Going out on a limb
Country Life UK|September 29, 2021
An eclectic group of artists is breathing new life into the time-honoured pastime of painting trees. Laura Gascoigne meets The Arborealists
Laura Gascoigne

DURING the miseries of the pandemic, it has been particularly cheering to be reminded of Nature’s immunity to such minor distractions as human diseases. As David Hockney pointed out during the first lockdown, ‘do remember they can’t cancel the spring’, a fact triumphantly demonstrated in his recent Royal Academy exhibition celebrating the arrival of spring 2020 in his Normandy garden (Artist of the week, April 7). Indeed, Mr Hockney is not the only contemporary artist whose latest work is full of the joys of spring. Damien Hirst has also embraced the vernal spirit of renewal in a new series of cherry blossom paintings that was recently unveiled at the Fondation Cartier in Paris.

If it took lockdown to make the former bad boy of Britart fall in love with Nature, other artists haven’t needed that stimulus. Over recent decades, a number of contemporary painters have been drawn back to that most British of landscape subjects, trees— and not only in springtime.

Aware of this growing trend, in 2013, the artist Tim Craven, then curator of Southampton City Art Gallery, co-curated ‘Under the Greenwood’, a two-part exhibition of British tree paintings, past and present, at the St Barbe Art Gallery & Museum in Lymington, Hampshire. The contemporary part was such a success with the public that Mr Craven asked the 35 contributors if they would like to join him in forming a tree painting group.

Calling themselves The Arborealists, the 36-strong group—including Mr Craven— staged its debut show, ‘Arboretum’, at Bristol’s Royal West of England Academy in 2014. Since then, the collective has gone from strength to strength. In the past seven years, it has held 24 exhibitions up and down the country from Bristol to Bermondsey and from Westonbirt to the Wye Valley, in venues ranging from galleries and museums to National Trust properties and Nature reserves, as well as making forays to Poitiers and Loudun and, last year, to Gibraltar. With 55 artists currently on the waiting list, Mr Hockney and Mr Hirst will have to get in line.

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