• Vigilance

It’s Always Time for Trees: Patricia Brown Paints the Essential.

Updated: 5 days ago

Karen Moe

Patricia Brown Pine Triptych (center) 48"x24" egg tempera on cotton on board, 2017

In a world on the brink of eco-emergency,

the need to preserve what is left of our natural world is on the forefront of our contemporaneity, acknowledged or otherwise. In British Columbia, Canada, with the year-and-a-half fight at Fairy Creek to save some of the last of the world’s old growth forest, the importance of this issue couldn’t be more acute. And yet, it took the escalating police brutality against forest defenders finally hitting the mainstream media headlines in the summer of 2021—after a year of struggle—in order for popular opinion to begin to tip in favour of saving this pristine ecosystem on unceded Indigenous land.[1] It has taken predominantly young people to lock their arms into four foot deep trenches—and now having been exposed since November to one of the worst seasons of rain, flooding and snow on record—to bring awareness to an emergency that should be so obvious: preserving all life on earth.

For Salt Spring Island, BC painter Patricia Brown, the natural world is her inspiration. Her earlier works explore rhythms and patterns which have, over the years, shaped themselves into the foundation of her mature work: forests and trees.

Egg tempera is Brown’s primary medium, the same technique used during the Early Renaissance to 'revive and renew’ culture from what was (and still is) designated as ‘the Dark Ages’ with its demonized earth-centered paganism. The cultural renewal of the Renaissance re-instigated the skyward metaphysics[2] of the Romans and the Greeks by iconicizing the human form—and, thereby, consolidating an anthropocentric culture—by reaching up and away from the earth towards the Christian god and a heaven-questing consciousness. The fine lines made possible by tempera painting built a verisimilitude capable of conjuring a new reality. So too, in Brown’s tempera paintings, the precision of this technique revives and renews; however, her iconography brings us back to earth, rather than seducing us away from it.

Patricia Brown Earth Metamorphosis 26"x26" water colour on rag paper, 2000

Painted from 1999 to 2001,

Earth Metamorphosis are gentle watercolour works that use the same technique of realism and the intention of renewal as the tempera paintings of the Renaissance. Like the art of the great masters, Brown’s revolution is birthed by beauty and the intention of transforming consciousness is not overt. Within the beguiling perfection of the human form of Michelangelo’s David and De Vinci’s Mona Lisa, there is no didacticism obfuscating the viewing experience of immersing oneself in aesthetic pleasure and awe. Brown explained to me how, during the creation of these works: “Each painting was a birth, over nine months in creation … I was envisioning a new world, and each of the elements becoming pure and clean.” In dialogue with the gestation period of a child, both conceptually and in practice, the genesis of Brown's paintings originate in the ultimate locus of renewal: the womb.

Brown, like with the process of Renaissance painters, uses the smallest possible brushes to build layers of tempera on top of several applications of glue made from the bones and skins of rabbits; her fine lines fuse reality with its representation and the constructs bewitch the viewer as real. Yet, Brown’s is a verisimilitude as an inverted Renaissance: rather than deifying the human form reaching towards the heavens, she creates icons from where we are from: the world that we can literally touch and, if we open ourselves to this reciprocity, we can feel touching us back. Like a tree shedding its bark, Brown is shedding what can be seen—from the twenty-first century perspective of eco-emergency—as the contemporary Western civilization as the new Dark Ages.

The art of the great masters of the Renaissance is irreproachable as it continues to be deemed the most important period of all time. The Renaissance also laid the foundation for the European age of exploration and “artists and writers such as Galileo, Machiavelli and Michelangelo adopted a view of life that stressed humans’ ability to change and control the world.”[3] It is not surprising that "the greatest period of all time" is the genesis of the West as the global, now neoliberal power that espouses consumer capitalism and the well-being of the individual—at the expense of all that it exploits— as a secular religion sapped of all soul and spirituality, bereft of anything other than the sanctity of the self.[4] In her work, Brown is metamorphosizing by reviving what has been paradoxically lost under this regime of human ‘progress’—she is rebirthing where all life begins and, paradoxically within the insidious ideology of development and progress, the only possibility for a sustainable future.

