Sharon Levy – Cookies

3 minute read

I had seen tree-cross sections in museums, with small markers indicating moments in human history. I was interested in how these cross-sections are monuments representing the awe-inspiring qualities of trees, but they must be cut down for humans to appreciate their age.

They are overwhelming in both scale and time. “Cookie” is the term used by scientists who study tree-rings (dendrochronologists) to describe disc-shaped tree cross-sections, I think because smaller ones do resemble cookies. My piece Cookie is meant to look like a slice of a giant redwood tree. It is made from two paintings on canvas stretched on either side of a circular frame (like a drum) and ringed in carved foam rubber “bark.” I painted each ring to simulate growth rings, but the painted rings also document my process of making the paintings; the story of time is told through the tree rings’ pattern (the “age” of the tree), and the time that it took for me to paint the rings.

What do you know about the rings of trees?

I know that each ring is equal to one year of the tree’s life. They might vary in thickness, depending on the amount of rainfall in a year. You can see places where the trees may have burned, and then kept right on growing over or around that section. I realized that people might mark our history against the rings of the tree, but that the trees care nothing about our history; they will continue to grow through war, industrialization, climate change, etc.

What did you learn from creating this piece?

I learned to trust my instincts, more than I ever had before. I had been struggling for a year with some other sculptures but the idea for Cookie came to me almost fully formed, though it was completely uncharted territory for me. A key aspect of this piece was that it needed to come apart and be put back together somewhat easily. I made a metal frame with curved pipes and some custom brackets. The canvas has grommets and is stretched with ropes in a complicated pattern, much like a drum. The bark is made from carved and painted foam rubber mounted on canvas and attached with Velcro. I also learned to ask for help when I need it – I had a small crew of art students help me with the bark and installation. And I learned to figure out how something will stand up before it is finished, because with this piece I didn’t do that until the very end, and that was almost a big problem.

I imagine painting that many rings took a lot of patience, is there anything further you would like to share about the experience?

Because I was under a deadline (my MFA show), I didn’t have too much time for patience. I mixed up several colors of fluid acrylics in large batches so that I wouldn’t have to keep stopping, and I had several brushes I would alternate. I would paint a couple of rings on one side, and then paint the same rings on the other side, so that the two sides are as similar as they could be, considering I couldn’t see both sides at the same time. It was a meditative practice; it made be think of Agnes Martin’s paintings or Eva Hesse’s ring drawings.

Is it copied from a real tree?

No, though I did use some small cross-sections I purchased form an educational catalog for inspiration.

What do trees have to teach us about life / creativity?

I think trees can teach us to respect life and nature, but much of humanity has not listened.

Where are a humans imprint of its yearly cycles stored, in your opinion?

I think they are stored in our brains. I’ve unfortunately suffered several concussions in the last few years, and I have come to appreciate the sturdiness, and fear the fragility, of the human brain.

What do trees have to teach us about life / creativity?

I think trees can teach us to respect life and nature, but much of humanity has not listened.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Cookie is part of the West Collection, housed in Oaks, Pennsylvania. My most recent work has also been with trees, but focusing on the canopy of leaves. I’ve enjoyed writing this for you because revisiting this piece has given me some new ideas.

Find Sharon here: