Joanne Carson and The Tree of Life

"Under the Star"s September 8 – October 14, 2023

“Day For Night” (2023) 42”x 50”

Did you hear the one about the Vatican Synod on Synodality 2023?
For the first time a few women, less than 10 per cent of the total, will be allowed to vote. “The issues under discussion will include priestly celibacy, married priests, the blessing of gay couples, the extension of sacraments to the divorced and the ordination of female deacons.”
What a colossal waste of time!
Why not let’s throw it all out and become priestless animists? We could attribute a soul to plants and animals, inanimate objects and natural phenomena. Sunday School could be astronomy, plant identification and tree planting to name just a few possibilities.
If we were to build an edifice, Joanne Carson could create a stainglass window for it.

Carson’s subject in this series is a combination of The Tree of Life and the Sacred Tree. The Tree of Life is an archetypal symbol that appears, it seems, in every culture, a tree that often has multiple kinds of fruit and flowers.  The Sacred Tree is a specific tree in a real place that is honored and preserved.
In Day for Night, the spherical canopy is a glowing orb—it absorbs and creates its own light. It made me wonder if trees generate electricity—they do*. Despite the playful cartoonlike treatment (or perhaps because of it), there is something quite real here—a deciduous tree stands above a landscape of conifers.
Also a wonderful title— referring to the cinematic technique of shooting during the day, adjusting the exposure and adding a blue tint as Carson has done.

“Sun Dogs” (2023) 36”x 42”

Sun dogs are bright spots of light that appear next to the sun caused by ice crystals in the atmosphere. (I looked that up.)
This tree is so comical—it looks like an old lady that has suffered some branch loss but still manages to catch the spotlight and put on a good show. Am I anthropomorphizing and identifying with this tree? Absolutely!

There is an argument going on in modern botany about whether trees have feelings and intelligence. The scientists say that there’s no hard evidence to prove that they do. Sadly, there is plenty of hard evidence to prove that human beings do not.  We haven’t even seemed to fully understand how important trees and plants are to our life on the planet, beyond their value as food and fuel.

“Golden Spinner“ (2023) 36” x 42”

I’m beginning to wonder if what I’m doing here is even art criticism— does it matter?
I’m enjoying these paintings because they animate the lives of trees. They emphasize the interior space and structure and portray the energy it contains. Something is happening—we can’t quite see it in photographs or with the naked eye: creating oxygen, absorbing carbon, pulling minerals out of the ground, pumping water, forming seeds and fruits and flowers, creating a home for animals and insects. That’s what Carson pictures, a space to imagine. And the trees are placed in specific environments, at different times of the day, like this blazingly sunny afternoon, and with interesting details like the shade this mushroom/tree is throwing our way.

Of course, some people don’t even believe we are related to the apes, when in fact, we are related to the plants too—we share an ancestor designated LUCA—the most recent surviving form from which all surviving life is descended. So yeah, animism is not incompatible with science.


“Cloudburst Study” (2022) 17 ½” x21 ¼”

This youthful optimist speaks for itself but I will just point out that the flowers in front of the trunk, by their different sizes and angles, create a wonderful sense of space around the tree which is emphasized by the foreground black cloud and the gust of rain.

When we moved to our house, the pin oak on the sidewalk in front just came up to the second floor; now it has grown taller than the house and envelops our second floor porch. So I actually feel like I live under its umbrella. We can leave the windows open in the summer because it blocks the rain, I watch the leaves come out and the flowers turn into acorns. The squirrels scamper and sparrows shelter in it all winter because it doesn’t lose all its leaves until the spring and I have recently learned that oaks are essential for feeding baby birds because they host so many caterpillars.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say the tree “likes” us, but I think it enjoys the attention; it is the tallest and healthiest of the four pin oaks on our block.


Vatican Assembly Puts the Church’s Most Sensitive Issues on the Table”
NYT, 10/2/2023 Jason Horowitz

Electricity from trees
ZME Science