Sunday, February 21, 2010


Notes and thoughts on a classic title.
Here’s what I’ve been working on in the studio. It has nothing to do with the topic; just thought I’d share.
I’ve been reading and studying this book written and illustrated by Emile Gruppe’, and have found much worthy of thought and discussion. This will probably take many posts, so here’s the first.
Gruppe’ grew up with an artist father, and he also studied under two well-known landscape painters: Charles Hawthorne, and John Carlson. This gave him lots of material to discuss, and he quotes both these teachers throughout the book. The nice thing about Gruppe’s book, though, is that he is a much more accessible writer than Carlson, and much more forthcoming than Hawthorne. And he appears to have compiled the best of the ideas from both teachers. So, here go some of his thoughts.

Gruppe’: “Paint the tree in front of you. Note how it relates to things around it, interacts with the forest, branches react to each other within the tree itself.”

This idea has to do with painting the particular rather than the general. Of course, the most particular would be to paint every leaf and branch of the tree that’s visible from your position. And the least particular would be the lollypop. So... somewhere in between the two is a happy place (different for every artist) where observed particularities can be recorded, creating almost a tree portrait.

This thought seems to leave out a sense of design. That is, the artist makes choices. Which leafy masses are particularly characteristic of the tree? Which shapes serve the design of the painting? Gruppe’ seems to be responding to nature primarily as observer and less as designer. Again, there is probably a wide-ranging scale among artists, with the copyist (flesh-and-bone camera) at one end, and the highly abstract painter at the other (in which the inspiration of the tree may be barely, if at all discernable), and each individual artist falling somewhere in between. Interesting choices to make consciously.

Another dimension of this element that interests me is the ways in which a particular tree is a better representative of universal “treeness” than a very generalized lollipop tree is. For sure a lollipop tree includes the idea of trunk and leaf mass. But it leaves out many other ideas that are part of being a tree. It leaves out branches. It leaves out the broadening of the trunk where roots go into the ground. It leaves out any hint of growth pattern. And of course, it shows nothing of the tree’s interaction with its environment, which shows it to be a living, responsive thing. By painting the patterns of a particular tree, the artist expresses more about all trees.


Celeste Bergin said...

Alot of tree discussion paired with a treeless painting. j/k lol. This painting is really beautiful. I love Gruppe' and I have to agree that he was a much better writer than
Carlson...The Carlson book is not all that easy to get through! I'm looking forward to what comes next in your Gruppe review. :)

Karen E. Lewis said...

Yeah, the painting didn't have anything to do with Gruppe', other than it's what I'm up to. My brain is all over the place right now. I'm also working on TAXES.