how wonderful to have it on your doorstep. I love the whole story of, how they were created, the organic process and the way they are now being reclaimed by nature. Another place to see added to the list – Thanks #AllAboutFrance
We went here on Saturday and it truly was magical!!! Thank you so much for sharing this with us Lou.
I just love coming across public art like this in France and these are stunning. We cycled along the Vire river in Normandy a few yard ago and along the riverbank were some really unusual sculptures. It made a great bike ride even more interesting.
What a lot of sculptures! Thanks for this fantastic share Phoebe 🙂
Wow these are amazing, i love to find little known things to see and do in places and this is truly that #AllAboutFrance
They are indeed beautiful. The ephemeral nature adds a pathos to it – I’ve always found ephemeral art admirable but confusing – stuck as I am with the idea that art is meant to last. Good job you took the photos – thanks!
What a stunning collection of natural artwork. I have not heard of Spencer Byles but know the similar work by Andy Goldsworthy and adore it. I love the fact you just stumble across the works and they have no names … I often see things in artwork that are not perhaps what the artist intended so here Spencer allows your imagination to run wild. Really wonderful and thank you so much for linking up with #GoingGreen, we don’t get enough natural art in the linky! âÂ¯â€˜âÂ¯â€˜
The designs are so cute most especially the one first one. I almost think it’s a portal going to another world hahaha
SO interesting that his medium was the forest! The teepee one is my favorite. I can’t say I’ve seen anything that elaborate around here. Thanks for sharing (and hosting)! 😀
Thanks for letting us know about this hidden gem 🙂 My husband and I just visited the place this weekend, I have to say that it was not easy to find the sculptures even with your help; we must have taken a wrong path in the very beginning. We missed some of those you saw, but found at least one that you haven’t shared here. Another reason to return there 🙂
Brilliant idea and great photos, as ever. In a wood not far from us, someone has made outlandish sculptures by recycling unwanted stuff, like former agricultural implements. Amazingly creative.
Truly magical photos and what skill the artist has. Would love to visit!
An enchanted forest indeed! I really love the idea that these sculptures are meant to be stumbled upon. If you didn’t know about them, you could imagine all sorts of things from indigenous tribes to fairies… Really wonderful!
Peaceful and detached from the brutality of everyday life at the moment.
Amazing! Imagine the surprise and delight a person would feel if they just stumbled upon these… Lucky you, living so close! They seem magical! #allaboutfrance
Wow! This forest seems truly magical, Phoebe! I’d love to go for a walk there one day!
How beautiful! I especially like the circular formations high in the trees. I would be full of wonder if I came upon these in the forest. A wonderful project.
Blimey, that’s a bit special – close to where we went when I was down in Jan? To me it looks as if a giant insect has been at work, and it does look very calm. Apart from the spider. Great post and a good mystery 🙂
Wow, how beautiful! I’ve never seen anything like this. Some of them really do look like enormous dreamcatchers! Thank you for sharing this, I enjoyed reading about the artist and these hidden sculptures!
This is really cool – thank you, Phoebe! Your photos make me want to go there for myself.
These are really lovely art installations. It’ amazing how nature works and how artistic man is. Thank you for sharing or Merci pour partager #GoingGreen
These are utterly fascinating and I couldn’t help but be drawn in from your description. You’ve certainly made me want to go seek them out. I like how the artist is blurring the relationship between art and nature and art becoming and being taken over by nature. Great photos. Thanks for hosting #allaboutfrance
What an unusual collection. I love the fact that there is no official route and you just have to find the sculptures it means you can go back and discover new ones every time. I also find it inspiring that all the materials used were found on site – what a challenge for an artist! Thanks for hosting #AllAboutFrance
Wow! I love the natural beauty of these! Thanks so much for sharing and letting us have a sneak peek into this hidden wonder.
Very cool photos! Thanks for sharing.
This is so astoundingly soothing. I’ve always enjoyed rock stacking and this has a similar essence. Imagining the artist at work is also a comfort — what a wonderful project. Thank you for sharing!
Phoebe i love this post. The effort that it would took for the artist to be creative for a year shows through in your photos. What a treat!
