Nature Rhythm Sequence Art Enquiry: The Apple Tree
Essay by: Catherine Konig
The Apple Tree
The cycle of the year has always held my fascination and I have been able to observe this in the growth of an apple as my chosen nature artistic enquiry. My apple is archetypal as is the apple tree although in my research I have learnt about the apple and the tree it grows on. My main research has been made primarily through direct observation and artistic representation. This has been backed up through study as well as reflection. I have found my own life experiences have mirrored some of my discoveries and this emotional experience has influenced my art. The main theme which has carried me through this project has been a cyclical journey of light and dark, birth and death, expansion and contraction, masculine and feminine, red and green, the sun and the moon, four fold-ness and the four elements, five fold-ness and the pentagon star, and the completeness of all in the form of a circle. I will attempt to show how this has been discovered in my artistic project, and how this archetypal image has the potential through transformative art to bring healing.
I have often drawn trees and remember at school painting the light and dark of an oak tree. For my children I drew birthday cards showing a child under a tree, and a few flowers. There is something very nurturing about this image. My tree had solid roots and a good crown under which to shelter but it was often the size of a large apple tree with an abundance of fruit. In the first year at Tobias I started to observe a walnut tree through the seasons. By observing and drawing the tree in pastels I noticed my observation skills increasing. This led to a poem I wrote which described the yearly cycle of a tree and the secret mystery of life with in. Carl Jung connected the human psyche to the tree: with roots in the dark world of the unconscious and through the work of the conscious mind [trunk], the true individuality, [crown] can unfold. [ Hageneder,2000, p 69] When we were asked to choose a nature rhythm to study, this connection to trees influenced my decision. I had recently run a painting workshop on the trees and planets based on tree verses. [ Steffen,] These verses connect the day of the week, the planet and the tree associated with that day. I have used these verses in the past to help someone orientate themselves with weekly rhythm. I find these verses very grounding as a form of meditation and that the seven- day sequence of the week is something we easily relate to. I have lived most of my adult life in a Community which recognises the importance of rhythm as a foundation for healthy life. I support adults with cognitive difficulties who often cannot read, write or tell the time. They can struggle with concepts of past, present and the future. Therefore, by highlighting daily, weekly, seasonal and yearly rhythms in a recognisable way we help to create a sense of security.
Rhythm is something which surrounds us every second of the day. It stretches from the pulsating human heart to the infinity of the circulating planets, the microcosm and the macrocosm of life. In the planetary orbits there is still much to understand by science and this mystery has created for me a sense of awe and wonder. Dr Lohn, states that in our civilised culture we have become alienated from the supportive use and understanding of rhythm. [ Lohn, p 23] Dr Hauschka describes how through this separation, nature no longer speaks to man-kind, and this can lead to depression as we feel uprooted. [ Hauschka]
After choosing the apple and apple tree as my nature study I started to experience some doubt. I became interested in embryology and wanted to change my choice to one which follows the development of an embryo. This was influenced by personal trauma because of a baby born with a rare genetic disorder, echoing an experience I had many years ago. I was advised to stay with my apple tree project and on reflection I now discover a much deeper connection between the apple, the tree, the planet Moon and fertility which suggests my choice was connected to life itself and very relevant for what I was going through.
I often approach subjects through thinking and to change this direction I approached the project initially through observation and art. This started in the winter when I drew my ‘Three Maidens’, as I named my apple trees.
Their skeletal appearance reminds me of paintings by Mondrian of an apple tree in sculptural form. [ Tate, 1997, p72] Is this not winter laid bare? Taking a twig from the branch to draw at home I noticed a very small bud, a tiny cone, emerging in magenta. I placed the twig in water and watched to see if the bud grew. It simply dried out because the forces needed to develop it where not there yet. Lawrence Edwards has studied bud formation in winter and has observed that buds while appearing dormant actually expand and contract in two weekly cycles, but it is only in the Spring when there is outer warmth and light that they start to open. [ The Golden Blade 46, p18,]
Returning to my apple trees in February, they still appeared in winter mode. Two months later the leaf buds started to form and I captured this in drawing.
The buds emerged in magenta and green. Following the first leaf growth the flower buds opened. The hint of magenta expanded out from a tight pink bud to petals emerging. As the bud opened the yellow stamen was revealed. I brought some blossom home to draw, finding this very relaxing and mindful. I observed that the blossom paled from pink to white when it was brought indoors and separated from the tree.
What is the secret of this pink colour? Soon a profusion of flowers decorated the tree. The artist Georgia O Keeffe created large flower paintings and I decided to expand my pastel drawings to a larger scale echoing the expansion and profusion of the petals. [ Callaway, plate 83,Knopf Inc. 1989,] I also wanted to show the dynamic movement in the blossom and the twisting gesture of the leaves. My art was starting to loosen up, also in an expansive gesture.
