Walking with Trees: a new exhibition
Photographs courtesy of Juli Fejer and John Martyn.
Anyone who has been reading this blog or followed our Instagram account for even a little while will know we spend a lot of time with trees: photographing them, thinking about them, walking under them.
When I was younger, trees were just another part of the background. I was surrounded by trees – from the little apple tree in the middle of the garden, to the enormous horse chestnuts that loomed over the house – and I spent much of my childhood building dens under them, and climbing up them. But I rarely thought about them.
Yet over the last few years, we have found ourselves increasingly drawn to trees, and since the first lockdown, trees and woodlands have really moved into the foreground. They became something we sought. Whenever we are out for walks, we invariably choose the routes that take us under the cover of trees, rather than open fields or rural roads.
Over the past few months I have begun to understand that we were choosing woodland as an escape from the world. A place of rest, away from the usual stresses. A place to heal.
This healing power of trees is highlighted in the new Walking with Trees exhibition at the Guildhall Studio in Bury St Edmunds, featuring artwork by Juli Fejer and photography by John Martyn, that opened last week, running until 7 May.
Juli Fejer’s bold, colourful painting and John Martyn’s architectural, detailed photography work together to demonstrate the power of trees, both in terms of their own innate strength, and the powerful influence they have over us as observers. By carefully arranging the artwork in the exhibition by colour and shape, rather than subject matter, it is like we are being given both perspectives at once.
Trees inspire a certain amount of awe. Their size, their strength, and sometimes their age. Some – perhaps all – trees also have their own distinct personalities. We have named one of our favourites ‘the St Edmund Tree’. It stands proud from a hedgerow beside the westbound carriageway of the A14 between Bury St. Edmunds and Risby. This tree, which must be long-dead, presents a stunning silhouette to passing commuters, looking like King Edmund pieced with arrows.
Another of our favourite trees was the subject of one of John’s stunning photographs: a wild and majestic lime, bedecked with mistletoe. John has managed to catch the power and personality of the tree perfectly. In another series of powerful photographs, John captures the quiet strength of the ancient oaks at Old Broom Nature Reserve.
The strong silhouettes of the trunks and branches in many of Juli’s paintings, looming against a bright watercolour background, also capture the impressiveness of trees: the rootedness of oak and beech along the edges of fields or the bright vitality of dense woodland. The colours shine through between the trees like light through a stained-glass window.
Step into woodland, and you immediately notice the difference: the air pressure changes and sounds are magnified and distorted. You are forced to pay attention. You are drawn-in. And by paying attention, you are taken outside of yourself, taken away from your thoughts and worries.
Juli’s inventive use of framing techniques and inviting visual paths seem to have this same effect. Some of the paintings look like doorways or windows, through which you seem to be beckoned. Anyone used to woodland walks will know that feeling: a tunnel opening into dense trees is usually too inviting an offer to miss. In other paintings, paths and field edges curve away from where you are standing, seeming to promise long, mindful countryside walks.
John’s photography draws you in with dense, intricate detail. At the bottom of many of the photographs, your eyes are immediately drawn into the textures of undergrowth and branches. Ferns, fallen leaves, and brambles pull your eyes into the treescape. Overhead, an overarching canopy of heavy, twisting branches and filigreed twigs. The restrained choice of colours also works to focus your attention on the detail.
Walking with Trees
There are moments when you suddenly notice trees. Not just knowing they are there, but becoming aware that you are surrounded by living giants, many of them ancient, that might have been there since long before your grandparents were born.
And that is one of the things I loved most about the Walking with Trees exhibition: putting trees centre-stage, instead of in the background, and I have been looking at them differently ever since.
Walking with Trees is running until 7 May 2022 at the Guildhall Studio, 7 Guildhall Street, Bury St Edmunds, IP33 1PR