The Trees Lament
For centuries across cultures and continents, tree imagery has helped individuals process, integrate, and reconcile with death. Imagery of trees provides bereaved individuals with an external place in which to process, accept, and recontextualize their experience of death into the rest of their lived experience, resulting in a realization of greater wholeness. Trees are not merely used to depict grief, rather trees seem to merge with the bereaved to embody the complex nature of grief.
I have sought to carry forward this tradition by using tree imagery to capture memories I associate with loss. Trees provide a place for the unplaceable memories of trauma and grief and become a reliable guide who lead the bereaved back through the ambiguities of memory. By reflecting on the death of my mother four years ago, I sought a visual language to capture the incomprehensible significance of memories in grief.
The process I developed in these paintings involves many layers of acrylic paint that are scraped and sanded away, leaving remnants of color clinging to the surface, and uncovering stratified layers beneath. Often a violent process, this technique embodied and transferred to the surface of my paintings the abrading feeling of grief.
In some cases, I applied nihonga as the final layer – a traditional Japanese painting technique that utilizes finely crushed minerals and semi-precious stones as pigments – to form a “veil” over the paintings. Through active creation and destruction, an elusive beauty emerged in the paintings which spoke to me of the soul-ripping sublimity of grief.
These paintings condensed my sense of my mother’s presence, and more importantly, made tangible the presence of her absence. The lack of her presence filled these images of trees, giving me a place in which to bestow the thoughts, memories, and love which no longer have a physical manifestation. The process and result of my paintings have allowed me to find a way back to the tree of life, to the wholeness that existed in my world before my mother departed it.