When we look at a tree or plant, we notice its leaves, branches, trunk, and bark. Beneath our gaze a fifth element sprawls, often overlooked. Roots are strong; they anchor and nourish the tree, much the same as how our faith provides us with a strong foundation. Inspired by nature, the abstract Root Series further illustrates my belief systems through my expression of art.
As a teenager, I spent a long period away from my family. During this time, I worked as a lumberjack. I admired natural objects, especially roots. Collecting tree roots for art is part of an ancient tradition in China. I still gather roots for their creative shapes.
However, I forged a deeper bond with roots. It reached beyond my visual appreciation of their form. In the harshness of my environment, I came to admire their resilience.
Root 26 conveys with dark tones my beliefs that roots are tough and unbreakable. I use dark colors to break the light colors. In this piece, there are many shapes. Some people see stalks and even a dragon sleeping at the bottom.
Through the Root Series, I want to give roots artistic life. By incorporating isolated elements, exaggerated forms, and colors, I created abstract art from nature based on my aesthetic taste and beliefs.
Roots Are Tough
In winter, when the leaves have left their boughs, roots endure beneath the ground.
Roots perform five essential functions. They provide water, energy in the form of nutrients, anchoring, a storage area and hormone production. Hormones convey messages to the plant, telling it how to react to changes in its environment.
Weather or other things damage the branches and leaves, while beneath the ground the tree’s foundations, a vast network of roots, remain resourceful. They mingle, sometimes with different roots to provide energy so that the tree can grow new branches and leaves.
During the Cultural Revolution of China in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, the schools and universities were closed. Children were separated from their families. I went to work thousands of miles away in the Heilongjiang province (northeast region of China).
My departure was not a punishment, but an order given to purge capitalism and feudal traditions. It was also a continued assault on the teachers, landlords and social classes.
One child from every family was told to “Go to work in the countryside and mountainous areas” to obtain a re-education from the low and middle-income country folk.
It was bitterly cold in the northeastern provinces. Sometimes, it might reach as low as −40°F (-40°C) made worse by wind chill and snow. Surviving the cold was just one of many hardships.
Roots Provide Energy And Strength
Thinking back to this part of my childhood, I see a parallel with how I perceive roots, and what it was like to be one of China’s “sent down” youth.
It was difficult not to lose yourself. But what kept me going was a belief, a faith that no matter how hard life became I could see it through.
Roots grow under the ground where people overlook them. They are strong, determined and store positive energy. Roots also carry messages; signals sent to revitalize a plant.
Roots are like a person’s determination of spirit. If you stay strong within yourself and keep your belief or faith, then you can overcome adversity. Everyone’s life journey involves failures and setbacks. We grow from these hardships, just like roots.
Roots help plants adapt to their environments. Roots absorb energy. People absorb knowledge. It fosters our spirit. My roots encourage me to learn new knowledge, to help me grow and succeed.
Abstract art inspired by nature
It is a tradition in China, to carve tree roots into a sculpture. The artist selects the root for its shape and carves to enhance it. My Roots Series imitates actual roots. I also exaggerate their shape and lines for artistic appreciation.
I found it difficult to express how I felt about roots when using only brush and ink with the traditional Chinese painting techniques. It lost the texture, and the gesture did not look natural.
For many years, I experimented and failed. But like the roots I desired to paint, I persevered and looked inward to draw on my determination and convey how I felt.
Finally, in 2015, inspired by nature, and using my new style of abstract art influenced by impressionism, I published the first paintings in the Roots Series. In Roots 8, you can see how I exaggerate the colors belonging to the warm pallet.
Like the previous example, this piece too contains shapes which form familiar patterns for the viewer. Vertical lines with deeper tones also draw the eye and give the painting movement.
The vertical lines convey the strength of the root. Set next to horizontal lines where the color breaks, the eye lingers on the detailed texture.
But it is the use of diagonal lines, like those portraying offshoots of new roots where the energy keeps the viewer’s eye roaming.
My new style of art still practices compositional methods, color pouring and ink pouring techniques from Chinese painting. In Root 28, you can also see how I start with lighter colors first, then use a darker color to break them.
With a brush, I then apply water to break the darker colors or areas where ink has concentrated. This layering technique combined with the color and ink pouring creates the fine details and texture.
Roots Show Us How To Stay Strong
Roots are highly adaptable, determined to overcome any hardship to survive. They absorb energy to grow in soil, rocks, and water. Just as people must adapt to survive, roots also adapt to changes in their environment.
I have always liked roots with shapes that form familiar patterns. By painting roots, I capture their spirit and give them a new artistic life.