Art in Translation: The Trees Have Souls

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(Photo Courtesy of Davis Gallery)
(Photo Courtesy of Davis Gallery)

I’ll admit, I have really come to love having an excuse to go these art excursions and this week was no different. I stopped in to Davis Gallery on the corner of West 12th Street and Shoal Creek Boulevard, intent on writing about an abstract cityscape I had seen online.

Not wanting to short change any of you, I made a courtesy lap around the gallery to ensure I had not missed anything — and boy, I did. I struck gold, or at least gold leaf, with Sandra Langston’s charcoal sketch “Tree of Souls.” I turned the corner while I was making my way through the gallery and it literally stunned me with its, well, soul.

Before I get into this piece, it might be helpful for me to give you a little background on how I fell in love with not art, but art history.

In high school, I was always frustrated by the fact that I never really found my niche in any of my classes or extracurricular activities. Then, my senior year I took Advanced Placement Art History and it finally clicked. For the first time, I wasn’t just interested in what I was studying; I was enchanted by it — and by other subjects by proxy. After deciding to double major in art history, I took a survey class on modern art, my longtime favorite.

Although the professor was a somewhat kooky woman (in the most fantastic way, I can assure you), she said something that has shaped how I look at art ever since. “The reason so many people hate modern art is that so much of it is just paint splattered on a canvas, just a picture, just hotel art. When you study [modern art], you come to find that the pieces that work have a soul. You can feel them,” she said.

And with that, we can now move into this week’s piece. “Tree of Souls” caught my eye because it was so different from the rest of the pieces on display. In a gallery of colorful paintings and mixed media installations, the black and white sketch is a clear departure from the rest of the art in their Summer Group Show. The gold leaf painted on the wispy, energetic tree leaves, however, gives it the ethereal quality that draws you in.

Langston, originally from Austin, currently lives in the middle of an olive grove in Southern Italy. Although these groves consist of dozens of streamlined rows of thin trees, every once in a while, you will find an olive tree that is centuries old. These behemoths are incredibly thick and gnarly, showing a sort of individual character that can’t be found in the groves.

The artist was struck by how much life you could see in a tree such as this. It seems as though she is showing the soul of the tree or perhaps even the souls which the tree has experienced over the years. Either way, the golden leaves give it a hint of magic that immediately makes my mind go to childhood nature movie favorites such as “Pocahontas” and “Fern Gully.” Just wait before you roll your eyes.

Think of a time when something in nature really struck you or touched you in some way. If you haven’t, go to a park and close your eyes or something. Think about the trees rustling lightly and that hint of breeze brushing over your shoulder as you look up through the branches and see golden gleams of sun (much like the piece’s golden leaves) shining through the leaves. It’s not just a view. It’s a feeling, and it’s a feeling Langston has captured in her drawing.

Has a work of art ever given you that sort of experience?