The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

A year in a French forest: magical forest art

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, 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”.  

forest art France Spencer Byles

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 one very different, and to my mind altogether unorganic, 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).  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. 

forest art La Colle sur Loup France

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. 

forest art south of France

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.”

forest art Byles

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!

forest sculpture la Colle sur Loup

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.  

sculpture in forest

forest sculpture kapla

forest art circles

giant forest sculpture

forest art Loup river

forest art

Spencer Byles forest art near Loup river

Byles forest sculpture

forest art trapforest art S Byles France

forest figures

magical forest art

forest sculpture Spencer Byles

forest art sun

sculpture in french forest

mystical forest artwork

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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mystical art in French Riviera forest

 

 

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Comments

  • Guest
    Marla Monday, 05 June 2017

    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!

  • Guest
    Julie Whitmarsh Tuesday, 30 May 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Lisa Frederiksen Monday, 22 May 2017

    We went here on Saturday and it truly was magical!!! Thank you so much for sharing this with us Lou.

  • Guest
    FrenchVillage Jacqui Monday, 22 May 2017

    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.

  • Guest
    annette @ a french collection Sunday, 21 May 2017

    What a lot of sculptures! Thanks for this fantastic share Phoebe :)

  • Guest
    Laura | Little Ladies Big World Thursday, 11 May 2017

    Wow these are amazing, i love to find little known things to see and do in places and this is truly that #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest
    Curtis Bausse Wednesday, 10 May 2017

    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!

  • Guest
    Rosie @GreenRosieLife Wednesday, 10 May 2017

    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! ⯑⯑

  • Guest
    Chrissy Tuesday, 09 May 2017

    The designs are so cute most especially the one first one. I almost think it's a portal going to another world hahaha

  • Guest
    Diane Monday, 08 May 2017

    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)! :D

  • Guest
    Zane Sunday, 07 May 2017

    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 :)

  • Guest
    Vanessa Sunday, 07 May 2017

    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.

  • Guest
    June de Silva Saturday, 06 May 2017

    Truly magical photos and what skill the artist has. Would love to visit!

  • Guest
    Margo Lestz Saturday, 06 May 2017

    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!
    Margo #AllAboutFrance

  • Guest

    Peaceful and detached from the brutality of everyday life at the moment.

  • Guest
    Hilary Friday, 05 May 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Agness of eTramping Friday, 05 May 2017

    Wow! This forest seems truly magical, Phoebe! I'd love to go for a walk there one day!

  • Guest
    Ashley Friday, 05 May 2017

    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.

  • Guest
    Sally Friday, 05 May 2017

    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 :)

  • Guest
    CatherineRose Friday, 05 May 2017

    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!

  • Guest
    Richard Thursday, 04 May 2017

    This is really cool - thank you, Phoebe! Your photos make me want to go there for myself.

  • Guest
    Helena Thursday, 04 May 2017

    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

  • Guest
    http://Elizabeth (Wander Mum) Thursday, 04 May 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Jo Thursday, 04 May 2017

    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

  • Guest
    A Long Way From Home Thursday, 04 May 2017

    Wow! I love the natural beauty of these! Thanks so much for sharing and letting us have a sneak peek into this hidden wonder.

  • Guest
    Ian Thursday, 04 May 2017

    Very cool photos! Thanks for sharing.

  • Guest
    Jill Barth Thursday, 04 May 2017

    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!

  • Guest
    Carolyne Thursday, 04 May 2017

    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!

  • Guest
    Katy Thursday, 04 May 2017

    I love the shadows you captured Phoebe! Beautiful natural art #allaboutfrance

  • Guest
    Janet T Thursday, 04 May 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Tanja/The Red Phone box travels Thursday, 04 May 2017

    very enchanting! #allaboutfrance

  • Guest
    Susie Kelly Thursday, 04 May 2017

    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.

  • Guest
    Emily Thursday, 04 May 2017

    How magical! Whenever I go walking in the forest I expect to find something like that, and of course I never have.

  • Guest
    Ava Meena Wednesday, 03 May 2017

    The amount of time he spent creating this forest art is really touching. How neat to be able to explore it! #FarawayFiles

  • Guest

    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!
    #FarawayFiles

  • Guest
    Clare (Suitcases and Sandcastles) Tuesday, 02 May 2017

    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.

  • Guest
    Jen from Jenography Monday, 01 May 2017

    How fascinating! What a novel way to experience the forest and the outdoors. #FarawayFiles

  • Guest
    Carol Monday, 01 May 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Jonny (daisythebus) Monday, 01 May 2017

    Absolutely wonderful. I adore 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

  • Guest
    Mini Travellers Friday, 28 April 2017

    These are brilliant, absolutely fascinating and it would be so exciting to have stumbled across them! Some people just have such talent!

  • Guest
    http://Cathy (Mummytravels) Thursday, 27 April 2017

    These are magical - what a wonderful idea for art, especially the thought they're part of nature, that the forest will reclaim them. #farawayfiles

  • Guest
    Katy Thursday, 27 April 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Erin Gustafson @OregonGirlWorld Thursday, 27 April 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Katie Holmes Wednesday, 26 April 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 27 April 2017

    I've sent directions in an email Katie

  • Guest
    Thomas RIcvhter Thursday, 06 July 2017

    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
    Thomas

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 06 July 2017

    I've sent you an email, look out for it from contact @ loumessugo dot com

  • Guest
    Birgit | Groove is in the Heart Wednesday, 26 April 2017

    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.

  • Guest
    Sarah Christie Tuesday, 25 April 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Nell (Pigeon Pair and Me) Tuesday, 25 April 2017

    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.....

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 27 April 2017

    You know where to stay when you do come Nell! I'll personally take you there. :)

  • Guest
    Jane @ Raincity Librarian Monday, 24 April 2017

    What a curious discovery! I do like the idea of working with nature to highlight its beauty.

  • Guest
    ellie Monday, 24 April 2017

    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 !

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 27 April 2017

    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.

  • Guest
    April Berry Monday, 24 April 2017

    So interesting! I thoroughly enjoyed the pictures of these sculptures. Thank you for sharing them! #MondayEscapes

  • Guest
    Harriet Springbett Monday, 24 April 2017

    I have GOT to see this!

  • Guest
    Sol Solntze Monday, 24 April 2017

    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).

  • Guest
    Anna Monday, 24 April 2017

    Those loops in the first photo in particular are amazing! Indeed some of his creations are very well integrated in the forest!

  • Guest
    Lolo Monday, 24 April 2017

    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

  • Guest
    Sharon Saturday, 22 April 2017

    Thanks for this post - I hope to visit next time in the Riviera

  • Guest
    Richard Saturday, 22 April 2017

    How fascinating. Perhaps, if we're very good, you'll let us into the secret when we visit LM (and you) next month?

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 27 April 2017

    With pleasure Richard!

  • Guest
    Catherine Saturday, 22 April 2017

    I love these works of art. I would be so excited if I came upon them. Thank you for sharing these inspirational photos.

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