This exhibition features a wide range of artists who are fascinated by trees, some for their aesthetic appeal, others exploring their potential for symbolic meaning. Artists around the world have developed deeply personal relationships with trees which have become central to their art. Thomas Pitfield’s series of linocuts ‘The Poetry of Trees’ draws out the romantic associations of native British trees, while Ibrahim El Salahi’s magnificent ‘Meditation Tree’ is a large-scale sculptural evocation of the haraza tree that grows on the banks of the Nile.
Trees have a deep history in folklore and mythology. Arthur Rackham was the master of drawing anthropomorphic trees that can be creepy or malevolent, bringing to life fairy tales like ‘Rip Van Winkle’ and gothic tales such as ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’. William Stott’s ‘Fairie Wood’ and William Dodson’s ‘Babes in the Wood’ both look back to a time when our native forests were the last wilderness, place of dark magic and fear. In contrast, twentieth century artists like Philip Connard and Paul Nash found solace in our woodlands after the horrors of serving in the First World War. One of the highlights of the exhibition is Edward Bawden’s ‘Willow Grove’ from the mid-1930s, evoking a mysterious sense of place in the Essex countryside
As early as the seventeenth century artists and writers were campaigning for the renewal of our forests. John Evelyn’s ‘Sylva, A Discourse of Forest Trees…’ called upon the government to plant more trees to service the demand for shipbuilding. New engravings were added to Evelyn’s text in the eighteenth century featuring some of Britain’s oldest trees like the Cawthorpe Oak and the Greendale Oak. The key environmental role of trees and the importance of engaging with nature are explored in recent sculptural work by Tony Heywood and David Nash.
There is a growing awareness of the part that trees play in our individual wellbeing and the health of the planet. ‘The Poetry of Trees’ presents a range of artistic perspectives to help us reconnect with the natural world.