I love the shadows you captured Phoebe! Beautiful natural art #allaboutfrance
I was saying only last week how much I like a sculpture trail, but this is really special. There’s no denying these artworks seem born out of their surroundings. A very gifted artist. Thanks for sharing! #AllAboutFrance
very enchanting! #allaboutfrance
Just beautiful. I can imagine the artist quietly looking for materials and planning how to use them. Creating works of art purely for his own pleasure. How peaceful it must have been there in the forest. I wondered if he took photos of his creations, but thought probably not, as they were designed to be ephemeral and return to nature.
How magical! Whenever I go walking in the forest I expect to find something like that, and of course I never have.
The amount of time he spent creating this forest art is really touching. How neat to be able to explore it! #FarawayFiles
What a stunning, beautiful, magical place to explore! I LOVE everything about it, and I might well ask you for directions if I ever find myself in the area. We explored Oma’s Painted Forest in the Spanish Basque Country, and we have Sculptures in Woodland near here in Ireland, in a forest called Devil’s Glen, but this project looks even more magical/mystical. What a gem!
Oh I just LOVE everything about this, Phoebe! The fact that they’re hidden away in a forest, made from natural materials, that they’re beautiful and magical and that you need to find them for yourself which makes it seem more secret and adventurous. What a wonderful post for #FarawayFiles. Thank you.
How fascinating! What a novel way to experience the forest and the outdoors. #FarawayFiles
It reminds me of a magical forest in fairy tales. I can just imagine walking thru the woods and finding all these hidden treasures. #GoingGreen
Absolutely wonderful. I [i]adore[/i] this, particularly the fact that there is no guide, no names, no “visitor interpretation resources”. At the risk of sounding grumpy, I hate being spoon-fed information at tourist attractions and vastly prefer to discover a place at my own pace, lost in my own thoughts and interpreting the sights and sounds as I wish. If I’m ever down in this part of France I will surely search out this forest. Thanks! #FarawayFiles
These are brilliant, absolutely fascinating and it would be so exciting to have stumbled across them! Some people just have such talent!
These are magical – what a wonderful idea for art, especially the thought they’re part of nature, that the forest will reclaim them. #farawayfiles
Looks like a proper fairy garden! My daughter would love this. There’s something similar in the Toolangi State Forest near Melbourne and it is also quite special. #FarawayFiles
Oh wow. This is so amazing. Do you know the artist Patrick Dougherty? He also works with twigs in his large-scale sculpture, though his pieces aren’t so remote. What a treasure hunt to find these beautiful pieces. I LOVE how they use the sunlight to create more art in the shadows. Super cool. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles, Erin
With pleasure Richard!
How wonderful to be shown around by Spencer himself. If you’d like the directions to go again Ellie, let me know and I’ll send them.
You know where to stay when you do come Nell! I’ll personally take you there. 🙂
I’ve sent directions in an email Katie
Hello Lou, how wonderful these are. Would you be able to give me a pointer into which forest near Colle sur Loup they would be, so I can go and discover things with my children? Many thanks, >Katie
Oh wow! How wonderfully original. I love to spend time in forests, and combining it with such unique art would be the cherry on top! Thanks for sharing this unique project with us.
Wow this is so magical, I bet you could spend hours looking I know I would its all so intriguing. Thanks so much for linking up #MondayEscapes x
Oh my goodness. These are magical! I love their delicacy, and the fact that they’re designed to be taken back by nature. I have a sudden urge to travel to the French Riviera before they disappear…..
What a curious discovery! I do like the idea of working with nature to highlight its beauty.
I was very fortunate to be have a guided tour with Spencer, it really is amazing,, but i have never been able to find it again !
So interesting! I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures of these sculptures. Thank you for sharing them! #MondayEscapes
I have GOT to see this!
That’s a great deal of craftsmanship in those sculptures. How fabulous it’s all a giant secret though! Imagine how much fun you could have tracking them all down (or more of them anyway).
Those loops in the first photo in particular are amazing! Indeed some of his creations are very well integrated in the forest!
Wow! How incredibly unique and awesome is this!? I love it! It’s always so interesting to see what, where and why people make the things they do! Pinned! #MondayEscapes
Thanks for this post – I hope to visit next time in the Riviera
How fascinating. Perhaps, if we’re very good, you’ll let us into the secret when we visit LM (and you) next month?
I love these works of art. I would be so excited if I came upon them. Thank you for sharing these inspirational photos.