Spend enough time practicing and traveling with your art and you will begin to connect with your subject in a way that eventually starts to turn toward the philosophical. For me the subject of my art – the landscape – is multifaceted. The “subject” is not just one, well-defined object. It’s the sum of many parts. Earth, sky, water, light and something else that is almost always present but more often overlooked.
I love them. I can’t get enough of them, and despite serious seasonal allergies I can’t resist working them into nearly every landscape image that I capture, whether a solitary, 500-year-old Utah Juniper perched on a canyon in the high desert or an immense growth of Aspens on a mountainside or a formation of a hundred White Pines in the Appalachian foothills. I shudder to think of world without their presence.
What’s fascinating is how the uniqueness of their form and texture is shaped by their environment. They are the ultimate survivor. It’s no wonder that trees are referenced so often in the best selling book of all time.
That region of the United States known as the “South” is blessed with a species of tree that seems to embody the character and spirit of the landscape that it calls home. The Live Oak. Recently I had the opportunity to photograph the landscape in that area of Texas called the “Hill Country” – the elevated remnants of ancient mountains from just north of San Antonio to Austin.
Although the same tree, it is interesting to note the subtle differences between the Live Oaks of coastal South Carolina and those in Texas. Whereas one is more long, wide and graceful in its Spanish Moss-covered mystery the other is more tall and wind-cut to an essence that as best as I can describe would be beauty in bare bones. Kind of a “what you see is what you get” personality as compared to an enticement of haunted seduction with just hints of what lies beneath. Think Sandra Bullock as compared to Angelina Jolie (hey I’m only human and beauty is beauty).
With those in the hills and open plains of Texas it’s also easier to see the remarkable similarity that the shapes and growth of their branches have with a heart. That was something that caught my eye – as well as my imagination – during my drives between South Carolina and Texas. With the taller, thinner versions to the West – cut and cropped short due to near constant wind – it’s easy to see bent and sharply curved branches as coronary arteries and veins channeling energy out and within. Perhaps it’s due to my own recent experiences seeing surgical imagery of my own heart and how that experience impacted how I see objects in the landscape. I always carry with me a sense of awe and wonder in the amazing complexities of the design of nature and a supreme carving hand.
But beyond obvious similarities in visual appearance there’s also parallels in life story. Patience, endurance, courage, love. It’s all there. With the tree and the human heart. Obvious growth in fair weather. Resilient through both flood and drought. Branches bend to wind, and sometimes break, but growth continues, and as roots ground deeper limbs reach higher. The tree won’t give up.
Sometimes the simplest elements give the most life to a landscape because of what is represented and reflected back to the artist. These subjects that are discovered in nature are in so many ways comrades in arms with the journey of the human spirit and soul, signs with life and energy that we are moving along paths that are right and toward something greater than ourselves. Though our outward appearances begin to show our years of braving the elements (which by the way I find to be beautiful), the trunk and roots hold true to what was there from the very beginning.
Despite all that is thrown its way the Live Oak adapts, endures and reaches higher, and wider. Grace in the coastal tidelands. Grace on a hilltop in Texas. It’s all good.