Seeing the Forest for the Trees

Nicolas Party’s travels through a watercolor thicket

All artworks: ‘Trees,’ 2011–20 (ongoing) © Nicolas Party

  • Mar 24, 2020

One of the first things that you draw as a child are trees. The unsteady lines on the paper find a structure in the form of a tree. A line topped with a circle structures the page, creates a space, shows us where the sky is and where the ground.

From a very early age, you understand that this object is also a fantastic figure for all sorts of graphic explorations.

A child learns to make letters, joining two lines and then adding a third, ending up with an ‘A.’ Trees are nature’s alphabets. The infinite flexibility of the visual language of the tree makes its execution endlessly playful. There are green leaves and then red leaves and then no leaves. Just a few lines on the paper or a big quantity of colors and shapes building up.

I love using watercolors to paint trees. The water creates natural movement that forms shapes on the paper. You don’t really control how the liquid moves on the paper. You have to let the fluid element of the paint do its part—the painting is moving and alive for several seconds.

I’m really attracted to subjects that appear in history as constant markers, essential ingredients that always need to be used. Trees are one of those markers—sometimes as the main component of an image or sometimes in the background, but always there, looking at us, looking after us.

Trees have a beautiful symbolic connection to time and memory, one of many reasons why they are such a fertile subject in painting. The oldest tree alive is believed to be almost 5,000 years old. I like to imagine how many trees have been painted during that time and how many trees I will paint during my time here.

I like imagining a forest made of all the trees ever painted. When I paint landscapes, I wander in that forest.

Throughout history, trees have been present in so many stories, legends and religions. They are one of the most important elements in human culture. Today, they are also one of the primary reminders of our fears and anxieties for the future. How many trees are being painted today?

And how many trees are burning?

—Nicolas Party

Open through April 12 2020 at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles is Sottobosco,’ Nicolas Party’s first solo exhibition in the city, comprised of new paintings, sculptures, site-specific murals and an architectural installation, inspired by the shadowy world of the forest floor.

Party, born in 1980 in Lausanne, Switzerland, lives and works in New York and Brussels.