When the Gods Turned Humans To Trees
NYC artist Ed Rath will be presenting a unique series of paintings this spring at St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn. In this collection, trees literally take on human attributes and emotions.
Before I left on a trip to the Bay area this weekend, Ed and I reviewed his artist’s statement. This whole notion of personified trees grabbed me. Thanks to my friendship with Ed, I learned awhile back to see trees as mysteriously expressive beings, because they turn up in so many interesting ways in his work. Occasionally I’ve sent him photos of trees I found to be of particularly obvious or devious character. (Pretty ones aren’t as fun to think about.) Some of their lot are inviting, some look like Marley in the Scrooge tale; some look lush and sexy and others look lazy. There are many wizened ones with hook-like branches that grab at the indifferent, benevolent, and/or violent sky. You know the cast of characters; you’ve seen them all wherever you have been.
I like the blackened ones, green-spotted, twisted and bent low, brought down but with their forms intact.
As I traveled Saturday with Ed’s upcoming show fresh in mind, I looked for the characters in trees along way. I left myself open to the scenery and waited for a few to pop out at me…and did they ever. Sometimes singly, in duos, or a tree-some. Sorry for the pun, but have you ever noticed that when there are three trees, quite often one seeks to distinguish itself? It may grow wider, smaller, taller… its branches might reach out over the heads of the others as if to say, “ME-ME-ME.” Others just stand at attention like triplets who only know how to do exactly the same thing at once. I snapped at many with my trusty smartphone, not bothering to stop.
Today coming home I put my phone away and just thought. I was actually thinking about a lot of things, but the trees came to mind again. I began to wonder if they had souls, something eternal inside them.
Wow, do I sound Californian. But Ed is on the East Coast, his work is all over the world, and surely Buddhists, physicists, Platonic thinkers, and others occasionally have thoughts of this nature. Eventually I laid aside the soul idea and just wondered if they dwell under the protective custody of God, Atman, call He-She-It-All what you will. They just seem so eternal... so able to tell us things.
They are our witnesses.
An image emerged within a few miles. At some risk to life and limb, I scrambled for my phone and snapped it:
When I got home, I checked out the last line of Ed’s statement, that this image had brought back to my mind in rough form:
“My dead trees present…low brow romantics, the ninety-nine percent, the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, the naked, the old, the sick, the cold, the weak, the weary, the artists, the ones for whom the dream has faded away and for whom the future is but a strange cold sun glowing in a foreign sky.”
I looked at my picture again. One can always hope.