Monday, February 21, 2011

Art is the Tree of Life

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way.  Some see Nature all ridicule and deformity, and some scarce see Nature at all.  But to the eyes of the man of imagination, Nature is imagination itself.” – William Blake, 1799, The Letters

Trees and plant have been a part of myths, legends, folklore, worship and religion.  From The Tree of Life, to the Tree of Knowledge, the Banyan tree, Badhi tree, to Sacred Groves and the Christmas tree, trees have given sacred and deep meanings to humans throughout history. 
The many branched Tree-0f-Life concept, symbolising the idea that all life here is related and this illustration is used in science, religion, philosophy, mythology, and for many other ideas.  It’s a motif and a metaphor as well as a mystical concept suggesting interconnectedness in all life.  Think of family trees, evolutionary trees, diagrams showing many branches … trees!
The sacred grove was of great religious importance to a number of cultures, the Celtic, Baltic, Germanic, ancient Greek, Near Eastern, Roman and Slavic polytheism as well as being used in India, Japan and West Africa 
For the Druids, the grove is the centre of their religion, and in ancient Egypt they worshiped the Sycamore tree and gave us the first trees represented in ancient art. 

“Approach a tree we approach a sacred being who can teach us about love and about endless giving.  She is one of millions of beings who provide out air, our homes, our fuel, our books.  Working with the spirit of the tree can bring us renewed energy, powerful inspiration, deep communion.– Druid Tree Love and the Ogham (From the teaching material of the Ovate Grade)


Trees have also appeared in literature, playing key roles in JRR Tolkien’s work, which I read avidly as a teenager, but younger still I also remember being quite fond of Enid Blyton’s “Magic Faraway Tree” series.  I was enchanted with trees quite early on.
With so much influence in human history (let’s face they help us exist here by providing our air!) it’s also not surprising that trees have featured in many other art forms.  I remember quite distinctly talking in art history lessons at school about when the first European settlers to Australia started painting and drawing Australia’s trees they found them hard to deal with.  Here were artists that were used to the uniform shapes of trees in Europe, not the straggly, random directions of eucalypts!!  Trees being so symbolic to humans have featured in art since the Sycamore’s in ancient Egypt, to ancient art in China. 
Moreton Bay Fig Tree on Magnetic Island

“Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter.”
– Ilan Shamir, Advice From A Tree

I have spent the past two months thinking about trees and some of my favourite tree photos and the inspiring moments when I took them.  There was one extremely magical winters morning for me in Wangaratta.  I had left my motel room early, for a morning walk.  Wangaratta was covered in a thick white mist, but a bright winter’s sun was struggling to peak through causing an orange-yellow glow on the horizon.  Although quite bitterly cold, it was stunningly beautiful lit morning, the silhouettes, the shadows, the white frost on plants, and the glistening dew all in the early morning light had me entranced.  With camera firmly in hand I walked briskly to a nearby park I had spotted on a map the day before.  I only stopped to take a photo of morning light down Murphy Street.  I soon forgot about the cold, and was glowing with a kind of rapture … I could almost smell the potential photos, let alone see them!  It was just a matter of timing to get the light right.  I walked around an oval and tennis courts, leaving dark footsteps in the frosty grass, admiring the glow of water droplets on everything from spiders webs, to plants and fencing!  I hit King River and I followed it to a walking track through bushland, following more or less the river.  Although the parkland is in central Wangaratta, at times I felt I was in the middle of the bush … well apart from the occasional sights of residential properties across the river, and noising drifting over from the town waking up … oh and the one or two people who crossed my path.  It was just I with the river, nature, my camera, and a brilliantly golden morning light just sneaking through the trees.  A number of photos later, I walked back to the oval to head back to my motel.  As I skirted the oval, I pasted a number of tall gum trees scattered across a lawn.  The sun was streaming through the trees, the mist was rising and long shadows crept towards me.  It had been a morning with so many picture perfect tree moments.
Murphy St Sunrise

Another time a tree had me reaching for my camera whilst driving on a back road in country Victoria.  I had been in Charlton and was heading for Rochester, and rather than take highways through to Bendigo and around (the long way), I decided the take the back roads from Bridgewater.  Heading towards Elmore is a landscape that is really sparsely treed, long cleared for pasture.  As I drove past the end of a dirt road I soon found myself slamming on the brakes.  A lone tree had caught my eye.  I backed up, jumped out of the car to see the lone gum tree set against a blue sky dotted with clouds and put my camera to my eye.  Soon afterwards a ute of grinning country boys hurled past me in a cloud of dust …but by this stage I was happily stomping back through long grass with a maniacal grin on my face, back to the car … I just caught a great image … a great tree.
“Tall thriving Trees confessed the fruitful Mold:
The reddening Apple ripens here to Gold,
Here the blue Fig with luscious Juice overflows,
With deeper Red the full Pomegranate glows,
The branch here bends beneath the weighty Pear,
And verdant Olives flourish round the Year.” – Homer

So like to many moments in history, in legends, literature and art, I too have found trees to be inspiring.  So too have my friends and colleagues Angela Polglaze (chainsaw carver/sculptor) and Sian Adnam (ceramic artist) who will soon share some of their tree inspired art at our Exhibition Art-Is-Tree.    Art is the tree of life.

“Acts of creation are ordinarily preserved for gods and poets. 
To plant a pine, one need only own a shovel.” – Aldo Leopold

For My Mum ... who loves trees.