Artist Stephen Taylor did just this, painting the same tree from
June 2003 to August 2006.
He did not wake up one morning and simply decide to paint one tree. Taylor was moved to expand upon a collection of paintings he created after the deaths of his parents and a close friend. The collection took four years to create and it reconnected Taylor to the English countryside which he describes as “a constant from my youth.” After the deaths of his parents and friend, Taylor was looking for a sense of place. He found it in the fields of a farm belonging to friends. He had the opportunity to share his newly found sense of place with others when his collection was exhibited at an arts center in Cambridge. When the exhibition closed, he felt something was missing. He wanted to share more of what he experienced during his time spent painting on the farm. He says he wanted to do paintings that create “a sense of how thousands of smaller worlds exist within a panorama.”
So Taylor returned to the familiar field to describe what he found there. He had become so familiar with the color changes in the field and its natural colors, that he wanted to capture these changes and moods in his work. He took photos, painted sketches in oil and found he kept returning to a big 250-year old oak tree. It wasn’t just the oak tree that kept begging for his attention. It was the relationship the tree had with the sky above, the hedge growing in the foreground, and the commercial crop growing below it. Each changed in structure, appearance and color over time. Taylor began to study the biology of oak trees and document the changes in structure, color and light he observed. Taylor says his paintings were not created according to preconceived notions of what an oak tree looks like. Instead, his paintings were created as he discovered the tree through “looking and painting.”
In his book Oak: One Tree, Three Years, Fifty Paintings, Taylor describes his three-year experience through written reflections and stories about each painting. Taylor’s words make you stop and linger over each painting and make you study the relationship the oak tree has with neighboring elements. It doesn’t take long before you are able to feel the light Taylor painted, hear the crunch of his leaves, and hear the sound of wheat brushing up against his legs as he paints yet another view of the same tree.
You will find yourself noticing the light and dark sides of oak leaves, the siliques of the rapeseed plants and making guesses about the time of year based upon the commercial crop growing underneath the tree.
Painting a tree 50 times means you have to paint the tree’s complex series of branches 50 times. While this may sound like a cumbersome task, Taylor makes it interesting to think about, thanks to the study of branches he shares with readers.
Taylor openly shares his painting process with readers in a chapter dedicated to just this topic. In this chapter, he explains how he worked in the field, painted in the studio, and used Adobe Photoshop to analyze his photographs. Sensitive to nature’s colors and acutely aware of how light falls on nature’s forms, Taylor reveals how he uses painting to help him “discover what is there.”
About Stephen Taylor
Stephen Taylor is a painter living and working in Essex, England. He studied art at Leeds University, Essex University, and Yale and has taught at Felsted School and the Open College of the Arts. Taylor’s work has been exhibited at numerous galleries including the Bernarducci Meisel Gallery in New York, OK Harris Works of Art in New York, Kings College in Cambridge, and the Vertigo Gallery in England.
Oak: One Tree, Three Years, Fifty Paintings
Now available at ArtPlantae Books