333 Montezuma Annex will open an exhibition of works by artist Lucas Reiner entitled, I see men as trees, walking, Friday July 29 with a 5-7 PM artist reception. The exhibition dates are July 29th - October 1st, 2011.
At the most basic level, the subjects of the work in the exhibition are trees that live on the streets of Los Angeles. Titles are LA street names and locations like “On 9th Street”, “On Venice Blvd. #13”, or “San Vicente”.
“I started to see trees all over the city as portraits. Their shapes were the interaction with the needs of civilization, of the environment. And I thought, that’s similar to how we are.”
Yes Reiner makes superb, elegant drawings and paintings of specific trees in Los Angeles. Yet much like this line “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep” quoted from the famous Robert Frost poem “Stopping By the Woods on a Snowy Evening” Reiner’s work takes a specific image to convey a complex of meaning that can’t be described in prose but must be experienced with the eyes in the presence of the art.
“I see men as trees, walking” is a quote from the King James Bible, Gospel of Mark, which describes the Miracle of Bethsaida. When Jesus cures the blind man he asks, what do you see? The blind man replies, “I see men as trees, walking”. Man and tree merge together. It is also the title of a Jonny Cash song.
Combining these references sheds light on the complex of meaning in Lucas Reiner’s trees. The biblical quote refers to the traditions and myths of the sacred wood, the tree of life, and the transcendent beauty of nature. The Johnny Cash reference recognizes the solitary urban cowboy, surviving on city streets, aspect of Reiner’s trees.
Appropriately, for the city of angels, there is a classic painting part to Reiner’s trees. The tradition found in the Italian masters, of painting the lamentation and exultation of angels. In Italian painting these angels float in the vault of heaven. In Reiner’s painting the trees stand facing the vault of heaven.
As central and as beautiful as the trees are in Reiner’s work it is also necessary to address the vault of heaven, the void and light that are also a subject in Reiner’s painting. In this vein Reiner is very much part of the American West tradition, connecting to the clear and Eden like light in Bierstadt paintings of the Grand Canyon as well as its actual optic manifestation in the work of James Turrell and the California Light and Space school. In Reiner this “vault of heaven” is both beautiful and hauntingly empty. His trees stand before it in lamentation and exultation.