Exhibition Dates: September 10 – October 1
The Human Nature of Trees
When asked by Hans Hofmann if an artist should paint from nature, Jackson Pollock’s response was “I am nature. Although Pollock was most likely thinking about his body rhythms while creating art spontaneously, his often quoted comment suggests that he felt a strong connection with the natural world, which seems plausible in that he produced most of his drip paintings in a barn in the rustic setting of the Springs, near East Hampton, New York. In the 1940s-50s, working in the Hamptons provided the artist with a sanctuary of sorts, a respite from the frenzy of New York City’s bustling life of crowded pedestrians, moving cars and noisy radios.
Compared with today’s media-saturated digital world, mid-20th-century urban life seems relatively tame, and artists’ yearnings to return to nature seem to have increased proportionately with the advances of the times. For Sandy Bleifer, Jean Edelstein, Maria Greenshields-Ziman, and Nataša Prosenc Stearns, living in Venice, California—where there is plenty of sunshine and access to the beach—provides some degree of opportunity to engage directly with the elements. Unlike the Hamptons in the 50s, however, the area is integrated with rather than isolated from the detriments of industrialization—such as traffic congestion, noise pollution, overpopulation, and crime. In response to this situation, Bleifer, Edelstein, Greenshields-Ziman, and Prosenc Stearns have each dedicated a portion of their creative practice to developing artworks which, in their creation as well as in their viewing, can provide a virtual communion with nature. Although these four women artists work in a variety of mediums, they share a common bond in their devotion to finding humanity in the poetry of trees.
Sandy Bleifer has held a longtime fascination with the relationship between trees and paper. While it is well known that paper is made from trees, Bleifer reverses the sequence by making tree forms out of paper. In her ongoing series “Paper Becoming Trees,” which she began in 1984, the artist demonstrates her skills as a master of her medium, having worked for many years with both handmade and commercially produced paper and having attained proficiency in a variety of processes, including painting, screen printing, moulding, and burning. Over the years, Bleifer has simulated a broad range of tree forms, including numerous varieties of barks, logs, and lumber. On a metaphoric level, these tree-like objects are about organic growth itself. Trees, just like humans, respond to the elements and have a temporal lifespan. With this concept in mind, Bleifer often brings an aged appearance to surface textures by burying her materials in the ground and then retrieving them during the process of developing the art work.
Jean Edelstein enjoys drawing trees at parks and gardens. For Edelstein, this practice is a joyful experience that she compares to what she feels while watching dancers in performance. Inspired by nature’s inherent choreography, Edelstein draws on site by recording her impressions of the organic rhythms of tree shapes, curving branches, and a vivid array of colors, into Chinese books with accordion-folded watercolor paper. In this way, she becomes a human conduit for transcribing the movements and interactions of trees sequentially over time, frame by frame as in a panoramic film. For Edelstein, whose art has been influenced over the years by both Western and Eastern modes of spirituality, the parks and gardens are sanctuaries for peacefulness and reflection. In short, they serve as the ideal settings for making art by communing with nature in a ritualistic manner that is intimate, personal, spontaneous, and immediate.
Maria Greenshields-Ziman maintains contact with nature by returning regularly to the her family farm in the South England countryside. As a child growing up in rural England, Greenshields-Ziman spent countless hours playing amidst lush fields, hedgerows, streams, and trees. Her favorite trees, in fact, became places of refuge when she needed solitude and solace. Today relatively unchanged from the time of the artist’s youth, the rural English landscape has become a treasured friend from the past, whose renewed acquaintance unfolds in her mixed-media works and illuminated drawings. By rendering her tree imagery on unlikely surfaces such as textured fiberglass weave or Plexiglas that is then electrically back-lit, Greenshields-Ziman brings qualities of light and air to her timeless subjects. Whether viewing a cluster of trees from afar or a detailed section at close range, the artist infuses each composition with a convincing life-affirming energy.
Nataša Prosenc Stearns is interested in the parallels between the human body and the natural world, and seeks to establish a spiritual connection between the two. In her videos of trees, she employs a number of stylistic devices—such as split-screen juxtaposition of frames, overlapping and dissolving of images, and rapid scanning of surfaces—to evoke the sense that nature is always alive and breathing. In her video Sky is Earth, viewers will see rhythmic transitions from earth to trees to sky and clouds, while listening to sounds of wind, rain, and other of nature’s forces. A symphony composed from details of nature, this and other of Sterns‘ tree videos will heighten a viewer’s consciousness of nature’s heartbeat, which is often ignored or taken for granted.