Representing and Abstracting Trees

posted in: Painting | 10

The problem with trees is we think we know them. But, Knowing and seeing are separate experiences. As with everything else we learn to represent trees through our experience with pictures. We always begin by representing  trees pictographically.  We have our standard categories such as, a triangle with a stick is a pine tree, a circle with a stick is deciduous. That knowledge interferes with seeing and depicting our experience.  The symbols occlude and overlay our vision. Below are examples of artists expressing their experience of trees. At times, especially in the absence of other human or animal figures the trees become figures, characters themselves.  Van Gogh saw an olive grove as an opportunity to express personal emotion through the olive trees. They become characters on his stage. Compare his painting with a photograph of the same grove taken from the same angle.

example 1.

example 2. Van Gogh’s grove.

Or, John Singer Sargent tried blurring the trees body in a mash of color, shaded areas go more red-violet and, the reflected light areas were made more golden. Note that the trees’ reflections are deeper and duller in color than the trees themselves.

example 3.

Georgia O’Keeffe similarly tried to pry the emotional essence from an observed experience. Like Van Gogh, she distilled, simplified, reduced and exaggerated components to present a sensation of tree that is  dynamic, trying to burst from the borders of its rectangle

example4. O’Keeffe’s tree.

I have looked for other ways to amplify, simplify and invigorate the sensation of a trees through paint. In my next example the trees are red-brown against a blue-green sky. The complementary contrast  builds dynamism. The trees thrust upward in a form of converging three point perspective. Again, I found an opportunity to provide vitality through exaggeration.  They are painted on an aluminum surface  with some translucent paint to offer a sparkly reflectance to give  the painting more liveliness.

example 5. conifers on aluminum by me.

In my next examples I want to stretch the definition of painting. I begin with two photos of the same tree. One image is elongated vertically and the other is vertically compressed. I printed a large (13″x19″) version and initially removed  some of the printer-ink with solvent. With some printers this can be done with water. After this erasure of some of the ink I began to paint with oils on top of the remaining traces of the image.  See how I was able to alter the character of the image from the photo below.

example 6. photo vertically extended

example 7. photo vertically compressed and now black and white

example 8. altered photo with solvent erasure and oil paint application

In the next two images you see I am further exploring the possibilities of the image but, now exclusively in paint.  This is as far as each of the images have come. Each is 48×48 on anodized aluminum.

example 9.

example 10.

In the final images I have a cluster of conifers in fog. The first image is only 8×10″ and a quick study of oil on paper. The second image is more developed in value and texture differences. It is also larger, 20×12″, oil on linen.  The obfuscating effects of the fog help deliver not only atmosphere and mystery but, a deeper sense of space as well.

example  11.

example  12.

10 Responses

  1. moss

    Great post as always!

    The VanGogh painting and accompanying photograph don’t show the same time of day. The VanGogh tree shadows (purple) extend away from the viewer while in the photo they come toward the viewer.

  2. marilyn moskowitz

    Your art and experimentation are always stimulating and beautiful. I’d like to paint on the aluminum. Please tell me who your supplier is. Thanks for your blog. Mariyn

  3. William Child

    I love the strength and interest in example #5, one of your’s David. Funny how I experimented with the wash effects back in school like the later paintings here and my teacher wondered how he was going to grade my misty washy works, because there was little connection to specific natural forms. This was in graduate school! Whoa!

  4. Linda Botwinick

    please advise the thickness of the aluminum panel and is it backed on something?I am new at this material and wondering if you frame them(SHARP EDGES) OR FLOAT THEM? ANY ADVISE IS GREATLY APPRECIATED

  5. Gloria Carbaugh

    I could happily look at example 10 for a very long time. It’s beautiful just as it is. Your willingness to share the results of your experiments with the rest of us is one of the things I enjoy most about your blog. Thank you!

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