This astonishing tree —known as Majesty — is one of a group of photographs of ancient trees in the South East of England by artist Tacita Dean. She made a black and white photograph of one of the largest complete oak trees in England, then she overpainted the area surrounding the tree in white gouache to isolate its structure and form. We found a description of Dean’s remarkable methodology at the Tate Modern website:
Dean’s methodology is a combination of idea-driven research with an openness to chance, accident, coincidence and poetic associations which she allows to direct her processes. She has explained what drew her to ‘old and deformed trees’ in an interview with the novelist Jeffrey Eugenides:
‘I made a photograph for an edition for October magazine recently called Fontainebleau Postcard, and I had to phone them up to check the title, and it reminded me that I had found all these old postcards of The Forest of Fontainebleau when I was in Kitakyushu in Japan, and I remember thinking that’s so strange, why would they have so many postcards of Fontainebleau? And then I went onto the internet and I looked up the Forest of Fontainebleau, which lead me to the famous oak of Fontainebleau, which in turn led me to look up old oak trees and then the oldest of trees in England, the yew tree. Before I knew it, the tiny village where I grew up came up as the place where there once was a 1400-year old yew tree. I always need that tiny thread to get myself going.’
We love the trail Dean followed, the one thing-leading-to-another with accident and associations and meaning all weaving together to make something. It reminds us that there is always the possibility of “that tiny thread to get…things going”.