Book Review — December 2021 Edition

Painting The Woods: Nature, Memory, and Metaphor

By Deborah Paris

The prologue introduces us to  the woods. There is a stark contrast between the environment of farmed trees leading to the woods and the ecosystem of the old woods with large trees of many species intermingling with woodland shrubs and the universe within the forest floor. How life vibrates in this environment of many species is an apt metaphor for our own lives and the issues society faces.

Pure seeing is the first chapter of the book, developing the idea of what the author terms pure seeing rather than seeing a scene as an artist would. Simplifying and categorizing the elements of nature into a composition for a painting. The author here petitions for thoughtful and focused observation that leads to connection, a new understanding , of the chosen subject which will ultimately inform her art process. Referring to Thoreau and his experience at Walden Pond as a benchmark for how to begin pure seeing, reflecting on past artists such as Asher B. Duran and The Hudson River School and their motivation for painting landscapes, the author concedes that many would find painting a landscape to be irrelevant in contemporary art. Will this book make the case for connecting with and painting nature?

And so the book unfolds, each chapter a meditation on the woods and how they evoke deep memories and experiences that lead to authenticity and connection. Essays on art history and the artists that chose nature as a motif remind us of the rich history between art and nature and how this collaboration through the centuries has led to iconic and timeless masterpieces that reach out through time to touch the people and societies that have become far removed from nature.

Photo of a forest

Throughout the book the author details her experience of observing the woods and the questions that arise from that observation. It is a powerful link in the creative process. These observations are then thoroughly examined within the framework of creating art. Metaphor, memory, drawing and motif are explored through the work of many artists, as well as, naturalists and poets.

Painting by Constable

English Landscape  J. Constable

The author’s own work is presented throughout the book in black and white and color reproductions. Her paintings of the woods are ethereal and demonstrate the profound connection of the artist to her subject.

For me this book is a field guide on creating authentically. How to move beyond focus on the craft of painting and begin to really understand what compels an artist to paint. The book provides a map for the artist to find a way to the subject or motif that really inspires them to create. In this way we ( the artist) can find our own singular voice.

Painting from nature evokes a deep connection and response because we are of nature. However removed we have become, reconnecting with nature rekindles the flame of memory and belonging. When we are in nature we inhale the oxygen trees exhale. The air feels and smells familiar and calming, we move from sight to insight and the art we make is better for it.