Tree Meditation, 1998



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I painted Tree Meditation in 1998 when I was in a workshop in Tuscany. Since that time, it’s weathered several indignities–being stretched and unstretched for international travel, rolled up, folded, dropped and tipped over onto pointy objects. It’s a large canvas, 6 x 6 feet more or less, and its glossy, dark surface suffered some wear and tear, including holes, scratches, chips and stretched out bulges.

It remains one of my favorite pieces and has a lot of personal meaning for me. I painted this work after meditating under a particular oak tree, pondering my own problems and reflecting on what the tree’s point of view might be. I recognized at the time how absurd my concerns were to an immobile oak that can’t see and can’t think, at least in the way I can. This tree, I imagined, had a much different perspective, alone in the middle of a field for decades “watching” the world change around him, humans coming and going, the tree forever stationary, unknowing and isolated from any of its kin but alive just the same. And beautiful.

I ignored the condition of Tree Meditation for a long time as it hung on my wall, poorly lit, hiding its flaws. Then I lit it from a new angle, which brought the painting to life, but also revealed its record of abuse. The uneven, highly reflective surface in particular made the bumps and lumps more noticeable, so I took the piece down and pulled it from its stretcher bars with the goal of restoring it. I rebuilt the wooden stretcher to make it stronger and less prone to warping. To constrict the canvas fibers and make the canvas taught, I applied hot water with sponges and a spray bottle on the back the painting after it was re-stretched. I touched up the scratches, carefully matching the colors with the same pigments, which felt strange after not having painted on the work for 12 years. I also added more glazing as I’d improved as a painter over the last decade and knew better what to do to bring out the color and contrast.

The last step was to rephotograph the piece in its new condition before returning it to the wall. I had a single photo of the completed work, which I took with my very first digital camera over a decade ago. It poorly captured the colors and textures of the work. Glossy, dark, large paintings are particularly difficult to photograph without getting odd glare, but after some trial and error, I positioned the painting in our backyard at the perfect angle to photograph from our deck, minimizing reflections properly exposing the dark and light areas. Restoration complete.

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