I am continually amazed by the metaphors and parallels found in nature. This body of work explores trees as a symbolic representation of a nerve cell. The irony of this is the tree has no nervous system. Nevertheless, the similarities of trees to nerves make them an interesting visual analog. The nerve axon resembles the sturdier trunk of the tree, while dendrites look remarkably like branches and roots. Even the neurotubules are functionally similar to the vascular system in plants.
I am captivated by neuroscience and the nerve cells of the brain so I wanted to explore the functioning of nerve cells in my art. I am especially fascinated that these ostensibly “unintelligent” nerve cells ultimately give rise to the higher order faculties of consciousness, judgment and wisdom.
In developing the visual symbolism of the “Innervated Tree,” it occurred to me that if trees are like nerves, then the birds that fly from branch to branch and tree to tree are similar to neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are those molecules like serotonin, GABA, or dopamine that jump between nerves facilitating communication all over the whole nervous system. Hence each piece of art in this series includes birds, in a variety of roles, flying, landing, soaring, perching or standing.
A few pieces have birds in cages. These represent damage to the nervous system and a lack of communication between the cells, which can lead to depression or other neural disorders. However, I generally like to imagine the nerve cells in a positive light, and envision plenty of active birds available to facilitate connections. Metaphorically, this is like the trees connecting to each other and to the primal organism of Mother Earth. Like a healthy nervous system in a body, a healthy biosphere has flourishing trees and active birds. I also wonder if some sort of intelligence can arises from the combination of “unintelligent” elements in the biosphere, the way our nerves combine to make us sentient.
In this series, you see a variety of trees, as there are a variety of nerves in the body, both in shape and function. Some of the tree species may be recognizable, such as pine, poplar or palm. Others, which I call the naïve trees group, barely look like real trees at all, and are meant as more contemporary abstractions.
Finally, the variation of background and tonality of each painting is intended to represent the panoply of moods, feelings and thoughts manifest by a given nervous system configuration. As represented, some nervous system states are passionate and hopeful, while others are dark and anxious. The whole group of painting taken in total represents the large set of moods that can arise within one individual from the various states of their individual nerves.
All the paintings in this series are created on wood. The wood is painted with both acrylic and oil in different layers. The trees are carved into the wood not painted. Typically each work also has a metalic gold paint around the edges as well.
In a few cases I painted my name. “McLaws” and it is quite readable in those cases. In most cases I simply signed the work with a gold sharpie. This is my whole name, Brad McLaws and the signature is almost unreadable as such. I think on the largest painting I did both.