Who doesn’t like trees? Put your hand down, Figgins Minor, it’s not funny and it’s not clever. Trees are under threat as never before, or so we’re led to believe, so this is, if nothing else, timely.
When it comes to instructional books (which this is not), those on trees are thin on the ground; the paper used to print them certainly wouldn’t threaten a forest. They are, however, ubiquitous in landscapes, but few people bother to paint them as subjects in themselves. This is a shame as, apart from the representational challenges, they present an infinite variety of shapes, colours, textures and forms and change with every season.
What a book such as this does, for me above all, is to throw together a wonderfully varied collection of artists, styles and media that otherwise would probably never be found within a single collection. My antennae quickly said “exhibition” and this indeed did grow out of Under The Greenwood: Picturing The British Tree, which was held at the St Barbe Museum & Art Gallery in 2013. I warm to that “grew out of”, because this isn’t (just) a catalogue, but rather a determination to give a temporary collection greater permanence. The Arborealists isn’t just a handy title for the book, it’s a conscious grouping of the artists involved, a loose association borne out of a sense of camaraderie and which exhibits across the south of England.
No fewer than thirty-seven artists have contributed to the book, each given a double-page spread and, for the most part, two illustrations. It’s inevitably a sampler, but the format also emphasises the variety of the work on show from oils to watercolour to ink and printmaking. Each artist has a short introduction, either biographical or in their own words, but these never take over from the illustrations, which are given generous space, as they should be.
There are also some useful background essays which deal with trees and their position in culture, as well as a handy history of trees in art, which has some particularly nicely-chosen illustrations.
Overall, if you love trees, or painting, or even just happily miscellaneous collections, this is a book not to miss.
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