“Artists have an opportunity to make people stop for just a minute and say, ‘Look at this.’”
After her neighbor cut down 21 mature trees to build a large house, artist Pat Brentano had an epiphany that would shape her artistic motivation going forward. In response to the felling, she took hold of her anger and made a series of ten trees cut out of wood as a visual representation of the loss. Ten environmental sites around New Jersey then placed these works on their properties, allowing the silhouettes to interact directly with these natural spaces. This project led her to think about the destruction of bird habitats, and, using the same cut-out technique, she illustrated how these endangered birds are missing from our public spaces.
“Before this, my work was always about the landscape and nature, but it was more about things that I thought were beautiful… It wasn’t about making a statement socially,” she reflected in a 2012 artist feature on State of the Arts. As she began to think of the future of these environmental issues, she realized, “It seems to me that an artist has an opportunity to make a social statement, to influence people—to inspire people.”
Her poetic use of negative space to highlight that feeling of the loss of trees and birds works well outside in natural settings, but is equally as striking when brought indoors. We saw her Bird Apocalypse in 2012 at the Karl and Helen Burger Gallery at Kean University.
As an artist, Pat uses a variety of mediums to tackle her themes. This winter, you can see her landscape paintings at the Monmouth Museum in her solo show Consider the Trees…, an aptly-titled exhibition that urges audiences to take a moment to appreciate and protect natural spaces.
“We must consider what trees do for the planet, and why we should be grateful for their gifts. Neighborhoods are appealing because of the mature trees in our yards,” she notes in her artist statement, calling back to her early inspiration. “I hope my paintings are loud enough to stimulate the viewer to reconsider the beauty and profound importance of trees to us and our environment.”
You can see Consider The Trees… at the Monmouth Museum in Lincroft from November 20 to January 8, and watch our artist profile from 2012 below.
Cover image: Missing Trees by Pat Brentano