I’ve been working on a set of A2 drawings called ‘Sacred Journeys’. I thought I would build up something fairly complex just using straight lines and circles, but come up with something organic. Curiously, they all ended up looking like trees.
‘Sacred Journeys 1’ – Carmen Mills, A2, graphite on Fabriano
Inevitably, the mark making became a series of journeys, and as the drawings grew there was a sense of connection with something that has been going on in the human psyche since the dawn of time, a perception that the particular linear progression of days which is my life, sums up more than the eye can see. Is each individual ‘branch’ a different person’s sacred journey through their life? Are these all people who have interacted with me on my own journey? Or are these ‘branches’ different ‘sacred journeys’, significant moments or events, in my own life? I don’t know. I wanted to try to capture a sense of time as well as movement, yet give a feeling of something outside of a utilitarian, modern perception of time, something not caught up with the rush of the twenty first century, but which might stretch across different eras of time. . . . . Dr Who where are you?? Ah well, I will have these peculiar thoughts when I’m spending fifteen, twenty hours concentrating on one drawing!
‘Sacred Journeys 4’ – Carmen Mills, A2, graphite on Fabriano
Trees have always been important and significant as a concept of the wholeness of life, possibly because they are rooted in the earth and stretch their branches out towards heaven, and therefore are a very suitable metaphor for reaching out from the material world to a world beyond. The value ascribed to trees since ancient times in all kinds of literature I find fascinating, along with the significance of trees to so many artists through the centuries, from Durer to Van Gogh and Mondrian.
But then I came across a statement by Paul Klee, describing the artist as a tree:
“May I use a simile, the simile of the tree? The artist has studied this world of variety and has, we may suppose, unobtrusively found his way in it. His sense of direction has brought order into the passing stream of image and experience.
This sense of direction in nature and life, this branching and spreading array, I shall compare with the root of the tree.
From the root the sap flows to the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye.
Thus he stands as the trunk of the tree.
Battered and stirred by the strength of the flow, he moulds his vision into his work.
As, in full view of the world, the crown of the tree unfolds and spreads in time and in space, so with his work.
Nobody would affirm that the tree grows its crown in the image of its root. Between above and below can be no mirrored reflection. It is obvious that different functions expanding in different elements must produce vital divergences.
But it is just the artist who at times is denied those departures from nature which his art demands. He has even been charged with incompetence and deliberate distortion.
And yet, standing at his appointed place, the trunk of the tree, he does nothing other than gather and pass on what comes to him from the depths. He neither serves not rules – he transmits.” Paul Klee, ‘On Modern Art’, quoted in ‘Art in Theory 1900- 2000’, page 362 (Harrison and Wood).
This gives more food for thought. I’m not sure that many of us see ourselves as merely transmitters. It seems too passive a picture. It doesn’t allow for the struggle, the surmounting of endless aesthetic problems, the sheer expenditure of energy involved in the making of art, which is our common experience as artists. The image of the artist making work which has in essence been drawn up from the deep places inside herself is a graphic one, however, and one which I think many artists would be able to identify with to some extent. What intrigues me most, though, is the idea of energy in flow, like the sap rising up through the trunk to give life to the leaves, which in turn sustains life on our planet. Yet Klee does not end his thoughts there. Further on in his essay he adds:
“The artist is, perhaps unintentionally, a philosopher, and if he does not with the optimists hold this world to be the best of all possible worlds . . . yet he says, ‘in its present shape, it is not the only possible world’. “ (page 367)
Now that is an exciting prospect! Klee’s picture of the artist-as-tree, allowing sap to rise up from the roots through the trunk to the branches which form the canopy above, brings with it a vivid demonstration of the powerful yet mysterious creative process. it’s not surprising that he carries this thought further to envisage the possibility of alternative realities. As artists, we should be challenged by him continually to express any yearnings we may have for a better possible world. Not only do we draw upon that which is deep within ourselves, but like the tree with its roots in the earth and its branches in the heavens, we can at least attempt to express something more universal, something less limited, less contained by boundaries, perhaps even something as yet unimagined by others, something which calls to us from somewhere beyond the literal, physical, material existence that we all have to deal with from day to day. Unless, of course, art is simply a regurgitation of the known, a composition of the staid and the boring. And unless the physical world is all there is. In which case, the thoughts of Paul Klee are just so much pie in the sky. Ah, but isn’t it lovely pie?
‘Rose Garden’ – Paul Klee, 1920