The Arborealists: The Art of the Tree


The Arborealists: The Art of the Tree
With essays by Angela Summerfield and Peter Davies

Publication date:  April 2016 
Price:  £20  softback

Trees provide a wonderfully versatile subject for artists, not only in  terms of the incredible diversity of form, character and colour they provide, whether individually or collectively, but also in terms of the  wealth of association, myth, folklore, religious and symbolic significance which they have come to embody. In Britain they have  inspired artists from Gainsborough and Constable through to Paul Nash, the Neo-Romantics and the Ruralists.  

The Arborealists grew out of the exhibition Under the Greenwood:  Picturing British Trees – Present held in 2013 at St. Barbe Museum & Art Gallery, an exploration of contemporary artists' responses to the  tree. Such was the impact of the show and the spirit of camaraderie engendered in a truly diverse group of artists that they took on a more  permanent identity. Under the Arborealists' banner a loose association of artists, including such luminaries as David Inshaw, have  come together for exhibitions in galleries across the south. The thirty-seven artists who have contributed to this book include Jemma  Appleby, Ann and Graham Arnold, Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis,  Buckmaster and French, Tim Craven, Michelle Dovey, Ffiona Lewis, Annie Ovenden, Julian Perry, Howard Phipps, Michael Porter,  Wladyslaw Mirecki and Angela Summerfield. 

The work included in this lavishly illustrated book, at turns dramatic  and contemplative, demonstrates that trees still have a relevance in contemporary art and retain the power to move us all as a vital  element in our landscape and sense of national identity. 

  • Essay by Royal Academy Senior Curator sets out the historical and international background to artists' relationships with trees (inc. Gainsborough, Constable, Van Gogh, Munch, Klimt etc.)
  • The first study on one of the most significant British artist groups to emerge in the 21st century
  • Features previously unpublished images and personal insights into the work of these contemporary painters
  • Will appeal equally to lovers of art, nature and the British countryside
  • Lavishly illustrated throughout 

Published in conjunction with an exhibition at St Barbe Gallery, Lymington 
23 April – 4 June 2016 

To look inside the book, please click on the cover image above

Extent: 128pp
Size: 270 x 210mm
Illustrations: over 70 full colour
Binding: softback
Price: £20

ISBN: 978-1-908326-86-7

Sansom & Co
81g Pembroke Road
Bristol BS8 3EA



Next exhibition

The Arborealists will stage their third exhibition at St Barbe Museum and Art gallery, Lymington. The Arborealists , 23rd April – 4th June 2016, will feature new works by 35 artists  and each will show just one work to emphasise the diversity of art practice prevalent within the group – in terms of size, medium, style and philosophy.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a new publication on the group. This will include an introduction on art historical links, the origins and development of the group by Tim Craven, an essay entitled “Why do Artists Paint Trees” by Dr Angela Summerfield, an essay entitled “Cultivation of Trees and western Culture” by Philippa Beale and a survey on of the work by the exhibiting artists by art historian Peter Davies. The catalogue will be fully illustrated together with a statement by each artist.

St Barbe is an excellent art gallery in the heart of the New Forest and was the venue for the group’s originating exhibition, Under the Greenwood: Picturing the British Tree in 2013. It’s great to be back with more and new artists!

Ann Arnold 1936-2015

Ann Arnold exhibited with the Arborealists at The Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, in 2014 and at Mottisfont Abbey NT, Romsey, in 2015. She also showed in the seminal Under the Greenwood: Picturing the British Tree exhibition at St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery, Lymington, in 2013 – the originating exhibition for the Arborealists. Ann was a brilliant artist with an strong personal, pastoral vision and she will be sorely missed.

