I have worked in arts and education my entire adult life, encouraging them to maximize their income by finding what they enjoy most. At the same time, I am highly sensitive, both physically and, some people say, intuitively.
The fascination and interest in trees and branches has been present my entire life, and I have constantly used it as a metaphor for project and systems. Working as an artist test increased my source of income over the last 20 years and right now is a big part of that. I’m really excited that other people see my work, and make the connection, the same connection, that I do.
One of my clients was the Trust for African Rock Art based in Nairobi. It gave me an opportunity to better understand ancient cultures, and artistic forms that transcend all modern culture. I’m talking about concentric circles, fascination with head size and hand shapes. Branches are relevant, and appear in many of these drawings, and in a way, it reinforced to me that I was on the right track. I have since seeing these designs, along with brilliant fences houses, bridges, and other structures, made out of most simple of sticks and branches.
Q: What have trees taught you about life, creativity?
A: Trees, for all of their shapes and forms, they all stand and provide themselves with what they need. Durable or fragile, complex or simple form, they all function and fit into the landscape. A biologist, on the Appalachian Trail (where I am as I write this) told me that trees are the ultimate parasite, adapting to their environment, and there is evidence that they communicate within their species and with others in several different ways. Roots overlap, and grow together, branch patterns do the same. There is a lot of research Lincoln toward the fact that they send messages using insects and wind patterns.
I guess I find a certain amount of brilliance in the fact that they take freely from their environment, but contribute in equal amounts. When I handle them, it is with a great deal of respect.
Q: Can you identify the place in your past where trees sprang into your awareness?
A: A very early memory is playing alone in the woods, mapping out a playground, laying out the most as grass, and fashioning a variety of fences and other structures with twigs. Today use branches or logs, but the proportions remain the same
In my 20’s I remember making three of them the size of tray tables, and proudly carrying them on public transportation. It was a complete an absolute obsession. And I once made a dinner guest balance a plate and a wine glass between random branches, which he and I both did without any spills. The third one I specifically carried deep into Brooklyn, and left on a friend’s doorstep, which he then put out on a neighboring roof which he could see daily. Occasionally I would get reports from him that it was deteriorating… over about 6 years. At that point it was a complete Obsession and I honestly was worried about what they meant. Now I understand but they are about balance and equilibrium. I feel the same sense of euphoria when constructing them that a child might feel when swinging high on a swing set.
Q: What’s your favourite tree?
A: Hands down my favorite tree is Black Walnut. I made a much more traditional table, based on a Belgian pattern-making table, from a tree that my grandfather and father planted. Made entirely by hand, I now practice my touch healing on it. It is hard, therefore smooth, and rich in color.
However, my sculpture is made largely of sugar maple, which I love to work with. It is soft when young, and if I cut it in the winter it is incredibly fragrant when brought indoors. There is something beautiful about the proportions of Sugar Maples, how they branch and strive for light.
I’ve also been experimenting with sweet sumac trees, which is getting some very exciting results. The wood is extremely soft and grows rapidly, but dries very, very hard within two years. Even though it’s fruit can be used as a spice or for medicinal purposes, it is considered a weed, and basically growing into forrest and fields. Well, I’ve made sculptures out of it and it has attracted wildlife (maybe a porcupine, deer or beaver) who have artfullly eaten all the bark off it! I don’t understand this, because there are living trees of the same species I’m not 20 feet away, a whole Forest of them, that are intact! It is also a favorite for Birds. They seem to be attracted to it, especially when my sculpture is in a pasture, or field.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: Sugar Maples, in the New York, Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey, are plentiful. Many of them are tertiary growth, growing in what used to be farming fields. Also, many of the region’s forests are not natural, since most of were cut down in the 1800 and 1900’s for lumber. In other words, the trees I work with are already growing under a canopy and won’t grow well. I harvest them to ensure the rest of the forest isn’t smothered by small unproductive growth.
Find Robert here: www.bangiola.com/sculpture