Wednesday, December 30, 2009

‘Speak for the Trees’

Friesen gathers artists for a one-of-a-kind exhibition

Express Staff Writer

“Rebirth 2000” by Norman Akers. Oil on canvas at Friesen Gallery.

Early last spring, gallery owner Andria Friesen was driving through Ketchum and saw a bumper sticker on the back of a pick-up truck that read "Speak for the Trees." Any Dr. Seuss reader will know that "speak for the trees" is the guiding principle of the Lorax from the 1971 children's book of the same name.

At the moment she read the bumper sticker, Friesen said, she had a vision of a project and exhibition that would be her most ambitious to date. Assembling her idea of a book and exhibition, "Speak for the Trees," would take her around the world as well as bring artists from around the world together. The exhibition and the book are related but separate entities.

"I saw all three components to a book when I saw the bumper sticker," Friesen said. "I saw each artist with a two-page spread, text that was not an artist statement from the artists and each artist with prose of their choice."

"Speak for the Trees" is the title of a unique art book that includes ideas about the environment, spirituality, science or philosophy. The book explores the relationship between humanity and trees through the eyes of 76 artists who connect their understanding of "Speak for the Tress" through painting, sculpture, photography, glass and several types of conceptual art mediums. In addition, the prose chosen by each artist ranges from writings by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ogden Nash to Abraham Lincoln and Joseph Campbell.

The book does not preach about the environment nor does it give solutions to environmental problems. "Speak for the Trees" presents art and artists and their unique ability to transcend ideas through imagination and ingenuity, whether it's Catherine Chalmers' unique paintings, Kim Keever's intricate C-print photographs, Patrick Dougherty's 30-foot-high sculptures made of maple and sweet gum saplings or Martin Blank's glass sculpturing of a tree trunk.

"Speak for the Trees" has been composed by Friesen and greatly inspired by her relationship with the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, Calif., and the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, which will both benefit from proceeds from the book.

The sections of the book are organized literally from earth to sky, beginning with Roots followed by Trunk, Branches, Leaves and Blossoms. The book also carries a Forest Stewardship Council certification and was printed in China with soy-based inks and acid-free matte art paper.

"There is a whole undercurrent from earth to sky," Friesen said. "It's a big show and an important show. There is something for everyone, from emerging artists to way up. Buy the book if you want it all."

The exhibition includes young and emerging artists as well as well-known artists David Hockney, Yoko Ono, Mark Ryden, Christo and the late Jeanne-Claude, and the Starn Brothers.

The opening will have at least 16 artists in attendance. Should the book go into a second edition, there will be two pages in memoriam to Jerry Burchfield and Jeanne-Claude, who passed away since the printing of the book.

"What I have said since the bumper sticker is I have smiled every day, I have cried every day and held every day in gratitude for the honor of this project," Friesen said. "People have commented to me that I have put all my eggs in one basket. My response is, I borrowed money to buy the basked to put the eggs in."

Friesen said the community has been fantastic with help and guidance to make the show possible. It is a museum-quality exhibition and perhaps the largest assemblage of artists ever in the state of Idaho. Only a few pieces in the exhibition are not for sale.

Sabina Dana Plasse:

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