July 2019

Tree of Life

Tree of Life
1995, pastel and pencil on paper, 12 x 9 in. (sheet: 13 1/8 x 10 1/4 in.)

Tree of Life

Since childhood I have had many memorable experiences related to trees. The experiences cover a wide range from childhood activities like climbing trees, constructing tree houses, picking fruit, and cutting down a tree for Christmas, to more adult activities like planting and nurturing trees, observing the magic of rustling aspen leaves, walking through groves of giant redwoods, and mourning the loss of favorite trees that were downed by human or natural hands. My appreciation and connectedness to them has grown over the innumerable hours of studying and observing them. All these experiences have led to trees becoming a part of me as if they were close friends.

It was only natural then that I would incorporate images of trees into my work. Besides including them in some early sketches and the occasional use of tree branch images, Tree of Life is the first work in which a tree takes on a prominent roll. In the drawing a tree magically grows from a cloud floating in the sky. At its base the trunk dramatically forks into two main branches that wind their way up and around two figures, eventually meeting again at the top. The figures stand on the forked branches and are encircled by them as if they have been standing there as the tree has grown. The figures are in repose, calmly holding hands with their eyes closed. Their encirclement by the branches seems like a natural state. The unity of the figures with the tree represents how all of us are inextricably bound to nature.

Other than the differences between the figures and the variety and dynamics of the foliage, Tree of Life is a strictly symmetrical work. This pictorial structure, as well as the absence of any sense of threat or violence, makes the drawing exude a sense of tranquility. As a result an idealized scene is created - a kind of Garden of Eden reference that is heightened by the fruit hanging from the tree.

Tree of Life
1995, pastel and pencil on paper
12 x 9 in. (sheet: 13 1/8 x 10 1/4 in.)

Tree of Life (preliminary sketch)
1995, graphite on paper
11 1/2 x 8 1/8 in. (sheet: 11 1/2 x 8 1/8 in.)

Tree of Life was done during the early stages of an intensive drawing period in 1995. The motivation for beginning the series of drawings was to realize new ideas because my paintings were taking a long time to complete. The process I followed was to use a pastel technique I had developed years earlier and to do one drawing a week. I began with a preliminary sketch and then used the sketch to execute the finished pastel. As the drawing series progressed the drawings began to take longer and longer to complete and after doing six in 1995 the series ended. I have continued to periodically use the pastel technique to this day.

- Brian Mains, 2019