This painting is called “Ancient Ruins.”
When hiking through the Giant Sequoia forests in Northern California, you’ll occasionally come across trees like this–Beautiful and mysterious, (if you’ve never seen it in person you might wonder what it is) this is the charred remains of what used to be a gargantuan, living redwood tree. The victim of a devastating forest fire, its top half is missing.
What remains is a monument to the past–a sharp spear jutting into the sky. The interior is hollow and black, burned away, but the exterior, even with the dead bark peeling away in places, still shows the reddish gold tones of a living tree.
As this fire happened very long ago, you can see that new growth forest has come in all around it–many of the trees in the background, although they are already towering giants themselves, look spindly in comparison to the circumference of this ancient relic.
The painting is based on this reference photo I took in Sequoia National Forest. The sharp point of the gigantic dead tree disappearing directly into the bright sun was an irresistible image for me–both to photograph and to paint.
I lost some of the height as I had to squash the image to fit it into the square format I wanted to work with. However, with my use of brilliant colors and strong light and shadow, the image has retained its excitement.
This feels like a sacred place, similar to some of the Aztec ruins in Mexico, and the extreme vertical angles of the trees, reminiscent of a grand Italian cathedral full of stained glass, adds to this feeling.
A huge burned-down tree that lived for many ages and whose remains will probably be here for many ages more beyond our human lifespan is a reminder of our own impermanence, and forces us to stop and honor the past. My hope is that this series of paintings will help create awareness for these majestic forests, one of the wonders of the Earth, which we should all feel honor-bound to protect.
The painting in the studio: As you can see, the image wraps around onto the edges of the canvas.
It looks different in different lighting. Here it is in somewhat more shadowed light, as this photo was taken standing in the bright light outside the doors of the studio.
I painted much of this with a palette knife. The paint is 1/4 thick in some places. The details up close are very interesting to look at.
You can see hints of the long straight marks from the knife worked into the thick blue paint of the sky here–but it’s much better in person!
I find this little area in the top right corner deeply satisfying. I think it’s because of the colors: the purple foliage in the shadows right up against the deep red-orange of the tree in the foreground, alongside the gold and deep green of the tree branches.