Earthwork | Film review
A portrait of Kansas artist Stan Herd gains from John Hawkes’s performance.
True artists would probably claim making art is its own reward, but the reality is muddied with bills to pay and a desire for recognition and praise. Working without a safety net can be the ultimate test of the creative urge, as this film about Kansas artist Stan Herd (John Hawkes) reveals. Herd’s medium is an unusual one: He makes earthworks, large-scale structures shaped into the landscape with natural materials, best viewed from above.
Set in 1994, Chris Ordal’s biopic focuses on a crisis point in its subject’s career, when Herd, as depicted, underbids for the opportunity to sculpt a piece in a Trump-owned Manhattan lot that eventually will be cleared to make way for a skyscraper. Without telling his wife (Laura Kirk), Herd takes out a bank loan, wagering his family’s resources on the opportunity to get his work in front of the New York media.
While almost defiantly restrained and small-scaled—it rarely pulls back enough to show the lot in its urban context—the film offers a great showcase for Hawkes (an Oscar nominee for Winter’s Bone), who projects the drive and desperation roiling under Herd’s genial surface. The deep humanity in his portrayal even balances out Earthwork’s pat characterizations of the homeless men living nearby who become Herd’s assistants and providers of life lessons.