Special Branch. One surprise as soon as I arrived in Jackson were the trees of the valley. I’d looked forward to the giant firs and the smell of the pines with the snow, as a reminder of Christmas but there’s much more to see at this time of year that I doubt it would get a mention in any guidebooks.
I’d not even noticed the Cottonwood trees on the previous trip, as they were fully laden with leaves. Now they are a gothic wonder, found hugging the Snake River, telling the story of winter silhouetted against the mountains or the open sky. They are beautifully narled and the larger ones all have a distinctive clump of growth at the base of the trunk, it looks like a big furry sock, and is understandably called bearding. When they caught in sunlight they are transformed, as if suddenly wake after a long sleep, they dazzle in bleached brilliance.
The Aspen too, is very distinctive, with it’s striking markings that spookily resemble staring eyes. The fans of this arboreal treat would head here in summer to listen as transparent leaves russle with the the wind and in Autumn to catch them turn from bright green to fiery yellows and russet. I’ve enjoyed the luminous subtle contrast of their bark against the deep snow. They have an admirable steadfast character and it’s been a pleasure to snowshoe through dense areas of them, that will soon be thick with vegetation.
There’s also a number of large bushes whose leafless branches have turned bright orange yellow or deep burgundy. I’m not sure what they are called but as winter subsides with muted natural tones these humble shrubs are quite comic in the way they buck the trend.
Trees are crucially important in landscape art, because they are usually vertical, they can feel symbolically like a human presence, particularly in work like mine without people. In the paintings I have done of the mountains the trees are perfect to give a sense of scale as well as its metaphorical struggle and power, surviving the inhospitable conditions.
Here are some woodland themed paintings I’ve just finished. These are an attempt to record some of my experiences on woodland winter paths here and a chance to shift from the open space of the larger mountain pieces with the feeling of being immersed in a tranquil forest. The paintings are tiny but I love the challenge of making a rich evocation of light and colour with so little space.