As an artist, William Wylie is not interested in things he understands, but rather the things he doesn’t. His work focuses on uncovering what makes a certain subject or place compelling – and his latest project is no different.
“I am drawn to things I do not fully grasp and my inclination as an artist is to see deeper,” he said.
Wylie, an art professor and director of the University of Virginia’s Studio Art Department, feels that his consistent, creative practice in photography makes him a better professor.
“I couldn’t be a teacher if I didn’t feel I was keeping my research and practice vital by making my own work,” he said.
Wylie’s latest body of work focuses on trees and the human-like personalities they portray in the way they age, weather and stand. All of the trees depicted in “The Anatomy of Trees,” an exhibition on view in Richmond’s Page Bond Gallery from Friday through Feb. 27, live in Colorado’s Pawnee National Grasslands or on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Each stands alone in Wylie’s photos.
“I wanted to isolate the stance and gesture of the tree and let those things speak to a sort of character,” Wylie said. “All of the trees have grown and survived under extreme conditions and I liked the way they display their age and struggles.”
Below, Wylie shares his perspective on a few of the photographs featured in his upcoming exhibit.
"This lonely tree seemed particularly exposed to the elements. You could see that the constant winds from the mountains had bent it to the east. I liked the moment in particular, the variety of clouds (and contrail) that animate the sky (which can be desperately blank at times) and the tracks of cattle that apparently find some comfort in standing around this isolated outpost. And that great stretching shadow gives a good sense of the vastness of the Pawnee Grasslands."
"There seemed to be a bit more going for this tree. There is more foliage and the blankness of the sky lets the tree’s particular character shine. I sense the heat from the mid-day sun in this photograph. The shadow falls straight down giving the image a harsher, high-noon feel, more exposed. I couldn’t help including the struggling survivor over the hill to help animate the image and create a sense of the space."
"Tumbleweeds are constantly rolling across the Pawnee, spreading seeds. The wind blows all the time. This one got caught up on something and is holding still for a moment. A little repositioning on my part and the sun was filtering through the tangle of twig structure to reveal an amazingly complex dendritic space. Some photographs you just have to make."
"This cottonwood group had grown in a shallow swale where there is a small seep. I was particularly drawn to what appeared to be generations represented there, ranging oldest to youngest going from left to right. They also formed a fantastic shape and gesture. The edges are like a map of a coastline and that little space in the middle is just perfect."
"A big healthy cottonwood protected by the rolling landscape from the winds and winter storms. The clouds and shadows and stillness feel like an ideal day and this spot a perfect place to lay down and rest in the shade, like an idyll."
"This, to me, is like the Ur-tree. Instead of backing up to show its shape and relationship to the place, I moved closer to fill the frame with information and form. There is no relief from this mass. But I like that it is not threatening in that sense. That hole in the base is a little mystery and the trunk seems too delicate to support the canopy. Pictures, with their edges as boundaries, are so good at showing just enough information to make meaning possible."
"This is an olive grove on the Amalfi Coast in Italy. The groves are full of fantastic, twisting, ancient trees, but this day the owner had spread out nets that catch the olives during harvest. I had never seen them so completely covering the ground, and the sunlight bouncing through the branches and off the nets was spectacular. These groves are along the Tyrrhenian Sea and perched right on steep shelves above the surf. The nets had a kind of ‘rolling sea’ feel to them and I liked that softness in contrast to the branches."