Cheekwood is hosting A Celebration of Trees, centered on an exhibition in its museum of art by landscape artist Charles Brindley, titled “Trees of Myth and Legend.” The celebration links Tennessee’s Arbor Day, National Arbor Day, and the Jewish celebration Tu B’Shevat (“the New Year for Trees”), with a variety of programs.
Cheekwood already has hosted a luncheon and lecture focusing on Tu B’Shevat. Another Cheekwood Family Day centering on Tu B’Shevat will take place February 22 .
“The Celebration of Trees started when a group of representatives from the Jewish community started to talk about Tu B’Shevat,” said Cheekwood curator Jochen Wierich. “We wanted an exhibition to anchor this celebration and we decided Charles Brindley’s work was perfect. This is his largest exhibition at Cheekwood.”
“Trees of Myth and Legend”—the title of a new work of Brindley’s—became the obvious theme for the exhibition, as well as a way to encompass the universal themes that are associated with trees.
“Charles’s trees are surrounded by stories that encapsulate the human experience, memory, and cultural information. In a sense, trees are messengers of the past,” said Wierich.
The exhibition, open from February 4 through April 19, features 70 of Brindley’s 300 paintings and drawings of trees.
“The thing with trees grew out of a general interest in the landscape,” said Brindley, who also paints and draws architectural scenes, rock formations, and “primeval subjects.”
“In 1985, I started doing large-scale drawings of trees on site—right in front of the tree, either sitting there in my chair, or if the weather was cold, I would pull my car up,” said Brindley. “The idea was born from a traditional background of artists always drawing in the landscape. Most of these drawings, traditionally, were more utilitarian, and very small in some cases. I took that idea and did it on a large scale. I started in 1985 and never stopped. I average about ten per year.”
It is the process-oriented nature of his work and the amount of time he spends on a large-scale painting—often 300 hours—that keeps cultivating what Brindley describes as an “encounter experience.’
“When I refer to a quality of emotional experience, that’s often connected to a shift of consciousness. If you are alone with an object or a subject for long enough—for hours—when you’re not distracted, something interesting emerges in your subconscious mind and this happens again and again. And when you go through that experience, you could relate it to a meditative experience people encounter, or a prayer experience [where] . . . answers are given to you,” said Brindley.
According to Wierich, “Charles’s work is very multi-layered. Charles is one of the few artists, especially in this region, who capture aspects of the landscape that are not directly obvious. He really makes you look. He draws you into a kind of conversation with the landscape that makes you linger. It stops you in your tracks and allows you to meditate.”
Brindley’s work highlights the most interesting aspects of the trees he selects—often a matter of his focusing on trunks or branches.
“In general, some trees have a wonderful trunk and root system that’s on top of the ground (You’ll see that a lot in an old grove or forests or on the side of a hill), and after that incredible gnarled trunk and root system, there may be 40 feet of just trunk—very uninteresting—and then you get up so high and the branches come out. With a tree like that is better if you do that closely, so you’re really showing what’s special about that tree.
“Some trees don’t have much of an interesting trunk or root system, but they have a beautiful structure of the branches, I call ‘branchology.’ Then you have the question: Do you want to show that branchology and all the wonderful structure of the tree in winter without leaves or in summer with foliage?”
It also is Brindley’s way of combining the representational with the abstract that allows for the viewer’s thoughtful consideration of his work.
“I have a way of working that’s developed over the years—with some images—of creating a flat or a planar surface, which is more abstract oriented. Abstractionism is really seen as a flat plane and realism sort of falls into the category of looking through a window, but as my work as an artist has matured and developed, I’ve been able to combine a lot of descriptive information in a flat-plane format,” said Brindley.
“In general, the exhibit at Cheekwood will show the creative process involved and how these images emerge—how I interpret it and how it transcends from a drawing to a major painting. The studied aspect of what I do puts me strongly in the context of a process-oriented, not a product-oriented, artist, and I think that’s why, for many, my work has an appeal.”
Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Museum of Art is located at 1200 Forrest Park Circle in Nashville. Cheekwood’s Celebration of Trees includes guided tours of the “Trees of Myth and Legend” exhibition, guided tours of the arboretum, Charles Brindley’s lecture and drawing workshop, children’s activities, Tu B’Shevat Celebration & Family Day (February 22), and an Arbor Day Celebration (April 25). For the complete schedule and more information, go to cheekwood.org or call 615-356-8000.