Dead Tree. QP

Dead Tree.

Blasted Tree.

Dead Tree. This is a favorite subject of artists with a dark side or so we were told in school. Trees can be all shapes and colors depending on type and season. There is something intriguing about dead trees. Something minimal, naked and foreboding, tree limbs and trunks remaining. I took a number of photos of a variety of dead trees, stumps and fallen, in my yard. Nothing interesting to paint. So, looking back through my photos I found one. My sad walled in yard has two dead trees that were now amputated. (The standing trunks for summer’s hammock remains.) The trees look horrible. But a good subject. I chose a winter photo of the chopped tree to work from. It had a dark, lonely feeling, snow on the ground.

As I contemplated starting the painting, I considered using just black and white. It started as a monochromatic. Slight colors were added at the end. The tree makes an awkward figure. I struggled with the snow at first. It worked somehow.

A little art history and dead trees.

“There is something about trees, and especially dead trees, that moves us. They are larger than we are and decay more slowly, remaining sometimes for decades or even centuries, as reminders of a past life.” Roger Wotton writes in an essay where he compares David Hockney’s Winter Timbers and the late cello concertos of Edward Elgar, both inspired by dead and blasted trees. Hockey, Elgar and Dead Trees, now that’s interesting.

19th century Romantics were particularly fascinated with the tree symbols - blasted, lone, and dead. The blasted tree, wounded perhaps by lightning, scarred and foreboding. Think Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein when Victor Frankenstein declares himself a “blasted tree.” The blasted tree can cross over to the lone tree - as sole survivor, or the dead tree. Casper David Fredrich captured dead trees with exceptional gloominess. A fairly evident symbol, the dead trees stood for, well, death. See “Abbey among the Oak Trees” by Fredrich. They also remind us of how even the grandest of monuments fade. For the Romantics, a dead tree or even a stump in an otherwise cheery landscape is a memento mori.

watercolor - Dead Tree

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