Ann was born in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and brought up in Surrey. She was educated at Sutton High School for Girls. Despite being beset by illness, she graduated in painting at Epsom School of Art. Also in Epsom she was introduced to the Burgh Heath Centre for the care of young people with mental illness, where a range of the arts, music, drama and especially painting were employed as therapy. At the forefront of a new profession, Ann trained to become an art therapist, working in many hospitals and she also assisted with setting-up the first degree course. Ann later founded the Association of Art Therapists. In 1961 she married the painter Graham Arnold and together they, and David Inshaw founded the Broadheath Brotherhood of artists, the forerunner of the celebrated Brotherhood of Ruralists of which she was also a member. 
The Brotherhood of Ruralists staged its inaugural exhibition at The Royal Academy in 1976. The seven members who included Peter Blake of Pop Art fame, proclaimed to express through personal vision and experience of their native heritage, a celebration of the English countryside. A ruralist is defined as someone who moves to the country from the city, and this was largely true of the group. The brotherhood believed that Romanticism was a neglected strand in British art, and that if re-introduced, might solve some of the problems that they believed were rife in much of contemporary painting. They looked for inspiration to the art of William Blake, Samuel Palmer and the Brotherhood of Ancients, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and to Victorian painting, design and photography in general. They profoundly disagreed with the view espoused by modern art orthodoxy that the sensibility and practice of their favourite nineteenth century artists were merely an eccentric dead-end and marginal to the progression of mainstream western art.

The Ruralists’ unfashionable stance however struck a chord and with assistance from substantial media publicity (including a BBC film) and various sell-out touring exhibitions, enjoyed huge popular success. Espousing a Romantic approach to art and life, their vision is encapsulated by a John Piper quote as: of something significant beyond ordinary significance, something that for a moment seems to contain the whole world and when that moment is past carries over comment on life or experience besides the comment on appearances.

In 1974 Ann and Graham moved to south west Shropshire where they acquired a steep hill of 50 acres. With the help of a tree specialist friend, they planted 6,000 trees on the hill. Ann was continuously inspired to draw and paint the surrounding landscape and she exhibited widely, at prestigious galleries throughout the UK and as far afield as Berlin and Tokyo to universal acclaim. Ann was an academician of the South West Academy of Fine and Applied Arts.

Tim Craven


Under the Greenwood, Picturing the British Tree From Constable to Kurt Jackson

Under the Greenwood
Picturing the British Tree From Constable to Kurt Jackson

Anne Anderson and  others

This celebration of the British Tree features the work of approximately 80 major artists of two centuries from the early 1800s. The twentieth century is strongly represented, as are our contemporary artists.

Read more on :

Under the Greenwood, Picturing the British Tree From Constable to Kurt Jackson
Under the Greenwood, Picturing the British Tree From Constable to Kurt Jackson
Sansom & Company, 2013
ISBN  978-1-908326-30-0
270 x 210 mm
204  pages with 100 mainly colour illustrations
English, Softback


Philippa Beale

Philippa Beale

Philippa Beale
Lake at vaux, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 40 x 30 cm

I was born and raised in the countryside near Winchester. After the second world war my parents bought land full of trees. I grew up climbing them, collecting conkers, and beech nuts, being paid to pull up Sycamore seedlings and sitting by log fires in the winter. Each day as a very small child, I stepped out under a canopy of trees and walked to school through lanes with hedgerows dotted with trees. In summer I played in places with names such as ‘ghosty wood’ and ‘bluebell copse’ and gazed up to see the sun filtered through the branches. I used it as a clock, watching as it slipped sideways through the woods to check the hour until ‘tea time’. To see bright green and azure together still sends a thrill of anticipation through me. In winter, when the snow lay neatly upon even the tiniest branches, I remember the stillness that fell over the landscape broken periodically by children let out to play, crying out loud and laughing as they tracked each other and the foot prints of animals through the woods.

I am well known as a conceptual artist and for years, my work was concerned with gender politics and the effects of advertising upon our everyday lives In 2005, I rediscovered trees and relish the continual visual interest they provide and in the twenty-first Century, trees are not without their political side as we become more aware of the need for sustainability and realise more keenly their scientific importance to us. We must also remember that the forests we love are managed for profit. 
During WWII, woods and forests symbolised mankind's propensities for good and evil, places in which people could hide but also places of execution and torture. My painting “In the Hunting Wood“, is a reminder of resistance fighters, the French ‘Malgré Tous’, the Poles and the Jews, who were forcibly marched through forests to their deaths. 

