My work is inspired by trees, their forms, their history and the influence that humans, animals and natural processes have in shaping them; in the way they provide a solid representation of time. Old trees are time made wood.
Early on in life I learned a respect and appreciation for wood as a material from my wood-turner father and as a maker myself through my 3D design degree, but writers and campaigners like Oliver Rackham, Richard Mabey and Ted Green have taught me to look beyond the immediate appearance of trees towards the historical and cultural stories their forms represent.
I aim to capture their essence and energy, transmitting this life force through my artwork. I’m particularly interested in the old and broken ones whose stories are written in their forms. An ancient oak may have lived five centuries before the moment I draw it and continue another five centuries after I leave – ‘tree-time’ is very different to our own.
I work outdoors and the studio, foraging for images amongst the trees, connecting with individuals through my drawings and transforming those intense visual memories into studio pieces. Bodies of work form around themes which chime with my own human experiences: veterans adapt inventively to their wounds and phoenix trees symbolise a hopeful resilience in the face of adversity.
My process feels akin to sculpture, carving out contour lines, adding and erasing deep layers of charcoal, scraping and wiping oil paint to reveal light and form. My paintings explore the sensual, expressive qualities of the trees I find but are still very much grounded in close observation. Drawing is always at the heart of the process.
My charcoals play with ambiguity, blurring the boundaries between tree, figure and water, allowing the viewer to make their own meanings. I use random marks and textures when beginning a work to provoke pareidolia, enabling me to suggest on paper the complexity I see in life. Charcoal allows me to express both subtlety and dramatic contrast as I move between light and dark towards the powerful chiaroscuro I strive for. There’s also something poetic about depicting living wood with its carbonised self.
Trees are constantly engaged in a dialogue with their surroundings, with the ground they grow in, the prevailing weather, the other plants, animals and people that live alongside them and there are physical clues in their forms that provide a record of that dialogue. Similarly, my drawing process is one of dialogue – it is a record of the interaction between the artist and the subject, the eye and the tree, the hand, the paper and the mark making tool. As John Berger says, a drawing of a tree is not just a tree, but ‘a tree being looked at’.
Ultimately my aim is to make art which encourages us to really look at trees, to acknowledge and appreciate them as life forms which are a vastly different to, but no less important than ours, and to reflect on our own lives having learned from them.