Category Archives: Trees

Shinichi Miyazaki – River

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Shinichi Miyazaki, River 2013-4, Douglas fir and ashfield stone On view at Augen Gallery until May 31, 2014

Miyazaki’s River is a gorgeous piece of smooth Douglas fir. The sloping form suggests, as the title would have it, a river. But I found myself thinking more of a watershed – the land that drains into a river. And of course trees depend on watersheds and rivers. The annual rings of the tree are exposed like geological strata. They’re a neat reminder that rivers exist in time – they change and evolve. Miyazaki clearly feels a reverence towards wood and trees. He notes that the wood that he works with is usually decades if not centuries old. He writes that, “I feel an obligation to mark its existence. … but basically I am trying to say thank you.” That sentiment certainly comes across and it’s infectious.

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Yang Yongliang – View of Tide

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Yang Yongliang, View of Tide (2008) Inkjet print On view in Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China, Metropolitan Museum December 11, 2013–April 6, 2014

This week I’m in New York City, so a number of upcoming posts, including this one, will feature interesting things I saw there. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China” is full of compelling works. One that I was particularly beguiled by was View of Tide by Yang Yongliang. This massive scroll (17 inches x 32 feet) at first glance looks like a relatively straightforward Chinese landscape. But as you get closer that familiar ground starts to shift right out from under you. It’s harder to see in this photograph, but the mountains are made of countless highrise buildings that have been copied and digitally manipulated. The trees are power line towers and construction cranes. Here, those ubiquitous markers of contemporary China – big buildings, rampant construction, and electricity – have become the landscape. It would be easy to view this as an entirely negative image and yet I don’t think it’s that simple. There is an undeniable beauty and energy to this work and while it’s a critique of the new, it’s also surely a critique of the old: landscape aesthetics are often idiosyncratic and always artificial.

Laura Ross-Paul – Upturn

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Laura Ross-Paul , Upturn, 2013
Oil, watercolor, wax on Hulle paper on board
On view at Froelick Gallery, February 4 – March 15, 2014

Upturn is a portrait of what Laura Ross-Paul refers to as one of Portland’s  “deciduous citizens.” Certainly there is real personality and expression in this tree that looms up in the picture plane with upturned and twisting arm-like limbs. This isn’t some grand old giant in a pristine old growth forest. Rather it’s a younger and somewhat battered looking specimen, browned in places and surrounded by a collection of somewhat spindly looking trees in the background. Installed in the Froelick Gallery Ross-Paul’s show Urban Forest, offer a wall full of portraits of trees, humans, and statues that benefit from being hung together, in a grove or garden of sorts. To me it suggests that the urban forest is full of strange beauty, dramatic juxtapositions, and opportunities missed.

Alfred Monner – Tree Presence

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Alfred Monner, Tree Presence, 1953
Gelatin Silver Print
On view at Portland Art Museum (Dusk through Dawn), Dec. 21 – Mar. 16, 2014

I must confess that I don’t know how this photo was made or even exactly what it depicts, but I like it very much. At first I thought it was a single branch but after some harder looking I think I it’s a tree or parts of several trees viewed from below (downhill) and lit from the side. I like that it’s hard to find my visual footing. Much as I’m not sure whether I’m looking at a branch or an entire tree, this photo pulls towards vast and microscopic associations. At once it looks like an aerial view of an estuary and a microscopic view of some sort of crystalline structure. I suppose I’d like to know how it’s made but I’ll settle for the pleasure of looking at it.

Kent Krugh – Mercer County White Oak

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Kent Krugh, Mercer County White Oak (2012)
archival pigment print 17″ X 22″
On view at Blue Sky Gallery (Jan 2 – Feb 3)

Kent Krugh’s photomontages of trees offer a fresh and haunting view of a familiar subject. In Mercer County White Oak the leafless tree appears bright black and seems to stand in a barren field. The background, upon closer examination is full of fainter images of trees that form a floating, ghostly forest. This image and others in the series look unphotographic; Krugh explains that each is made up of between eight and eighteen individual photos of a tree and its surroundings. Part of what I find interesting is that this unusual technique produces an image that looks both fuzzily impressionistic and timeless and mystical. While impressionists worked quickly to capture fleeting atmospheric effects, Krugh works painstakingly to create what he describes as “a divine perspective or vantage point. It is as if one crosses through a gate or threshold into another realm, spiritual perhaps, where time and space are collapsed. From the perspective of the tree, they also represent a passage of events and time.” And they certainly reward the viewer’s time.

Pamela Green – Tree #11

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Pamela Green, Tree #11
2013 ink on paper 10-1/2 x 11 inches
On view at Augen Gallery (January 2 – February 1)

Pamela Green’s Drawings is a lovely winter show: this beautiful collection of ink drawings of leafless trees is a welcome reminder that there’s still plenty to look at outside when the days get short and the weather cold. My favorite drawings are ones like Tree #11 in which the tree escapes the page. This expressive and precisely rendered network of twisted branches, anthropomorphic in places, is powerful in part because it captures the strangeness of trees. While trees are familiar, they are much bigger and older than we are and their lives have a different rhythm. Take a fresh look at the trees all around you and at Green’s drawings, too.

Jeff Conley – Granary Beam

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Jeff Conley, Granary Beam (2009). Gelatin silver print (20” x 20”)
On view at Charles Hartman, Shine (winter group show; January 2 – February 28, 2014)

Jeff Conley’s Granary Beam (2009) is like looking at a slice of time. The concentric rings, one for each year, show the steady passage of the seasons and, to the close observer, fluctuations in weather. But the network of cracks and fractures, some paralleling the annual rings and others cutting right through them, seem to tell a different story. They show us how the steady accumulation of years can be cracked and reordered. In this case, it’s presumably just a matter of the wood drying out and starting to split, but this pressure seems palpable in this photo and it makes me think of those big events, personal or collective, that reorder history, reopen the past, and maybe change the future.

Rita Robillard – Into the Valley

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Rita Robillard, Into the Valley (2013)
screen print and drawing, 24” x 18”
on view at Augen Gallery

Into the Valley is a beautiful, layered print that seems to nod in a number of different aesthetic directions. Green trees (western hemlock?) hover in the foreground, and behind them some silvery gray trees, and behind them a reddish orange mist, above which a mountain breaks through the top of the picture plane. As you look new depths and relationships between the different layers become clear (which is another way of saying it’s much better in person than on the screen). The seemingly distinct layers of the print recall the spatial effects of Japanese woodblock (Ukiyo-e) prints, the light effects bring to mind 19th century Luminist paintings, and its graphic quality seems very contemporary.  Rita Robillard completed this work and others in the series as part of a residency at the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology.

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