I have worked in Arts and Education my entire adult life, encouraging entrepreneurs and artists to do what they love most, and maximize their income doing it. Personally, I am highly sensitive, both physically and, some people say, intuitively, which is an element in the services I provide.
The fascination and interest in trees and branches has been present my entire life, linked to my sensitivity. I use trees and branches as a metaphor for projects and systems. As an artist over the last 20 years, but not showing my work until recently, I’m excited that other people see my work, and make connections, about Balance, and the beauty of lines in nature.
One of my clients was the Trust for African Rock Art based in Nairobi (TARA). TARA gave me an opportunity to better understand artistice forms from ancient cultures. I’m talking about concentric circles, fascination with head size and hand shapes, and stick figures. Branches are relevant, and appear in many of these drawings, reinforcing my interest in the shapes I create. I have since seen these designs in the form of fences, houses, bridges, and other structures, all made of sticks and branches.
What have trees taught you about life, creativity?
Trees, for all of their shapes and forms, 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 during this interview) suggested that trees are the ultimate survivors, adapting to their environment. There is evidence that they communicate within their species and with others, in several different ways. Roots grow together, and branchs do the same. There is a lot of research leading toward the idea that trees send messages using insects and wind patterns.
I find a certain amount of brilliance in the fact that trees take freely from their environment, but contribute in equal amounts. When I handle them, it is with a great deal of respect.
Can you identify the place in your past where trees sprang into your awareness?
A very early memory is playing in the woods, mapping out a playground, laying out moss as grass, and fashioning a variety of fences and other structures with twigs. Today, I sometimes use large branches and logs, but the proportions remain the same.
In my 30’s I made three structures the size of tray tables, and proudly carrying them on public transportation from the woods back to Manhattan. It was an obsession. And I once made a dinner guest balance a plate and a wine glass between random branches, which we did successfully. The third one I specifically carried into Brooklyn and left on a friend’s doorstep, which he then put out on a neighboring roof. He could see it from his apartment. Occasionally I would get reports from him that it was deteriorating… over about 6 years. At that point branch sculpture was so compelling to me that I even wondered myself why they were so attractive to me, and what they meant.
Now I understand 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.
What’s your favourite tree?
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, smooth, and rich in color.
My sculptures are 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 nuisance plant. 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, 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.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Sugar Maples, in New York, Connecticut, Vermont and New Jersey, are plentiful. Many of them are tertiary growth, growing in what used to be farming fields. 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. I harvest them to ensure the rest of the forest grows with a balance of trees, layered and healty.
Find Robert here: www.bangiola.com/sculpture