Patricia Brown Air Metamorphosis 26"x26" water colour on rag paper, 1999

In Brown’s culture of metamorphosis and renewal, as though working through the precises placement of collage, the life forms the artist has painted could have been taken directly from pond-mud, ocean or air. Earth is composed of frogs, their fecund origins reminiscent of an Art Nouveau flower alive with an irony of the ineffability of all ornament; Air is made of moths strung together as daisy chains and backgrounded by galaxies clouded by clusters of stars; Water is made of salmon that morph their biological destinies from silver to red as they eternally approach spawn; and Fire spins mythological dragons that beget one another in the round-and-round of destruction, rebirth and return. All are paradoxes meant to unsettle the deceptive nature of the human quest for perfection; the artist sardonically re-civilizes through her helixical kaleidoscopes that, like the inevitability of mortality and the ever-shifting nature of life, continually change patterns while they simultaneously elude as they compose. Three dimensional, one’s eyes are erotically tugged to the center of each image and we fall into vertigo; our consciousness is enfleshed as we return to the essence of all.

Patricia Brown Water Metamorphosis 26"x26" water colour on rag paper, 2002

In the Fibonacci series, Earth Metamorphosis is literally brought back to earth.

Fibonacci is a numerical system that was invented by Leonardi Pisano Bigollo (1180-1250), the son of an Italian merchant, through the mathematical ideas he discovered during his travels to India and Arabia.[5] Based on his observations of rabbits reproducing, Bigollo’s Fibonacci is a numerical sequence where the next number is the sum of the preceding two. This act of derivative doubling is used to predict the exponential growth of human populations (I guess we have more in common with rabbits than anthropocentrics think!)

Bigollo also introduced the Hindu-Arabic numerals to the West that replaced the more cumbersome Roman ones. Italians were some of the most proficient traders during the Middle Ages and the Fibonacci series, along with the more efficient numerical system from the East, provided the traders with a superior method for keeping track of their transactions.[6] In 1202 Bigollo, soon to be known as Fibonacci, published "Liber Abaci," what has been called a veritable mathematics “cookbook.” Written for tradesmen, "Liber Abaci" provided the traders with a method for tracking profits, losses, and remaining loan balances. [7] "Liber Abaci" can be seen as the original hand-book for commerce in Western culture.[8]

The Fibonacci formula of the thirteenth century is connected to the Golden Spiral, which is the source of the Golden Ratio (also known as the Golden Section, Golden Mean, Divine Proportion or Greek letter Phi)[9] and is viewed as the ideal form that can be found in living things, like snail shells, pine cones, hurricanes and the cochlea of the human ear.[10] In the great civilizations of the West, “[t]his harmony and proportion [of the Golden Spiral] has been imitated for centuries: from the Pyramids in Giza to the Parthenon in Athens; from Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; and from the Pepsi logo.”[11] In correspondence with the technique of absolute representational painting that can be derived from the tempura technique, Western man egotistically anthropomorphizes and ideologically appropriates the Golden Spiral of nature in order to deify the human and impose a human-centered consciousness.

Patricia Brown Fibonacci Fir Cone 31"x31" egg tempera on rag paper, 2008

The idealization of the Pyramids in Giza and the Parthenon in Athens have crumbled—it is impossible to fully combat the passing of time, his own mortality, no matter how hard he tries.[12] However, one cannot deny the glory of these man-made wonders of the world, and that is exactly the point. In order to silence earth and female-centered goddess cultures that had existed for Millenia before the patriarchal age of containment, control and ownership, hierarchical edifices of power were built that instigated the metaphysical transition from the earth to the sky, or a connection with all to an ego-centric detachment that was fully in play by the illustrious patriarchy of the Greeks with its male-centered Sky Gods. Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, painted in the same egg tempura that Brown has resurrected epochs later, built a verisimilitude that iconicized the human form and placed it firmly in the realm of the Christian god. It can be said that, all of the great masterpieces of Western civilization—even the Pepsi logo—serve as propaganda that was and is insidiously deployed in order to deify and detach the human from the earth.

Brown’s Fir Cone, painted with the detail of a scientific diagram, enacts the ideal proportions of the golden spiral in nature where cone scales overlap and broaden in what appears, at first, to exude what is often called “divine proportion.” However, unlike the playful exactitude of Metamorphosis where frogs and fish are painstaking painted as acts of ironic perfection, Brown’s fir cone proclaims its temporality. Like the inevitability of the Acropolis crumbling, the artist fragments her fir-cone-Fibonacci with uncontainable divots, imperfect edges and tendrils that appear to tug at what they have birthed. Brown paints what is known as the ‘spent’ fir cone, the one that has passed its propensity for fertilization, the one that has turned from fecund green to impotent brown and fallen to the forest floor. Her fir cone, as a representative of the golden spiral, is on the brink of erasure pending the return to the cycle of life and the very soil that birthed the tree that begot the cones that will beget another tree or two or three or fall spent to nourish the soil with its seed's impotence. Unlike the man-made Fibonacci which attempt to contain existence through documentation, calculation and answers, nature, invariably undermining all attempts to fix, is alive with imminent death and unanswerable questions.[13]

