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Beijing Trees

Beijing Trees

Structured Balance: Wisdom, Strength and Renewal

Traveling and the unique experiences it brings has become my greatest artistic inspiration. I went to Beijing for the first time in the Spring of 2016. I had never been to China before and wanted to experience it with fresh eyes.

A few days into the trip, I realized I was repeatedly inspired by the thoughtfully pruned trees. The blossoming cherry trees had their own vibrant beauty. However, it wasn’t just the cherry trees, but every tree throughout the city. From the parks, temples, gardens, and along the streets, all of the trees demanded respect. Many of them were just starting to leaf out which allowed me to see the structure of the trees. Such care was taken with each tree, and the older trees were well supported. In the Imperial Garden of the Forbidden City, there was a very old tree with a huge steel frame around the trunk holding up the heavy branches. In the Botanical Gardens there was a 3,000 year old tree with it’s large branches supported by other trees which had been grown to hold them up.

Many courtyards had Chinese Scholar trees, which were straight trunked trees and gnarly branches. Each branch was curled then had another branch curling out, then another and another. It appeared that each curl of the branch was directly related to each years pruning. Tiny lime colored shoots were coming out of the ends of the dark brown branches.  

While walking around the Shichahai area north of the Forbidden City, I came upon a remarkable tree. The roots were meandering through the pathway, bulging out along the cracks in the stones. They worked their way up the base of the tree, creating a hollow space in the middle. A little higher than eye level, the trunk became solid. I was surprised that the hollowed out bottom could hold up the large trunk of the tree. Twice as high up, the trunk broke away into larger branches, and those into smaller branches with the beginning of the sprouting leaves reaching for the sky. At this point, I realized there were three significant parts of the tree. I associated them with wisdom, strength and new life; each dependent on one another.

The ancient traditions of the Chinese, and the wisdom of thinking in terms of centuries rather than years, was apparent in the way they nurtured their trees. Each branch was thoughtfully pruned every year, keeping them healthy. The trunk, or strength of the tree, had everything to do with its foundation. The top of the trees had new life every year. Depending on the structure due to the consistent pruning, the more blossoms there would be. All of this resonated with me. A state of renewal built on strength and wisdom became the direction of my new body of work. Something that I related my own survival to, which was dependent on my foundation and strength from my family and friends.

In our hotel room, I started sketching in skinny accordion sketchbooks I purchased in the “scholar” area of town. I first drew color blocks that moved up the page. Then, placing each shape on the corner of the previous shape, I realized it was a balanced structure I was after.

Once back in my studio in the United States, I made tall skinny canvases, similar in shape to the classic Chinese scroll paintings. I focused on three things: the strength of the brushwork, the balance of the colors and shapes, and the freshness of each mark (made visible, but not overworked). Beijing has breathed new wisdom, strength, and renewal in my life and in my work.

Karen Silve