Tom Smith – Tree Beasts

2 minute read

After a heart transplant, I struggled with, or enjoyed, I’m not sure which, living with very strange psychedelic side-effects. I became more emotional and obsessive than usual, synaesthesia meant that the visual complexity of a charity shop window or supermarket shelf was almost too exciting and noisy to deal with.

Road signs seemed compelling, insistent and meaningful. I also started painting hundreds of images of the things that concerned me, mainly in day-glow paint. I couldn’t stop.

A bizarre mystical experience with a Silver Birch in the Freeman hospital led me to create maps of birch trees near where I lived. I searched them out and discovered they were a symbol of rebirth and renewal. But it was the “dead trees” that really caught my attention. Far from dead, they are full of life, of ivy, of birds, of insects and were standing there, gesticulating, telling me something I couldn’t quite make out, but something very important.

I really struggled with heightened sensations and significance. Everything was connected to everything else. At times I would realise I had lost an hour just staring at a tree. This is a common side effect apparently. Steroids have saved my life but altered it beyond all recognition.

It seemed to me that there was a spirit world, that I didn’t really believe in, but knew was there, that was only accessible through a wood or forest. The creatures I glimpsed in the corner of my dreams were part tree, part flesh, part bone, and I started creating montages of these “Beasts”, montaged from medical books and photocopies of trees I would visit. I would also see them manifest themselves in the mud that collected on my car, and see the veins of pumping blood in videos I took of hedgerows. They are ancient and exist partly in our world partly in other dimensions.

I felt like Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense, but with dead trees that weren’t, before he got the twist at the end.

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