The petals, the flower and petal formation as a phenomena repeated throughout nature was observed. Keith Critchlow researches living rhythm, form and numbers. He describes five as the number of life because it embodies the golden proportion. [ Chitchlow, Floris Books, 2011, p196, ] Many wild flowers have five petals. Animals have five pads on a paw and humans have five fingers/thumb and five toes. Critchlow shows in geometric drawings how an exact balance is found between yin and yen circles that lead to an eventual five-ness which becomes the geometric flower of five known as the ‘flower of life.’ [ Critchlow, p 302] Apple blossom has five petals.
Fertilisation takes place during the blossom period and the bees play an important role in pollination, attracted by the scent of the flowers. Each flower contains both a female and male part, the male reproduction in the stamen and the female in the Pistil. A symbolic, female, genitalia can found when the apple is sliced vertically. [Brown, Penguin, 2017, p9]
Masculine and Feminine energies named as yin and yen belong in one body. Lisa Michaels explores this theme in ‘Natural Rhythms’. She describes the divine feminine as “honouring the divine aspect of nurturing and birthing a new life.” And the divine masculine as “nurturing, growing and planting the seed itself.” PG 227. She shows how the four elements have the vertical feminine and horizontal masculine axis in the form of a cross. [ Michaels, Michaels Hill Inc., 2014, p39]
Two weeks later the blossom was over. Loss was felt as the sight of blossom is very uplifting.Only the stamen remained and a contracting gesture concentrated at the base of the flower where the small embryonic fruit was developing. At this stage the leaves expanded and dominated the tree. I continued to capture the change in pastel drawings from early blossom to early fruit. The twisting growth of leaves was noticed. The pistils and stamen fell away, just as the petals had done, and all energy in apple buds became concentrated in fruit slowly starting to grow. The expanded leaves take in light bringing nutrients to the tree and fruit. Green remained the dominant colour of the tree from June to July, with the fruit slowly growing to fullness, swollen in their shape and changing from a conical shape to a roundness. The apples most in the sun turned red more quickly and those hidden in the branches remained dominantly green. It was as if the light and warmth of the sun caressed the apple to paint it red.
Light is essential for growth, nutrition and reproduction and influences the trees growth pattern. Fred Hageneder describes how trees breathe in carbon dioxide for photosynthesis using red and yellow light rays. Trees also breath out oxygen into the atmosphere. DNA in plant tissue transmit light, through rhythmical contractions and in a spiral motion light energy is passed through chemical bases causing DNA molecules to contract and expand in a rhythmical way. This resembles to me a pulsating heart and demonstrates contraction and expansion as a dynamic force governed by rhythm. Hegeneder goes on to say that the physical body of a tree is a living example ofnature’s impulse to work together with thousands of leaves, miles of sap cannels, myriads of cells united in a common purpose. [ Hageneder, Floris Books, 2000, pp41-45] Lawrence Edwards, a mathematician experimenting on leaf buds of deciduous trees observed that in the autumn and winter there is a subtle pulsating movement possessing a fortnightly rhythm in line with the earth moon and a third planet. In the apple tree’s case this is whenthe full moon and new moon align. [ Hageneder, Floris Books, 2000, p48] Imagining this pulsating gesture of movement, I felt connected to the importance of dynamic form drawing and how rhythmical breathing which belongs to life can be reproduced on paper.
Through my apple tree observation, I could experience contraction and expansion: tree buds tightly closed, leaf bud opening out, blossom bud tightly closed, blossom opening out. Stamen and pistils opening out and then withering away. Apple buds tightly contracted and then rapidly expanding. Leaves rapidly growing and then apples swelling, first green and sour, slowly expanding in warmth and colour and sweetness.
As summer progressed towards autumn the tree changed from predominately green to a balance of green and red and then with a full harvest of apples predominately red. I was able to capture this in my pastel drawings. The red and gold of autumn had finally come. Green is the predominant colour of the apple tree, bringing a mood of calmness. Green as a colour is at the centre of the rainbow colour spectrum. It is associated with hope, energy, youth, fertility and new life. In apple tree folklore the apple is associated with love and wisdom. [ Paterson, Thorsons, 1996, p109] In Colour Healing green is known to soothe. The green chakra is the colour of the heart realm. [ Anderson, The Aquarian Press, 1990] Green has a balancing quality and we can live with a lot of green around us. Red carries with it an energy that is intense, active and warming. Red is an intensity of yellow deepening through orange until all hint of yellow disappears. I became fascinated as the apples on the tree matured into ripe fruit, the intensity of red also matured, as if the apple and the warmth of the sun became one. The pale coolness of blossom was now replaced by shining red fruit whose colour ranged from burnt orange through red to magenta and green. This image of green and red held in harmony reminds me again of the yin/yen balance of masculine and feminine. In the tree verses the colour red is associated with the planet Mars, green with Venus. Steiner refers to Mars as a masculine outer planet, and Venus as an inner feminine planet. The Moon is connected with fertility as well as digestion. Inner planets are connected with water and the Earth, whereas the outer planets, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are connected with the sun and vitality. [ Smith, Sophia Books, 2009, P 53 ] To quote the poet Yeats: ‘the silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun’ [ Sanders, Frances Lincoln limited, 2010,]
As my apple tree started to form fruit I painted a series of watercolours based on observation and influenced by Hauschka’s breathing exercises in colour. I started with the dark tones of indigo. The light of the moon lit up the branches so it was not completely black. My next water colour took my apple tree to a pre dawn image with the moon and sky hinting at a slight greening with a pink tinge. I followed this with a warming of the sky with yellow and pink and a greening of the branches. By turning the paper from horizontal to vertical I painted a more delicate image with blossom emerging in an early spring morning. The light had touched the ground as green and the tree was warming up.
