I started 2020 continuing to use Monoprints, with images relating to Ecocide/Climate Change, both imagined, impending, & real (Australia); there are also some more Hopeful images such a ‘The Revival Tree’, Ciconia’ & ‘Condor (Gymnogyps)’ (see images at the foot of this page);
I then did several of the Pollarded Lime Trees outside my Flat (they had just been ‘trimmed’ that day). They started to become something of an obsession…
London’s Pollarded Street Trees (predominantly Lime & Plane, chosen for their resilience to pollution) have recently become something of a multi-valent representation of so many things we do/don’t know about Ecology to me; & Nature’s Real place in our world.
I remember feeling disgusted when I saw them shorn back in this manner on Wandsworth Bridge Road decades ago – this had been done brutally, & in spring (this is Not the right time to do this, as the Sap lost at this time can be damaging due to stress) – but this stemmed more from my lack of knowledge about this being a necessary process, not least for their prolonged longevity. They also often need cutting to stop them outgrowing their given space (interfering with telephone lines, etc) & prevent light levels being reduced in street/in house, makes trees more wind-resistant, whilst also stopping roots from becoming too destructive to paving. It also reduces the amount of leaves/leaf drop, hence reducing council costs during autumn, and provides material for mulching. So while this regular pruning may appear brutal, there is very sound reason to do so.
The Trees may have an added beauty to them because of this pollarding. However, the bottom line is Man is in Control, & nature is given little choice…
I’ve since learnt that Street Trees (as described by Peter Wohlleben in the brilliant ‘The Hidden Life of Trees) function on a minimal level due the near complete lack of symbiotic fungal networks that their forest cousins are nourished by & rely on, along with the obvious, additional stresses put on them by City living.
Their appearance defines an ongoing relationship with Man; indeed, many of them have a cartoon, anthropomorphic appearance, with distinct heads, arms & bodies; and because of this back & forth, dynamic process of growth & removal over time the Trees seem to dance in a particular direction, as they struggle (vainly) to grow bigger, both outwards & upwards. They seem to me like huge Bonsai..
There are wonderful areas where changing directions of growth & weight make the Trees bulge, & the bark appears more like a liquid, flowing down around the younger pollarded areas with gravity. This can best be appreciated from the base, looking straight up.
This gets more interesting to me regarding the process of printing them, & the subject, the longer I do them.
There’s a certain rhythm to doing these in such volume – I’ve tried to represent every tree in my surrounding Streets – the repetition of shapes, forms, movement & texture reminds me of a cruder form of Chinese Sung painting, where Artists would spend years representing birds, flowers & landscapes thousands of times, until the process takes over & that Subject metamorphoses, & almost becomes something else.
These Neighborhood Trees expanded to include dead/dying trees in nearby Wanstead Park, & from Dartmouth (where I now Reside); Monoprints from the latter months of 2020 were further informed by the following literature; ‘The Hidden Life of Trees’ by Peter Wohlleben, ‘The Uninhabitable Earth’ by David Wallace-Wells, ‘Gaia’ by James Lovelock, & Merlin Sheldrakes’s amazing ‘Entangled Life’, which expand on the relationship of Trees with Fungi (and other fascinating endosymbiotic relationships, such as Lichens.).
The latter book in particular led me to start using a 2nd printed image from the original Monoprint (the ghost print) & then printing over these using hand-cut stencils made of old off-cuts of TruGrain (around the original outline of the Stump) with translucent White/Creams with Gloss extender. the ink on this print would then behave/look like the fungal mycelia that reach throughout any given Tree. I enhanced these further, on occasion, by feathering edges with a large, dry paintbrush.
I have now finished creating another series of Tree Portraits as a Commission, documenting the arid region of Ojai in California. While many native species are hardy & naturally resilient the current extremes of Climate experienced in the region are enabling a number of accidentally introduced diseases to take advantage of them, including the Canyon Live Oak, which is portrayed in many of the Prints below. The latter end of this Commission led me into much larger Prints (Ojai #27-29) using composite Monoprints with stencils, and minor embellishments with Acrylic & Ink, which were a new way of working, and hugely enjoyable!
This Ongoing Series is a celebration of the endless wonder of Trees, & a Recognition of all of Nature’s ongoing struggles.
The 15 piece Monoprint ‘Collage’, “Tree Portraits I” was selected for the Woolwich Contemporary Print Show 2020 Nov/Dec (Virtual Edition), & the ‘New Era’ Online exhibition with Art Number 23 Dec ’20 – Jan ’21