Artist finds balance in stone sculptures

While some artists are known for their rock ’n’ roll, Peter Riedel is gaining a growing reputation for rolling rocks.

The Toronto artist recently drew a slew of unexpected attention when he assembled a garden of stone sculptures in the Humber River.

“It was literally something that went viral,” says Riedel. “Especially the whole mystery part.”

Riedel spent several hours assembling the sculptures of various sizes in the river the first Sunday in August. Each composed of a number of well-balanced, flat rocks, the sculptures bare a resemblance to the Inunnguaq sculptures of the Inuit. Two days later the Toronto Star ran an article about the sculptures and attributed them to a mystery artist or group of artists.

Eventually, a Star reporter who had profiled Riedel in 2008 recognized the work as his and got in touch with him.

“It was just one call after another from radio, television, newspapers,” says Riedel of the attention that followed. “People have been asking if I do any sort of workshops… It was just quite bizarre.”

Riedel, a professional photographer, says he sometimes does the rock sculptures as a form of meditation.

“It just started really for therapeutic purposes,” he says.

He first came across the art form watching a gentleman assemble similar rock structures in Vancouver.

“I just found it amazing visually and very calming.”

Moving to Toronto after a stint in Atlanta on a work visa, Riedel says he started doing the sculptures as a way of dealing with difficult issues he was grappling with at the time.

Work visa complications combined with his father’s illness had put a strain on the artist, but the sculptures gave him an outlet.

“When I’m building, it’s so much like an obsession. I just keep moving on. It’s only at the end when I take off my boots and other people are looking that I calm down enough to allow myself a few minutes of quiet.”

The end may take several hours to arrive. Riedel says the assemblage of 42 sculptures in the Humber took him around five hours to put together, each sculpture taking between six and 10 minutes.

“The longest part is spotting the rocks and then moving them,” he says. “The lifting of them is quite a workout at times.”

He estimates the heaviest stone he’s ever lifted to be around 100 pounds.

Riedel says he didn’t try to give the sculptures any particular shape, but he finds it interesting to hear what other people see.

“People will often see shapes and figures and symbols, which I find fascinating because I don’t see it and they do,” he says.

Another common misconception about his work is that he uses glue.

“You would see that oozing out,” he says.

Rather, he describes his technique as an exercise in finding balance. And with most of the Humber River sculptures by now prodded apart by curious fingers, wind or water, he says the transience of his creations gives them meaning. So much so in fact that he at first refused to take photographs of his creations.

Eventually bowing to pressure from friends, Riedel now maintains an online gallery of his rock sculptures.

“People are very supportive and encouraging because they find it very beautiful and relaxing to look at as well.”

Correction: The photographs that originally accompanied this story were not sculptures of Peter Riedel but those of another unknown artist doing rock art in the Humber River. The Town Crier regrets the error.