Philippa Beale
In the Hunting Wood

As a child I spun round and round looking up into the trees. As an artist, I sit very still and record them in small pen and ink drawings about 15 x 9 cm. To discover new ways of painting trees is the agenda for many of the painters in the Arborealist Group and I am always striving to create a new painting language, a new form of mark making. For me it is utterly pointless to copy what has gone before. Small dawings completed in situ are scanned, enlarged and then printed onto canvas, sometimes monochrome,other times as a brightly coloured grisaille. This is then squared, enabling me to paint layers of marks copied from the original ink drawing. Sometimes I allow parts of the grisaille to show through.giving the painting its luminosity. This is a contemporary but similar version of methods which have been in use for centuries; preparing a fresco by painting red oxide onto wet plaster is one example. From ancient times, grisaille has been used by artists to prepare a ground - it could be a clay wash, charcoal or ink depending on the period and the surface which is to be painted. We have come to love the muted tones of Constable and Turner, but see a Constable that has been kept out of the light in mint condition and you will see colours as bright as mine. 

Philippa Beale
Lovely trees

Je suis née et j’ai été élevée à la campagne près de winchester. Après la seconde guerre mondiale mes parents ont acheté une propriété avec de nombreux arbres.  Dans mon enfance, je grimpais aux arbres, je ramassais les marrons, les faines du hêtre, on me payait pour ramasser les graines de sycomore et l’hiver je m’asseyais sur les bûches de pins. J’ai fait mes premiers pas sous la voûte des arbres, pour aller à l’école je suivais des sentiers bordés de haies et d’arbres. En été, je jouais dans des lieux appelés « le bois hanté » ou « le squelette des jacinthes »et je levais la tête pour voir les rayons du soleil filtrer entre les branches. Il me servait de montre alors que j’observais sa lumière baisser entre les troncs jusqu'à la fin de l’après-midi. Je ressens toujours un frisson de joie par anticipation devant le vert vif et le bleu azur mêlés .En hiver, quand la neige recouvre les plus petites branches, je me souviens du silence enveloppant le paysage de temps à autre déchiré par les cris des enfants qui riaient et jouaient à se poursuivre, je revois les empreintes des animaux dans les bois.

Je suis particulièrement connue comme une artiste conceptuelle et pendant des années, mon œuvre traitait de la politique des genres et des effets de la publicité sur notre vie quotidienne. En 2005, j’ai redécouvert les arbres et le bonheur sans faille de les regarder. Au 21eme siècle, les arbres ne sont pas sans intérêt politique et nous prenons de plus en plus conscience de la nécessité de les préserver et leur importance scientifique nous apparaît plus clairement. Nous ne devons pas oublier que les forêts que nous aimons sont gérées en fonction d’intérêts économiques.
Pendant la 2ème Guerre mondiale, les bois et les forêts ont été les témoins de l’attirance humaine pour le bien et le mal, ainsi c’est là  où les hommes pouvaient se cacher mais aussi c’est là où avaient lieu les tortures et les exécutions. Mon tableau « In the Hunting Wood » est en souvenir des combattants Français, Polonais, et Juifs qui, de force ont traversé les forêts jusqu’à la mort.

