Reading: ‘Trees’ by Andreas Feininger

I paint trees, and they are an integral part of my location based practice, but when was the last time I read a book on trees?! I think this is the time to do so. I came across this book in the library when it was on show, and was drawn to the images in it.

The introduction states this book is an appreciation of trees which is lovely!

Fossil evidence in conjunction with comparative anatomy seems to show that man got his start in the forest.

In prehistoric times, trees were worshipped as gods. They were sometimes considered embodiments of the dark and fearful powers of nature, of lightning and thunder and storm – incarnations of spirits and demons that had to be propitiated by some primitive tribes.

Then came a period when, as ancient legends and surviving records show, trees were revered as dwelling places of divine beings, both vengeful and benign.

This belief gave way with the rise of Christianity. According to Christian dogma, man was created in the image of God, and the world was his to subjugate and use. Tree worship became equivalent to heresy.

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli.

^ This is powerful stuff!

Unless … preservationists remain alert… The wilderness will be invaded, ‘subjugated,’ and ‘developed,’ and in the end our forests will consist of endless rows of carefully nurtured domesticated trees planted and harvested like wheat.

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli.

^ This is an interesting idea, I had not thought about some forests being bad and some good. I have painted a mix of very managed woods, and one on campus that is much wilder. I haven’t thought much about how this affects what I am painting.

Trees are the guardians of water and soil. Trees protect the ground, soil erosion is normally slowed down to a pace equaling that at which new soil is formed by weathering processes and accumulation of dead organic matter. Land covered by virgin forest retains its productivity indefinitely because no vegetation is permanently removed. Dead trees and plants slowly sink into the ground and return minerals to the soil to be recycled as new trees and plants grow up.

When man occupies the land, he usually does so with the purpose of cultivating it and removing the products of his harvest. And in the course of time, the ground is denuded, domesticated animals destroy the grass, fertility of the soil declines. Accelerated erosion sets in as the ground is increasingly exposed to the elements… winds and rains strip away the earth… , leaving the fields a stony waste strewn with rocks and boulders.

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli.

^ When I first read this passage I read ‘the ground is denuded, domesticated‘ instead of ‘the ground is dunuded, domesticated animals.…etc’. I like this phrase that the ground has been domesticated. How could this be shown in the experience of painting such ground? – These ideas remind me of Anselm Keifer’s work. Does he paint about this kind of thing?

This book is helping me think about what use my work can have to environmental concerns.

his [mans] ability to change the physical geography of the earth.

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli.

What do the roles of the church building and the forest play in these modern times? When the west is more secularized than ever, and people are disconnected to forests, to wild spaces. Both these spaces are being lost in time. My paintings are an act of not forgetting – to use the words of Hans Ulrich Obrist! Perhaps more of a reminded: my paintings are a reminder to the viewer of the experience of a ‘holy’, ‘sacred’ place that can be felt in woods, this feeling that is dormant in everyone. Are they? ARE THEY? I can think about this idea and the success of it in my most recently completed painting.

Trees are plants, and plants, like animals, originated in the sea. Precisely when this momentous event took place is not known, but it is certain that it was more then 2,000 million years ago.

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli.

one can get a fair idea of how A Carboniferous swamp jungle may have looked by lying down amoung the horsetails and club mosses, bringing one’s eye close to the ground, looking up into their tiny crowns, and visualizing this miniature forest enlarged a hundred fold… Such were the Carbiniferous swamp forests that flourished for 100 million years .

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli.

^ Wow, his writing here about the history of trees and forests, it makes one wonder at the forests we have today and how they are a part of the continuous cycle of these forests over unimaginable lengths of time. Truly magical. Forests contain both extremes, the utmost macro and the most micro we can imagine.

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli, P.29.

^ These illustrations are beautiful. And a good way for me to consider the shapes I make when I am painting, especially at this time of year when the trees are bare.

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli, Pp.30-1.

These two images are so interesting – to see the bare tree next to the same full tree. The tree appears so different if one was to personify it. The full tree brings word associations like happy, content, full of life, prosperous, moving and shaking(!). The bare tree on the other hand brings to mind words such as exposed, bare, alone, strong, silent.

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli, P.32.

^ The tree in this image reminds me exactly of my sculptures! The way the lines converge at the bottom of the tree and spread outwards in arcs as the branches reach the top. So my sculpture is not just mimicking cathedrals but woodland shapes too, well, I knew that already.

I have not considered how painting a different kind of forest would affect the painting I make. Looking at an image of a palm tree in the book I am noticing just how different the shapes and textures are.

The forest envelopes us from all sides with protective shelter. The upper reaches of the trees shut out the sky like a roof. The rising boles are columns holding up the vaulted dome. Subdued sunlight, filtered and coloured by its passage through the canopy of leaves, like sunlight filtered through stained glass, quivers with the green shimmer of underwater light. The ceaseless hum of air moving through branches is as timeless as the wash of distant waves. In the presence of something s enormous and everlasting as the sea or the forest the brief span of our existence becomes more precious and meaningful.

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli, P.141

^ Makes me think about putting a passage like this with my work when showing it? Or to include writing like this – lyrical and about the experience which I am painting – in a publication / zine that I wanted to make on the topic of trees, painting the experience of woods, etc.
It would make the initial experience of seeing my work about the subject of the woods and the experience of being in it, and the mediums included would come second. If I showed say a sculpture and some writing (probs quote) and a painting, and a video, it would be so medium inclusive!

There is activity in every nook and corner of the forest, a quivering and humming

Feininger, A., 1991. Trees Rev. and updated]., New York: Rizzoli, P.141

Forests ecosystems are an intricate and delicate web of reliances. Interference to one part of that system can be drastic for the whole forest. P.142


This was an interesting book to read because it was about the experience of trees and a forest, and then backing that up with context to history and societal policies. It it good to think about what I am painting in the context of all of this, so that I can consider where my painting sits in all of it, and whether there are parts of of the context of forests/trees that are especially important to me and my work.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s