For Suze Woolf, watercolor painting goes far beyond technique. “For me, painting is about something beyond the image itself,” she says. “There’s an idea driving what I’m doing—a visual idea, an intellectual idea, or both. I want to have some meaning beyond what looks nice on the wall.”
There’s no better place to see this ideal in action than in Woolf’s watercolor tree paintings of burned or charred forests. Here, she combines her passion and concern for the environment—climate change and increasing forest fires in western North America—with her love of color, light and shape. “I started by painting landscapes of the burned forests, but then realized that the part of these paintings I found most compelling was the charred bark, as well as the shape of the bare trees,” she says.
View a few of her provocative tree paintings below, and learn more about her watercolor painting in the August 2015 issue of Watercolor Artist, available now in print or as an instant download at northlightshop.com, and on newsstands June 16.
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The Topography of Fire (Varnished watercolor on shaped paper, 51×21) by Suze Woolf“This is a tree from Zion National Park’s Little Siberia area,” says Woolf. “I was Artist-in-Residence there in September and October, 2012.”
The Landscape of Fire (watercolor on paper, 51×15) by Suze Woolf“This is the second largest tree painting I made before I realized I could shape the paper,” says the artist. “This tree was near the Marble Canyon trail in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, part of the Vermilion Pass fire. The painting has been on tour with the ‘Environmental Impact’ exhibition since 2013.
After the First Death (varnished watercolor on gessoed paper, 76×51) by Suze Woolf, in a temporary exterior installation in Mazama, Wash. (Photo: Ruth Nielsen)“Wrapping a live tree with a painting of a burned one invites closer scrutiny and raises ambiguity. Is it the inside of the tree, or its future?” says Woolf.
Suze Woolf hiking on Davis Peak in 2007, in Washington’s Central Cascades. The area had burned six months earlier. (Photo: Steve Price)
The artist with paintings (L-to-R:) What Remains (varnished watercolor on shaped paper, mounted on Fome-Cor, 51×20) and Okanagan Mountain Hollow (varnished watercolor on shaped paper, mounted on Fome-Cor, 51×20) in the Tripod Burn on Tiffany Mountain, near Winthrop, Wash. (Photo: Ruth Nielsen)“This in situ photo underscores my belief that even though not life-size, close-to-body-size dimensions have a different effect on the viewer than a smaller representation,” says Woolf.
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