Enfant, je tournais sur moi-même la tête en l’air en fixant la cime des arbres. Artiste, je reste assise et les immortalise par des petits dessins de 15x9cm à l’encre et à la plume. Découvrir de nouvelles façons de peindre les arbres est d’actualité pour de nombreux peintres du groupe des Arboréalistes et je m’efforce toujours de créer un nouveau langage pictural, une nouvelle façon de laisser une marque. Pour moi il est complètement inutile de copier ce qui a déjà été fait. Des petits dessins réalisés dans la nature sont scannés, agrandis, puis imprimés sur la toile, quelquefois monochrome, quelquefois en grisaille. Ils sont ensuite cadrés, me permettant de peindre par couches selon le dessin original à l’encre. Parfois, je laisse transparaître la grisaille pour donner au tableau sa luminosité. Ceci est une forme contemporaine de techniques utilisées depuis des siècles ; pour préparer une fresque on peignait le plâtre humide à l’oxyde rouge par exemple. Depuis les temps les plus reculés, les artistes ont utilisé la grisaille pour préparer les fonds, ce pouvait être l’argile diluée, le charbon ou l’encre selon la période ou la surface à peindre. Nous sommes arrivés à aimer les teintes sourdes de Constable et Turner, mais observez un Constable qui aurait été conservé à l’abri de la lumière et serait dans son état d’origine, et vous verrez des couleurs aussi vives que les miennes

Philippa Beale
Contrasts, 2015, ink and arylic on canvas, 120 x 280 cm 

Je suis venu vivre en France quand j'ai fait le Chemin de Croix pour l'église de la Vierge, qui est dans le village de Vaux dans la Vienne. Je suis resté à cause de la campagne et mon désir de peindre les arbres que j'ai vu partout. Il y a différents groupes et types de plantations, chacun pour moi, avec leur impératif visuel spécial. Les plats à travers la route, les saules pleureurs au fond de mon jardin , Les chênes sessiles du bois de chasse, l'arbre de Lyme par le Maire, le tilleul dans mon jardin d'amis.

J'aime les arbres indigènes, à feuilles caduques, ces importations attrayantes du Japon et de la Chine doivent rester dans le jardin. J'aime les forêts et les bosquets où l'imagination peut courir l'émeute; Où des drames ont eu lieu, des héros ont été abattus, le rendez-vous des amants et des forestiers plus mondains ont travaillé dur pour garder les arbres vivants.

Je commence par faire de petits dessins à la plume et à l'encre puis les agrandir dans des peintures souvent en noir et blanc. Quand j'utilise la couleur, je recherche vraiment la vérité, car le ciel est rarement bleu et les feuilles sont rarement vertes; Je n'utilise pas de palette attendue d'un artistes des paysage.


Alex Egan

Alex Egan

Alex Egan, Giant Oak
Giant Oak

I live in the Norfolk broads, a gentle terrain, flat and marshy where trees stand out. It's off the beaten track and I'm surrounded by wildlife and ancient woodlands. I also still have strong links to Shropshire where I spent many years.

Alex Egan
Our Inheritance, Ink, acrylic, graphite on paper , 2017, 41 cm x 65 cm

A thread has, for some time run through my art practice, the depiction of trees. Until fairly recently I was using them merely as objects to draw so that I could practice honing my drawing skills, or so I thought. Subconsciously though, I realise now that they have been and are much more than that. 

Through recent life events they have increasingly crept into the foreground of my art. This coincided with an unexpected house move and having no established studio to work from. 

Alex Egan
This Ancient Oak, Houghton, pencil, acrylic, ink on paper, 2017, 30 cm x 42 cm

At the time I was already committed to an existing deadline for a show. I decided to go back to the beginning with a subject that had always been a source of solace, a sense of peace.

Intimate and intricate drawings of trees, small in scale with the intention of increasing the size of the work through time. My car became my mobile studio, restricting and liberating in equal measures: restricting the size of my work and narrowing down the range of trees I could draw to those that I was able to park up in front of. Liberating in being able to keep warm during very cold winter days and thus enabling me to spend more time on the detailed drawings, while also giving me the ability to travel further in search of the right one.

Large Chestnut, Graphite and watercolour, December 2015

Many of the trees I have so far been led to on my quest are not necessarily in the upper echelons of the tree world, they are quite often the scruffy specimens, the dead trees, the Ivy clad misshapen hunchbacks.

