The Many Meanings of Trees

It’s all about trees in this Chicago-based art exhibition.

Partial exhibition shot.

“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing which stands in their way,” William Blake once said. The subjective quality of trees referred to in these words is echoed in “Roots,” the current exhibition at Linda Warren Projects.

Those expecting an overtly environmental show drawing attention to the Earth’s resources may be surprised. The body of work that makes up “Roots” is different than say, Olafur Eliasson’s 2014 “Ice Watch,” where 112 tons of ice were brought from Greenland to Copenhagen’s City Hall Square to represent climate change. Instead, this group show cohesively weaves together nearly 50 pieces of art in an exhibition that is at times both beautiful and thoughtful.

A strength of this exhibition is the personal narrative it allows. Eighteen artists reveal the many symbolic meanings of trees, including strength, new beginnings, nostalgia, building and destruction through a variety of media. Visitors delight in a mélange of works, each piece telling a different story.

Chris Uphues (clockwise from top left): “Forest Yellow;” “Forest Green;” “Forest Blue;” “Forest Pink.”

Take, for example, Chris Uphues’s four acrylic on canvas images. Each contains a similar motif in different colors: outlines of what appears to be traditional Christmas trees, perhaps a Virginia Pine or Douglas-Fir tree, filled with flowers, smiling faces and toys. The imagery suggests one use of trees: holiday traditions. These pieces are paired next to Nicole Gordon’s painting, “Curiosity Often Leads to Trouble,” which takes a different tone. A small man with a hatchet stands amidst a dreary sea of trees painted in dark colors. Some trees are merely stumps, while others have dark trunks transforming into colored pencils at the top: implying transformation for a new beginning.

One of the revelations of the show is the cultural significance of trees. The titles of Tom Van Eynde’s two works, “Tree #9746” and “Tree #9747,” imply the banality of trees. His representation, however, is at odds with these ordinary titles. One tree in each image is centrally-placed and lit. This depiction distinguishes these trees from others in the background, and emphasizes specific features: soft green branches and vibrant pink flowers, respectively.

This representation is perhaps a nod to the significance of trees in some cultures. In a May 2015 article, The Economist reported on the reverence of ancient trees in Chinese cities: “On new roads, traffic sometimes has to weave around them. So sacred are old trees that concessions are made for them even when tarmac is laid.” That’s not all. “Tree #9747” resembles a cherry blossom tree, which is important in Japanese culture: symbolic of rebirth and the brevity of life.

This exhibition is successful for the variety it offers: not only visually, but also in the limited edition artist book that accompanies the exhibition. The book contains written responses from the exhibiting artists — using words to convey the individual significance of trees in their lives, from trees as a source of inspiration to childhood memories. This personal touch is refreshing: reiterating the amalgamation of voices and interpretations seen through art, but also through words.

“Roots” is on show at Linda Warren Projects until August 15, 2015.

Programmer and Writer: | | @amymhaddad