In high school I was a doodler. A doodler of trees, covering every notebook and book cover. I would draw a large trunk and large number of branches. I certainly didn’t think much about it.
For me, high school was a time of anxiety, with the usual stress of fitting in, tests, boredom, boys, and waiting for life to happen. I feel like this might align with my current fixation on painting trees. To look at this painting compositionally, it may not seem like I was “going out on a limb,” with a big branch, some leaves, a mountain range in the distance, but maybe this is just another response to my current anxiety. I read somewhere that themes of nature can create calm in a stressful environment. If this is the case, maybe a big branch feels like a bit of support.
For quite a while I have been working on line drawings and silhouettes of dried weeds, hoping to one day incorporate them successfully into a painting. I have made a number of attempts at weaving these elements into a composition. For some paintings I think it worked pretty well and some not so much. To make the combination successful, the drawing and painting need to also flow with the lines, color and busy surface of the patterned paper. In this piece, the branch is meant to be representational and strong, while the weeds and leaves are intentionally transparent and wispy. It’s a big contrast to have a large, opaque branch at the top with thin and see-through areas at the bottom. By including more elements to the picture plane, it creates more opportunity, as well as more potential for disaster. My version of “going out on a limb.”
In the end, I think this painting represents a reasonably successful amalgamation of the pieces coming together, painting, line drawings, and patterned paper.
Could the limb be interpreted as a looming threat or is it sheltering what’s below? If my history is an indication, it is an exercise in calming anxiety.
About 130 years ago, it was a natural amphitheater used by the once popular vacation destination for speeches and performances. Today it’s a grove of tall old trees with a few winding paths covered with pine needles. It has a quiet, empty auditorium feel since the branches are at the top of the canopy creating a high ceiling effect. The old pines have lost their lower limbs. Ages ago, people would sit on this natural concave bowl watching a speech by a spiritual leader and is now sparsely populated by big old pine trunks replacing what was once vacationers as the eternal audience.
I wanted to paint The Grove because of the interesting patterns of shadows and the great old trees. While painting, I worked to highlight the shadows with electric blues and created the bold striping in the painting. I hoped to pull the viewer into the middle of the painting and up and around. The way I see the space, mystical and surrounded.
In past paintings, stripes were a symbol of a negative space. A place devoid of anything of substance. In those painted landscapes, if an area had a vacant lot, I would depict the space with green and white striped fabric. Several people asked me why the green and white specifically and I didn’t have an answer, until one day months later. It was a personal one. At the time, I was in a relationship that ended badly. I was heartbroken as well as had to overcome other challenges due to the end of the relationship. We had a bold, green and white bedspread. It was my symbol for emptiness.
That was twenty years ago. Interesting to me that this is the first time in years that I recall painting anything remotely like stripes. Maybe it took that long to fully recover. Regardless, I am transfixed by the blue striping effect in the painting. I may continue to work on the painting but the stripes will stay.
*This is something I had written about my work fall of 2019. Because of COVID, I think something of this has changed for me. The busy pace of things before COVID made being invisible a luxury, now being invisible feels like indifference.
To be invisible is easy, just stay in place, don’t move, watch the world go by. It’s a noble thing to be filling in the landscape in an altruistic state of quiet.
These are symbols of local history, or a place that everyone knows, and no one sees. Slowly being erased over time, covered by weeds, and unique for its unkept nature. Who cares if the place looks messy, no one sees anyway. It’s like standing on the corner of the one main road through town, yet you are invisible.
I work to expose the sense of place and the uniqueness of the everyday that lives among us. Lines, paint and a surface that contorts like topography, to bring the invisible into view.
To me it’s the beauty of the past, a place that no one visits, a forgotten gem, or a ramshackle wreck that is alluring. A canvas of physicality with areas of transparency, as though you can see through the work, to the lines, to the beginning, such as the grass in Green Pond, or the fading lines of the birds.
I reconnoiter what our everyday travels glaze over but not as loneliness and isolation. Being invisible isn’t about being non-existent but is an expression of being part of the fabric of the local.
More detail and some fixes are needed with this piece but sharing some photos and thoughts on the work.
Recently I have been intrigued and inspired by the spiked and broken trees around the area where I live or “thorny” as one friend pointed out. There are certainly plenty of dead trees to choose from especially since the drought this summer.
I wonder about the relation between the thorny trees and painting during COVID. And the blue that falls down the trunk. I think it adds to the mood of the work. It was intentional to use complementary colors, blues with orange, some purple and my fav, yellow ochre.
As always (for the last twenty years or so) I started the piece with the patterns, using more pattern lines in the left for smaller branches and it contrasts nice against the open spaces at the top and bottom. It reminds me of broken glass or a quilt. Is it comfortable or uncomfortable?
While taking photos this weekend, I found goldenrod with these unusual pods in the stems. Looked it up and they are gall bugs. Wish I didn’t bring a couple of the stems home. Ha. It was amusing to me to paint bug pods tonight.