As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, I’ve been working on a “Tree of Life” themed series of mixed media paintings. For me, the “Tree of Life” idea and its visual motifs are a subset of “Ecological Order“. The series includes some ink drawings that abstract tree structures, and function as studies.
The major work in the series is a group of acrylic and mixed media paintings using tree shapes as central figures. Each is a different experiment with mixed media, and a different treatment of the subject.
Links to other posts on this series are at the end of this post (scroll down)
There are several ecological and bioscience themes running through the paintings in the series. The first is evolution, and our common molecular heritage (DNA and RNA). Tree of Life 1 incorporates an evolution and DNA subject. The tree represents the web of life, and the evolutionary and ecological connectivity of the species on earth. Evolutionary connections and ecological connections are inextricably linked through natural selection, the formation of ecological niches, and through various ways that life forms have remodeled the Chemistry of the Earth.
The second painting in the series, “Tree of Life 2, old growth” focuses more specifically on the ecological role of trees. Old growth trees are especially important in sustaining forests. They have a disproportionate impact on the water cycle, soil retention, carbon sequestration, and temperature regulation. We’ve only recently begun to realize the importance of old growth trees and many have been lost in unregulated and managed wood harvesting programs.
A key challenge for “Tree of Life 2” was the central tree figure. An old growth tree is a substantial ecological anchor point. It links and mediates a complex and rich web of biological species. It is also challenged and sometimes missing. I decided to address the ephemeral aspects of the subject by using a white tree figure – a negative space of sorts. The white tree trunk and major branches were created using plaster soaked cloth and media soaked string. This approach creates a white negative space from far away and at first glance. On closer examination the substantial rich textures are seen, anchoring the idea and the work.
The construction of the central figure can be seen in a late stage in-progress photo, below (in shade).
I had originally attempted to make double helix shapes in 3 dimensions using the string, but later decided to let the string’s natural properties show through more. The curves and whorls formed by the string contrast the sharp rough folded textures of the plaster and cloth in the trunk. The string also creates a set of intertwined lines reaching from the trunk out into the branches. This twining suggests a web or network and functions better within the context of the painting’s theme.
In the finished “Tree of Life 2”, Translucent white glazing unifies the materials used in the tree trunk and larger branches. Soft patterned glazes enrich and unify the background pattern as well.
The tree figure undergoes some interesting transformation as one examines it from the trunk, through the larger branches, and out to the smaller branches and twigs. The trunk is very white and stark, but also highly raised and textured. The combination creates a paradoxically substantive negative space.
The branches are progressively less textured and raised and are crisscrossed more and more with color from the background treatments. They are also more predominantly paint, rather than other media. The finest branches at the outer edges of the tree figure are a combination of translucent threads within the background and lines softly carved into the background texture.
I created the piece this way to evoke the idea of something substantial that is progressively disappearing, something integral yet interconnected with the environment is subtle ways. I believe it tells the story of old growth trees.
Other posts on the Tree of Life Series: