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The Aviary
A painted tree installation at Awbury Arboretum, Philadelphia
Summer 2020-22

Read about the Aviary installation

2018 works

Awbury Arboretum, Philadelphia

Park Hill Orchard, Easthampton, MA

2016 works

2015 works

2013 works

2012 works

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2011 works

2010 works

 

The Aviary
A painted tree installation at Awbury Arboretum
Richard Metz
Summer 2020-22

Birds are an important part of the living fauna on earth, and the ecosystems that all life depends on. They are a daily part of my own and many peoples experience. Birds and Bird-flight have intrigued and fascinated humanity for thousands of years. The variety and richness of bird life in southeastern Pennsylvania is extraordinary. As part of this project, I have relied on the recent bird count at Awbury Arboretum. Here is the link to this:
https://ebird.org

The concept of The Aviary has different dimensions. I have been considering the idea of a large tree painting installation of birds for a few years. The piece would focus on migration as a result of climate change. I also like the idea of activating the natural space with images of the birds that already live there, but couldn’t always be seen.

The Staff at the Awbury Arboretum suggested the idea of a Bird Scavenger Hunt as a way to further engage young children in their Adventure Woods area. A check-off sheet was created, and parents and children could search for the birds as they walk.

I decided to paint some of the birds in groups, because that’s how I usually see them. I also felt that groupings were a more satisfying artistic compositional view, rather then just a solitary bird on a tree. I also started using the whole tree in the round, engaging the viewer when possible to walk around the tree, to create a more inquisitive, active, participatory experience.

In 2010 I began creating ephemeral painted tree installations, both in the Philadelphia area and around the country, on artist residencies from Washington state to Nova Scotia, from Massachusetts to South Carolina. I use natural, non-toxic pigments and eggs. Pigments such as red and yellow oxide, Lac dye, Indigo, sandalwood, charcoal, calcite and white clay, and Turmeric. These paintings slowly fade away in 2-3 years, depending on weather conditions, leaving the tree unharmed and as it was. In my mind, these paintings are born, live their lives, and die, as living things do. The works exist on, and in relationship to the trees and the woods, and would not make sense indoors.

 

 

Painted Tree Creatures

August 2016

Contemporary Art International

Painted Tree Creatures-CAI is an installation of paintings of animals and birds in the woods at CAI, that have mythic and legendary qualities. The paintings are all done with eggs and natural non-toxic pigments, and the works will slowly decay over the next 2-3 years.

The Bear, Beaver, and Raven are important figures in both Native American culture, as clans and power figures in the tribes that lived in the area of Acton hundreds of years ago, in children’s stories from some of Acton’s European ancestors, and in the current ecology of the Eastern United States.

The Porcupine figure is more whimsical, and relates to a Wampanoag Native American legend as the Pukwudgie, a trickster character. It was also inspired by the stories of a friend of mine, who lives near Acton, who has had her vegetable garden ransacked by Porcupines.

The Ancient Greek figure of Artemis is the goddess of wild animals. Ancient Greece certainly was a patriarchal culture, but Artemis and Athena stand out as smart, powerful female warrior figures. Many modern cultural heroes may be based on them.

The Frog Prince is a common fairy tale, but I choose to look at it as a class reversal, where the lowest creature that lives in the mud, becomes the prince of the land.

The presence of images of the flying birds native to the area is to create a magical, lively, colorful space. Featured are the Cardinal, the Robin, the Red tailed Hawk, the Canadian goose, the Pileated Woodpecker, and the Baltimore Oriole. These are the birds we have come to know and they, in a way, can symbolize the wooded areas of the Northeastern United States.

The Greenman is an older Pagan image that is found in many cathedrals in the United Kingdom and still celebrated in some towns there. I choose to view it as a contemporary allegory of the ecological man, who understands that we coexist as part of nature, rather then separate from and dominating it. In this sense, it is a plea for ecological balance before we destroy our planet.

Richard Metz 8/16

 

 

Painted tree spirits              Richard Metz   2010

For the past three years I have been wandering through the woods of southeastern Montgomery County, painting strange faces and figures on groups of trees in secluded areas. My latest work are in Abington, PA., and in Port Angeles , Washington. I received a grants to be part of their Sculpture Parks. These outdoor paintings are kind of neo-primitive, and belong in a nature setting, not a gallery. They are meant to hover in between the genres of fine art, children’s illustration, and a kind of art brut graffiti.

While I have in the past been influenced by tribal works and years of portrait painting, the faces and creatures that I have created, (see images), are inspired by the areas they inhabit. They are meant to be wondrous, spiritual, humorous, playful, and aesthetically enjoyable art that works within and depends upon the context of a wooded area. The characters are created as nature spirits. In the tradition of Native American masks and sculptures, these works are my own representations, some based on the leaf shapes of the area, of imaginary creatures that might live in the woods. These works also have a history in the imagery of the Green Man, a Western European deity that symbolizes nature spirits and is found carved into many English cathedrals.

To combine my environmentalism and interest in sustainability with my artistic practice is part of my learning process. These works, created with natural, non-toxic pigments and eggs, will not harm the woods they are in. These painted trees express my deep connection and admiration for our natural world. They encourage the viewer to walk in and appreciate the natural environment. They are meant to be part of nature, not separate.
I have been grinding my own pigments, using natural mediums and binders such as eggs, gum, shellac, and walnut oil and purchasing only powdered pigments from mineral and plant sources.  I have researched the history of colors and paints and use many recipes that are hundreds of years old. I am convinced that the materials I am using pose no environmental hazard.

One issue in artistic production has been a battle against nature, in terms of trying to preserve the work for eternity. I have vowed to ‘let nature win’. My tree paintings, made with eggs and pigments, decay and decompose in the space of 6-12 months. The use of the eggs as a binder is strong enough to preserve the work for several months, but then begins to gradually fade away, and finally deteriorates altogether. The works painted in May 2010 would not be visible in May 2011. They will not be part of our societies’ accumulation of stuff.

The work is in this way, anti-materialist and anti-consumerist, and attempts to also function as a critique of art as commodity. These works are not possible to own. They will disappear in a year and there will only be photographic documentation of the works and the installation and memory

 

Richard Metz 2010

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