Abstract Tree Art DefinitionSource(Google.com.pk)
Abstract tree arto look closely at the sophisticated abstract art created by lichen and moss on tree bark, you would never guess that they are among the most primitive of plants. Some botanists actually consider them pre-plant forms because they are not seed bearing. Lichen and moss thrive in abundant rain, so I decided to make lemonade out of lemons and take some photos of their artistic achievements between the plentiful raindrops during this soggy summer.
I had already been thinking about trees — not trees as in a glade and certainly not in terms of a whole forest — just about trees, single trees. Then, in the midst of this, I found myself standing in front of Jacob van Ruisdael’s The Great Oak (1652, above) at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (Another artist, Nicolaes Pietersz Berchem, added the figures in the foreground.)
This painting is one of van Ruisdael’s masterpieces, perhaps the greatest in a series of works van Ruisdael painted of majestic trees in the early 1650s. It’s so great that the museum once built an entire exhibition around it. (And then made sure no one noticed by effectively renting out nearby galleries to a shameful and effectively rented, not-really-King Tut exhibition. That exhibition, a 2005 van Ruisdael retrospective curated by legendary Dutch art scholar Seymour Slive and LACMA’s Patrice Marandel, isn’t even mentioned anymore on LACMA’s website.)
Van Ruisdael’s oak is the kind of graceful, tough, stoic mega-flora that would naturally appeal to a Golden Age painter (and his customer base). It is spotlit by strong, Northern sunlight. The oak is twice as big as anything else on the canvas. There are other trees in the background, but this is unquestionably a feature presentation about the great oak. Because this is the Dutch Golden Age, when nearly everything stands for something else, it’s easy to read the sun shining on a mighty, old oak as a reference to how God smiles on the sturdy, hearty, durable Dutch. And so we will.
As you can probably tell, it’s one of my favorite paintings. At LACMA, I stood in front of the it for at least 10 minutes, long enough for it to help pull together some thoughts on artists and their love of trees. (And to motivate a guard to pay a little more attention to me, which was fine.)
Those thoughts start here: Yesterday I reviewed a Robert Adams retrospective that’s on view now at the Denver Art Museum. One of the glorious things about the exhibition was that Adams’ love of trees, single, distinctive, individual trees, shone through.
Ever since the 1970s, Adams has been taking photographs of trees. Some of Adams’s trees are mighty and majestic, some are wispy. Some even have visages, the flora equivalent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Great Stone Face. The Adams at right is Cape Blanco State Park, Oregon, from “Turning Back” (1999-2003). It is one of his best pictures.
As I stood in front of the van Ruisdael, I thought about the antecedents to Adams’ trees and about how trees have been a very big thing in art. There are lots of reasons for this: They’re pretty. They fill empty space, rounding out a composition. Artists have felt close to them: Before canvas became popular as a painted surface in the 16th century, artists painted on either plaster or in panels, panels that came from whatever suitable trees were nearby. Durer painted on poplar, Cranach used beech, Leonardo used French oak. Van Ruisdael would have known that the Dutch artists in whose footsteps he followed, painters like Dieric Bouts — more on him in a minute — used oak too.
Another is that a tree is there in the very beginning of the Bible, in Genesis, when Eve handed Adam an apple. (Thing is, very rarely do we see that tree in art. We see the branch, we see the fruit, but how often do you see the whole damn tree?) The tree gives life.
The first great trees in European art were probably Albrecht Durer’s. From Durer forward, artists from Northern Europe would be especially fond of the single tree. Let’s start a little wander through some trees with Durer. I’ll finish up after the holiday with Robert Adams and another artist who is in the news this season. Start the fun by clicking on “continue reading” down there at the right (or just start scrolling)…
Albrecht Durer, Linden on a Bastion, c. 1489. Collection of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam. Albrecht Durer, Pine, c. 1495-1497. Collection of The British Museum. Albrecht Durer, Willow Mill, 1496-98. Collection of the Bibliotheque National, Paris.
If I’d been an artist around 1502 or 1503, I’d probably have been pretty crushed: Leonardo was starting David, and a year or two later he’d start the Mona Lisa. Fat chance I’d be able to match either. And then I’d have to deal with that pine tree of Durer’s too?! It seems almost as impregnable. I think I might have considered an alternate path.
But artists being artists, they found a way to innovate: They started finding other ways to use trees in their work. One way that happened was through the window, almost literally. Until a few decades before now, portraits were pretty standardized: The sitter’s bust-in-profile against a single-color background, or something pretty close to it. The first painting below is a good example. (Formerly attributed to Uccello, it’s the kind of painting that Martin Puryear loves.) Near the end of the 15th-century, painters began to paint sitters in three-quarter profile. Then eventually artists turned him or her to face the painter/viewer. Through much of this innovation, the single-color background dominated.