I am gearing myself up for the supermodels but as with all things appearance is just the start; beauty is more than skin or bark deep. Last winter when I finally had somewhere to work from, I spent a few weeks drawing the most magnificent oak in the garden, it is directly outside my studio window. I had the luxury of being indoors in the dead of winter and drawing it on a relatively large scale. In the summer, when clothed in all its glory, this tree’s branches stretch out and down, creating a perfect circular canopy to lie beneath and absorb its serene energy. 

Alex Egan
Ancient Sweet Chestnut, pencil, acrylic, ink, 2017, 42 cm x 30 cm

I am without shame a tree hugger, their energy is powerful in its stillness. I am in search of discovering through my art a way of depicting this. 

I hope as a human being I am evolving and this will extend to my art practice, very much helped by the wisdom of trees.

J’habite dans les Norfolk Broads, une terre douce, plate et marécageuse, sur laquelle les arbres se détachent. C’est hors des sentiers battus et je suis entourée par la faune sauvage, par des forêts anciennes et de très vieux arbres.

Depuis quelques temps, un fil conducteur parcourt mon travail : le besoin subconscient d’être parmi les arbres et de les représenter dans mon art. Je me sens maintenant tellement reliée à eux, comme si j’avais mon propre système racinaire, qui communique avec les arbres que j’observe et que j’aime.
Visuellement, bien sûr, ils sont magnifiques, et nous avons tous le souffle coupé devant un bel arbre. Nous sommes d’abord frappés par sa taille, puis par ses plus infimes détails : les bourgeons qui se forment, les feuilles qui se déploient, étapes annuelles de sa vie, vie incroyablement lente, longue et fière.

S’arrêter et méditer ; quand nous contemplons un arbre ancien, nous nous demandons de combien d’évènements il a été le témoin. Dépeindre visuellement tout cela et bien plus encore, c’est pour moi le travail en cours de toute une vie.

Ma vision est maintenant tellement sensibilisée à rechercher et à observer les arbres, que c’est la première chose sur laquelle je me concentre devant un nouveau paysage. C’est bien évidemment ce qui s’est passé quand nous avons visité Vaux au début de l’automne 2016. C’était une belle journée, parfaite pour observer et pour respirer l’air chargé d’oxygène exhalé par ces arbres français.

Lesley Slight

Lesley Slight

The landscape of West Dorset is the visual foundation of Lesley Slight’s painting. Her work grows from meticulous observations, her complete immersion in the place she paints. But these are invented landscapes, incorporating real and imagined elements; visions from knowledge, experience, memory.

Lesley Slight
Hidden Path III, oil on linen, 30 x 40 cm

Distinct areas of colour or shadow belie the complex compositions; rhythm and pattern guide the eye, and the result is always monumental. In general she uses a low colour key, holding something back for the shift or burst of light which orchestrates the narrative. Light touches a hillside, a furrow, the crest of a wave, a bush, a leaf – a fleeting moment, but here minutes and seconds explode, this is a moment you will not forget. But a beautiful moment often holds its nemesis.

Lesley Slight
Two TreesI, oil on linen, 30 x 40 cm
Slight paints intuitively and so suggests that mastery of anything does not lie in control. She describes the calm but also the brewing storm. The shadows in these paintings can be ominous, like a warning that our past endeavours to control, dictate an uncertain future. These paintings are thoughtful, subtle, powerful and achingly poignant.

Gigi Sudbury

Lesley Slight
Bright Tree II, oil on linen, 18 x 24 cm

Lesley Slight
Red Sky, oil on linen, 24 x 30 cm

La peinture de Lesley Slight trouve son fondement visuel dans les paysages de l’ouest du Dorset. Son travail se développe à partir d’observations minutieuses et de son immersion complète dans le lieu qu’elle peint. Mais se sont des paysages inventés, qui intègrent des éléments réels et imaginaires : visions de connaissance, d’expérience, de mémoire.

Des zones distinctes de couleur ou d’ombre contredisent les compositions complexes ; le rythme et le motif guident l’œil, et le résultat est toujours monumental. En général elle utilise une gamme de couleurs sombre,  gardant une réserve pour le passage ou l’éclat de lumière qui orchestre la narration. La lumière touche le flanc d’une colline, un sillon, la crête d’une vague, un buisson, une feuille : instant fugace, mais ici minutes et secondes explosent, c’est un moment que vous n’oublierez pas. Mais un beau moment inclut souvent sa némesis.