Patricia Brown Fibonacci Nest in Snow 31"x31" egg tempera on rag paper, 2009

At first glance, Browns’ Nest in Snow plays the part of a representational photograph; however, as though it is a frame in a video documenting its own disappearance, this golden spiral made of snow melting is a symbol and a literality of nothing-lasts-forever. Like in Fir Cone where dissonant growths grasp and infiltrate symmetrical curves, the perfection of Nest in Snow falls apart as it proclaims itself and, within the cultural and environmental context of an eco-emergency, Brown uses this simultaneously paradoxical and literal overlap between the Golden Spiral in nature with the Fibonacci as a mathematical system that served nascent Capitalism: what has, centuries later, become the destroyer of its own origin.

In the end, Brown’s Fibonacci shed their paradoxical attempts of calculation and its need for answers. In opposition with the name of the series, hers are the perfection of nature in all of its random and regenerative realities. As leaves will always fall in autumn, each leaf will never fall in exactly the same place. Woody tendrils impede upon the seeds in each scale in her fir cone; a nest of snow will always melt. So too, despite the devastation of clear-cuts and mining pits, the extraction economy of patriarchal control is doomed as it takes: what he decimates for short-term profit is, in the end, himself and the exponential growth of his offspring.

Patricia Brown Glorious Gold triptych 24" x 72" egg tempera on cotton on board, 2020

And then we arrive in the trees,

what we can walk through and touch every day. Brown’s oeuvre moves from meditations on form and rhythm, to a fragmentation of patriarchal delusions of cultural deification, to the reality of what we reside within. Forest-bathing, the artist calls it, as she goes on her daily walks for solace, communion and inspiration.

“I try to capture the life force one experiences when forest bathing. So many people now live in cities, and are completely cut off from their natural selves. When I tap into that energy, that is when my work sings to the world. Bringing the forest alive for the viewer is entirely my intention,” the artist and forest-bather told me.

Patricia Brown Maxwell Spring Maple 48"x76" egg tempera on cotton on board, 2015

She brings the trees back to her studio, not literally of course, but within her being. She will now transcribe the essence of her physiological/emotive immersion in the forest, a process that is simultaneously universal and personal. As the viewer immerses themselves within the wonders of the tryptic, Glorious Gold, we can feel the artist lying on the forest floor, on a bed of moss perhaps, on her back, arms outstretched, the entirety of her being open to the energy that surrounds her. Maxwell Spring Maple stands epic on Saltspring Island’s highest mountain, and we stand with the artist, heads back, eyes travelling up, up, up over the moss that thrives on the sides of the tree, the greenest-possible-green of the first maple leaves of spring; up-up-up, through boughs alive with the communities of the canopy, striving to see the top—and always failing to take it all in at once. Our inherent vulnerability speaks down on us, not from a god detached up in the sky, but from the goddess of life here on earth, and up in the trees.

Patricia Brown Maxwell Winter Cedar 48"x76" egg tempera on cotton on board, 2013

Winter comes back. Of course. “Beginnings always end,” speaks Brown’s painting of an almighty cedar. It, too, resides on Mt Maxwell. The moss of the maple in spring is now snow on the sides of the cedar and, again, we look up-up-up with the artist and, this time, the artist and her muse give us even less. Like we cannot ever see an ancient tree all at once, our fragile individual beings will never experience the magnitude of the thousands of years we attempt to behold. As we look up at the tree on Mt Maxwell, of a tree that has, so far, been spared the patriarchal nemesis of greed, there is no doubt that our lives are much less significant than the longevity Western culture kills.

“Are you an environmentalist,” I asked Brown as the ancient forests of British Columbia are embroiled in the twenty-first century’s War in the Woods at Fairy Creek and, because of and in spite of the political cycle of deception, the big trees continue to fall in January 2022.[14]

“Yes, definitely.”

But there is no didacticism in her paintings of trees; she doesn’t paint anything we don’t already know. However, at the same time, from an era where truth has been obfuscated by ignorance dressed in the dogma of progress, the century-old trees exist as miracles in a world that refuses to acknowledge the obvious. Patricia Brown’s tree paintings that emerged from the strata of her oeuvre of Metamorphosis to Fibonacci speak to us as, in the artist’s words, “selfless beings who are holding it all together.” Trees show us how, both in art and in the natural world, the only possibility to stop destroying the earth and ourselves is immersing oneself in the power of selflessness and living the reality that it is always the time for trees.