I started to paint a simplified image of the blossom tree followed by a bud opening to show vibrant magenta. The need to paint stronger colours demonstrated the energy held with in the bud. As the flower opened the hidden gold of the stamen emerged and the motif of the moon which had held my images changed into the sun. This was followed with a radiating five petal image and a strong midday yellow emerged in the centre.
In the next sequence the pink of the blossom competed with the green of the leaves. I followed with a painting of bright yellow stamen and then fruit budding in a balance of all the rainbow colours. This rainbow image continued with an expansive apple painting where green and red dominated as in the late afternoon.
Over the summer it was difficult to continue with my project although I still took photographs of my apple tree. There was no close up observation of apples at home until one day I noticed the apples starting to rot in my bowl on the kitchen table. I observed and drew this slow decay.
Within myself there was an inner resistance to the apple trees losing their fruit. Looking in the bowl the beautiful richness of the browns and purples emerged in the fruit. Also the inner core and stem appeared as if the fruit was turning itself inside out. I started to draw this transformation and in doing so I could feel an acceptance of slowly letting go, allowing the apple to roll from my hand back to the earth.
In Hauschka’s breathing exercise this stage could be the dusk just before the light leaves the day when brown, purple and indigo greet each other and I was able to capture this in watercolour to complete the cycle.
Steiner has written that doing exercises to observe death processes in nature are pre- requisite for human spiritual awakening. [Harlem p 109]
How would I transform my own experiences of the nature project into an exercise for clients or a group wishing to engage in art as a tool to bring joy to life? I consider my experience to be relevant to people who are looking to bring balance to their life and relieve stress and reconnect with nature. I could imagine connecting with the apple tree in a number of ways: Through the drawing of blossom and buds in different stages, By painting the apple tree through the seasons, Or even through modelling the buds as they expand and contract in different stages of metamorphosis. I have discovered in my apple tree an archetypal rhythm to be found in life. Exploring the apple tree motif can bring a richness through art if there is an opening towards the subject. I would encourage my group to spend time with the trees so a bond can be formed.
Working with a group of people who may struggle cognitively, I may introduce the subject more simply, using the tree verses or a poem about apples. I would work with water colours creating a colour experience which has less detail and a simple image of the tree. I may also use pastel or crayon, focussing on the changes of the seasons to build a connection with the year and the months. Working with the four elements in particular or with the motif of five petals and a star, as found in an apple cut horizontally, creates a connection between the cosmos and earth and brings a feeling of security. Paracelsus, a sixteenth century physician and philosopher describes man as the centre of all things, the middle point between heaven and earth. He writes:
The whole world surrounds man as a circle surrounds one point, no differently from an apple seed which draws its sustenance from it…. Similarly, man is a seed and the world is his apple, and just as the seed fares in the apple, so does man fare in the world, which surrounds him….and wisdom, whether it be heavenly or earthly, can be achieved only through the attractive force of the centre and the circle.
[ Jacobi, Princeton University Press, 1951, p38,]
This project has helped my understanding of how the breathing exercise of Hauschka through colour can bring a transformative healing to an individual. I am aware of the strengthening opportunity given when we paint a day and night experience through sunset, night, sunrise and day. This natural daily cycle lives in every one and I have been aware of the therapeutic value, when dealing with loss, to paint this sequence, especially when using a natural motif like an apple tree which helps to act as a focus and mirror of the process. On reflection my own inability to paint the fully ripened apple could be connected with personal experiences of premature loss of life. The courage of letting go and finding acceptance is facilitated by gently guiding some one to use the art medium in this way using the medium of water colour. I started my rhythm cycle in the night winter and ended in the autumn dusk. This is expressed in my paintings.
Through the apple tree I can see that in the simple, lies the extraordinary, and that any living process or natural rhythm I choose would reveal deep secrets. My connection with the apple tree lies with in my own biography. In the apple tree I find the image of man, from the five pointed star as seen in the fruit to the human being standing on the ground and reaching up to the cosmos. In the developing fruit of the tree I see my own journey and the children I have conceived as a mother. In the shape of the fruit I find the moon, the sun, and the yearly cycle. I have been able to share these images in weekly and seasonal gatherings in my community as images to ponder. In the fallen fruit I face my own loss as a widow and the beauty I have observed in nature has nurtured my soul as it has the potential to nurture all souls. In the blossom waiting to emerge I find hope and the joy of beauty. Through the creation of artistic images which have facilitated this process I am able to use this experience to bring some healing in life.
All art work is by Catherine Konig.
Copyright. Please do not use without permission.
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