Slight peint intuitivement et suggère ainsi que la maîtrise de toute chose ne réside pas dans le contrôle. Elle décrit le calme mais aussi l’agitation de la tempête. Dans ces tableaux les ombres peuvent être menaçantes, comme un avertissement que notre passé s’efforce de contrôler ; elles dictent un futur incertain. Ces peintures sont réfléchies, subtiles, puissantes et douloureusement poignantes.

Gigi Sudbury

Abi Kremer

Abi Kremer

Abi Kremer
Highcliffe 2, watercolour, 90 cm x 125 cm

On a walk through woodlands I am struck by the variation of light and shadow, and the moods it creates. Artists and poets have been inspired throughout history by this enclosed space - which can lead you on an enchanted journey through an imaginative otherworld, where trees become creatures with definite personalities. 

I have worked with a range of dance companies and developed drawings from live performance, with music. My focus on the energy of movement has prepared me for this engrossing project, beginning in 2005 with an Arts Council supported residency at Holton Lee, a site of special scientific interest in Wareham forest, Dorset. A serendipitous journey led me there, a mixture of chance and accident which mirrors my practice.

Broomhill Coppice was the starting point for 'Kami 6' (the title meaning Japanese 'spirit of the tree'). My passion for the Ukiyo-e floating world art of Japan, especially Hiroshige, began when I was an art student, studying the prints at the V&A Museum. I have always admired Bridget Riley for her sinuous and electric colour compositions, sometimes stimulated by nature (ref her 'Pleasures of Sight' essay). Working in my studio at Holton Lee enabled me to experiment with washes, masking, layering and transparent colour, resulting in this series. There is a meditative feel to this colour that mirrors the peaceful quality of woodland light.  

Abi Kremer
Kami 6, oil on canvas, 75 cm x 50 cm

A similar process of experiment and careful design is the basis of Highcliffe 1, where watercolour washes are allowed to tap into unconscious thoughts and feelings. The surrealist work of Eileen Agar, with a playful use of pattern, is an important stimulus, with her fellow artist Paul Nash and his 'objects personages'. Their meetings took place in Swanage, not far from Holton Lee overlooking Lytchett Bay. This large watercolour piece is one of the first of a fascinating exploration into the character of trees, a mixture of surrealist and abstract ideas. Salisbury Trees 1 is a more recent piece. For me trees become animate like dancers on a stage.

I look forward to taking these experiments, which are based on the woodlands of southern England, to France and beyond.  

Abi Kremer
Salisbury Trees 1, watercolour 36 x 26 cm

Comme artiste, j’ai été principalement inspirée par le paysage et la nature, mais j’ai travaillé avec des compagnies de danse, et la tension qui existe dans l’interaction humaine d’une performance existe pour moi dans l’environnement d’un bois. Chaque espace différent crée aussi une ambiance, et j'ai apprécié la recherche artistique à Poitiers et le processus pour trouver un langage visuel afin de communiquer ma réponse. Les émotions sont tout à fait différentes de celles des forêts du Dorset où j'ai passé cinq ans à créer un projet spécifique au site.

Je travaille par des lavis de couleur transparente, organisés en masques et en couches qui créent une discipline. Le travail est très expérimental. En effet, peindre humide dans l’humide développe mon imagination et crée des images irréelles, parfois tout à fait ludiques. Faire des signes devient un rythme, souvent inspiré par la musique. La couleur est la clé de mon travail et je m'inspire du vocabulaire visuel de Bridget Riley et de l’imaginaire d'Eileen Agar. L'exposition expressionniste abstraite où j'ai vu le travail complexe et sensible de Lee Krasner m’a récemment influencée. Pour moi les formes en arabesques des arbres s'animent, comme des danseurs sur une scène.