I’ve long been fascinated by the patterns that trees create – how they repeat, with variations. Leaves that all follow the same basic shape, manage to create depth and texture on trees with variations in colour, size and the angles from which they are viewed. So much complexity, and yet the overall effect is so pleasing.
I also really like collage. I love cutting and sticking and layering. So I’m combining these two interests to explore the leafy side of trees. I want to understand how leaves can be so similar, yet different. Sometimes when I look at trees, the repeated patterns created by the leaves jump out at me. How it is that we see the patterns in the chaos?
So these are the first of what I think will be a lot of experiments with leaves, their shapes, their patterns and effects.
My theme for 2021 is going to be trees. I’ve long loved trees. I spent my childhood in the branches of a giant Plane tree in our suburban garden in Pietermaritzburg. I was proud of my climbing abilities and loved that I could hide in the highest branches with a view of the suburb. That tree was a great comfort to me, a place I could escape to when the world felt overwhelming. Up there with my arms around a sturdy branch and my face against the bark was my happy place.
I’m less agile now, but I still find solace in admiring trees from below. This month I enjoyed the rare treat of admiring trees from high-up again when I visited the Treetop Walk at the Serralves Park in Porto. This was an opportunity for lots of photos of trees that will serve as inspiration. I’ve also managed to get pics while walking around Guimarães (strictly for exercise of course – we’re in a hard lockdown here).
My art materials are severely limited, but I do have some water-soluble oil pastels that I am experimenting with. I know, that sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I’d never encountered such things before. They were a Christmas gift. They go on like waxy crayons, but turn into nice creamy colour with a bit of water added. They are messy, giving lots of opportunity for mistakes, which I like. I particularly like the effects I got for the sky in the image below. I’m looking forward to doing more like this.
This is the first winter I’ve spent in Europe and I’m excited by naked winter trees. In Johannesburg, the autumn leaves were still clinging to the branches when the spring growth started, and I never got to see trees in all their naked glory. Here every last leaf drops by January and there is a good month or two to admire their structure in detail. There are also many new trees to learn about, so plenty of new inspiration.
Safe is a mandala that I have been mulling over for some months. My first sketches for it were made in around June. The original idea was to explore using trees in place of the traditional four gates or doors in the mandala. I thought the idea of trees moving through the gates would be interesting.
It was only once I had finished it that the title Safe occurred to me. Those trees just seemed to embrace me in a happy space.
In the centre of Safe is the Yin-Yang symbol, the symbol of dual life forces. Feeling safe is not about living in a world that is all good and no bad. It is about being able to embrace that life has aspects of both. We feel safe only when we can embrace this duality.
The centre is embraced by the chocolatey-brown roots of the four trees.
The inner square is a paved area, a human space where nature is tamed and the world is shaped to our human needs. Outside is the grass and beyond the sky. The four corners of Safe represent the four elements Fire, Water, Earth and Wind, acknowledging that our safe human spaces are contained by and depend on the planet. Earth is a safe haven in the wildness of the universe.
Safe is bigger than my other mandalas, at 75cm x 75cm. It’s painted in acrylic paint on a gallery-wrapped canvas, finished with a matt acrylic varnish, and is ready to hang. The painting goes around the sides of the canvas as shown below.
Safe was completed back in November, before my exhibition, but I’m only now finding the time to write about it.