This painting, “Hydrologic Cycle,” is one of the most unique pieces of art I’ve made.
This is a horizontal cross-section of the trunk of an English walnut tree. It’s hard to say how the tree grew into this interesting shape, but I suppose the holes in the middle might be evidence of disease, and possibly the reason the tree was cut down.
Regardless, when I first saw this piece of wood, I decided on the spot to purchase it. I had no idea how I would turn this into a piece of art. I only knew there was some potential there, and I decided to hold onto it and wait for the perfect idea to come.
When I posted a picture of the slab on social media, I asked others what images came to them when they saw it. The answers were varied—some saw the profile of a pregnant body, a large round belly and breasts, on the left. Some saw birds. Some saw a wolf howling in the center.
Some of the visions were more abstract. Because of the way the undulating strip across the top loosely mirrors the one across the bottom, and the way the two curves end facing each other on the left and right, almost but not quite touching, for some, it evoked images of lovers about to kiss, or the coming together of opposites—yin and yang.
The wood grain made a shape of a bird’s wingspan across the top. I kept seeing the center of the slab as a window into another space, and thought, what if I keep that wood grain and incorporate it into the design, as an eagle flying above a lush green landscape, like a witness to the life on Earth below?
This time lapse of me priming the slab, where I decide which parts of the wood grain to leave exposed, is satisfying and meditative to watch:
The unpainted slab sat in my studio for many weeks, and whenever it caught my eye, my mind dwelled upon grand, mystical themes: The duality of life and death, the Tree of Life, the cyclical nature of life on Earth, continual rebirth, the Phoenix rising from the ashes.
I thought about water as the link between Earth and sky and the medium of all life. Our planet is covered in water, surrounded by an atmosphere of water, and all animals and plants are made of water. I thought about the way a fetus is suspended in water as it grows in the womb.
I thought about my beloved dog who died this year, and how, when his body was cremated, all the water that was in his body dissipated into the atmosphere, and might be traveling around the world in clouds at this very moment.
How, when the moment feels right and I finally decide to spread his ashes, I will probably do it into the ocean or a river, using the flow of water to help me release the last bit of him back into the universe to become new things.
The Law of Conservation of Mass: Matter is neither created nor destroyed.
So I painted an artistic vision of the hydrologic cycle.
The water evaporates off the Earth’s surface and rises up into the sky in fluffy clouds that float and swirl. It rains. It snows on the mountaintops.
The snow melts and cascades down in waterfalls, filling streams and rivers and flowing to the oceans and evaporating to form new clouds. It goes on forever.
On the right edge of the slab, where the top and bottom nearly meet in a kiss, the liquid water is evaporating from the lake or stream into gaseous form, transferring, in that moment, into atmosphere.
Coming out from the wall several inches, with jagged holes in its face, dark and light patterns of the bark around the undulating edges, and bits of the wood grain worked into the design of the painting, it’s a piece of art full of endless interesting details!