Patricia Brown Burgoyne Mist 24" x 48" egg tempera on cotton on board 2021


[1] As of this writing, with the Industry (Teal-Jones) winning their appeal and the injunction against peaceful protest being renewed, the RCMP have become even more aggressive towards the peaceful protesters and have cleared the way for industry. Despite the continued efforts of the forest defenders, tragically, the 1000 + year-old trees between Heli-Camp and Ridge are starting to fall at the hands of Teal-Jones and a culture built of greed. [2] I am using ‘metaphysical’ here in the philosophical sense with its two branches of ontology (the nature of existence and being) and epistemology (the investigation of the origin, nature, methods and limits of human knowledge) and not in the sense of ‘magick.’ I am also using metaphysics in the sense that human-nature itself has been, especially since the age of Consumerism began in the 1950s, hijacked by the capitalist doctrine that human conflict and competition is inevitable and ‘the way it’s always been.’ [3] https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/exploration-of-north-america [4] Laying out the foundation for the European age of exploration, which lead to Europe’s global power. Its big-name discoveries, masterpieces, developments have gone down in history as some of the greatest creations on earth. https://www.vaticancitytours.it/blog/why-is-the-renaissance-era-so-important/ [5] https://www.livescience.com/37470-fibonacci-sequence.html [6] https://science.jrank.org/pages/2705/Fibonacci-Sequence-History.html [7] Fibonacci Sequence - History - Month, Rabbits, Pairs, and System - JRank Articles https://science.jrank.org/pages/2705/Fibonacci-Sequence-History.html#ixzz79UwRNmNl [8] Interestingly, Bigollo’s mathematic formula was based on his observations of the breeding patterns of rabbits: start with a male and a female rabbit. After a month, they mature and produce a litter with another male and female rabbit. A month later, those rabbits reproduce and out comes — you guessed it — another male and female, who also can mate after a month. After a year, how many rabbits would you have? The answer, it turns out, is 144 ­— and the formula used to get to that answer is what's now known as the Fibonacci sequence.” [viii] where each number is the sum of its preceding one [9] https://symbolsage.com/golden-spiral-meaning/ [10] It can be found in snail shells, goat horns, spider webs, pine cones, the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower, hurricanes and is even the proportions of the cochlea of the human inner ear, to name some of the few. https://www.goldennumber.net/spirals/ [11] https://www.canva.com/learn/what-is-the-golden-ratio/ [12] I am consciously using male pronouns because patriarchy is a male-defined system. Because transmen were once women, I don’t think the use of the male pronoun (in the context of this essay) applies unless they have decided to embrace patriarchal male violence, which, from my reading of such books as Thomas Page McBee’s Amateur: A True Story about What Makes a Man, I don’t think is the case and, if so, very rare. [13] https://www.treehugger.com/will-pine-cone-grow-into-tree-3971255 [14] See @fairycreekblockade and www.laststandforforests.com for up-to-date information on what is happening at Fairy Creek and my discussion of the NDP government’s hypocrisy with the announcement of province-wide old growth logging deferrals in October 2021.



About the Artist:

Patricia Brown, long term resident of Salt Spring Island, continues to explore her interaction with the natural world with a paint brush.

The forest has become her primary inspiration. She is aware of the fragility of existence, all life on Gaia being interconnected. Life cannot continue without majestic life giving trees. Often found hiking on her island hideaway, she has affirmed her abiding love of the community found under a canopy of trees. This love is expressed in her work.

Earlier works explored rhythms and patterns found throughout the universe.

All the work here is available as art cards, magnets, and Gilles reproductions.

Some original work still available. For more information, contact the artist at patriciafbrown@shaw.ca


About the Author:

Karen Moe is a writer, visual and performance artist and a feminist activist. She has a degree in English Literature and Feminist Theory. Her work focuses on systemic violence in patriarchy: be it gender, race, the environment or speciesism. She has been published in such magazines as Border Crossings, ArtSpace, WhiteHot and Revista 192. She is the editor and founder of this magazine, Vigilance: Fierce Feminisms. Karen has exhibited and performed across Canada, in the US and in Mexico. Her first book, Victim: a Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor, is being published in Spring 2022. Karen lives in British Columbia, Canada and in Mexico City.

Check out Karen's author website and get the first 21-page preview of Victim: a Feminist Manifesto from a Fierce Survivor. https://karenmoeauthor.com/

Patricia Brown Maxwell Goddess 19 1/2"x 30 1/2" egg tempera on cotton on board, 2013

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