Philippa Beale is one the Arborealists, a group of artists whose work focuses on trees. Philippa’s work was one of the artists from this group selected for exhibition at Evolving the Forest. The exhibition runs at Dartington Hall until September 4.
During the 1980s I was a well known conceptual artist making interventions on Billboards in the Old Kent Road; showing several videos on the Giant GMI screen in Leicester Square; installing 1000 Kilograms of apples at the Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh ; exhibiting multi lingual art works of young men’s ears and chest hairs at The Akumulatory Gallery in Poland; screening a film about conceptual art at the Institute of Contemporary Art. I was chosen by Guy Brett as one of his critics choices at the AIR gallery and produced work about the childhoods of artists as my project as Artist in Residence at Southampton City Art Gallery. I then I started looking at and beingaffected by trees.
If my previous work had been a polemic concerning the influence of advertising, sexual politics and ideas about consumer fetichism; my new work, which incidentally I have been making since 2009, is about the signification of our natural environment.
We share 75% of our DNA with trees, without trees we die; they are our lungs, they provide shelter and fuel for humans and animals; terrible war crimes and destruction have taken place in forests ; in Eastern Europe trees were worshipped; that the height of some trees and wonder of being in a forest provided the builders of great temples and cathedrals with their inspiration.
So trees certainly have their political side. The two works I have at Dartington are certainly signifiers of certain types of forests and groves but they are also real places; Food and Fuel is opposite my bedroom window and I draw it often and real ducks fly over in season and real huntsmen do ‘knock off ‘a few off for the pot. The son of the man who planted this grove comes every year to cut down a few trees and turn them into logs and fire wood. Being old himself, he likes to start early and he works on his own using only a chain saw. He cannot start until 8.30 a m, the legal hour for noise making . If he tries to start earlier, I open my shutters and shout at him. He grins at me, opens the palms of his hands and stops. He leaves valuable timber at the side of the road but no one steals it.The histories relating to this grove are manifold.
The sessile oak forest is the other painting called The Hunting Wood. Each year I am invited to the Hunter’s Lunch”; where I enjoy the concert of french and hunting horns, which of course are no longer used for hunting as they would scare off the prey. In France hunting is done on foot, it is a working class activity, only Anglophile rich bourgeois ride to hounds in pink jackets. The hunters’ lunch comprises something they caught during the season, has been frozen and usually inedible as the poor beast was either old or lame. These hunters are very much like early man, running and stalking.
They must all wear highly luminescent orange jackets because each year they seem to kill each other rather than the wild boar or deer. My point is they don’t catch much but have a good time meeting up and talking about it afterward. If my painting looks likes camouflage it is because those wild creatures are well camouflaged in the woods where `I live.
Why are these paintings black and white ? Quite simply because the original drawings were in pen and ink . I do use colour as shown below but only if I start with a coloured drawing. If it fascinates me I paint the same scene several times. The point of my tree paintings is that they contain mixed messages which relate to husbanding our resources and the way we treat all living creatures and other forest dwellers like ourselves. We only have the same rights as the animals and the trees but we have a duty to preserve, conserve and act with ‘kindness’ to the natural world. As an artist, I do not wish to illustrate, to paint within a school or ism but to be original and to respect what I saw when I was there.
This iImage: Philippa Beale: Contrastes Route de Loudun]
[top image: Karen Howse, from the Evolving the Forest exhibition]