Bryan Nash Gill, Leader, 2011
30.5" x 21.5", relief print on Okawara paper
We often come to understand things by isolating them. We pluck something from its environment, look at it under the microscope, and the knowledge we gain helps clarify our understanding of the object and, by extension, the world. We are all natural history investigators at some point in our lives.
Bryan Nash Gill has developed an artistic practice that revolves around investigation. From the woods near his large studio in northwestern Connecticut, Gill extracts information from dead and damaged trees. As Gill explained, “When a tree comes to me, or when I know a tree is being taken down, I’ll cut up what I want, often looking for a specific area, such as where the tree divides or branches intersect. And I’ll keep cutting until I find something in the cross section that I think is engaging, until I have something I can work with.” Gill’s art might be the result of a lightning strike, tap-hole scars, insect infestations, or simply the mesmerizing patterns of the growth rings alone.
Gill’s tools include a chainsaw, a hand planer, a belt sander, a Bunsen burner, a wire brush, and a spoon. After cutting and sanding the block, Gill burns the surface of the cross cut to enhance the texture of the growth rings and then seals it with shellac. The block is then inked and paper or cloth is carefully placed over the surface; it is then carefully burnished by hand or with a spoon.
Leader is a print made from a cross section of an 80-year-old ash tree. Like a cartographer, Gill points to where the trunk has divided in two, where a rotted branch healed over (lower right), to the included bark in the center. It is a map of time, weather, disease, and growth: a specific history illuminated by Gill’s labor-intensive artistic process.
Gill’s woodprints are real, unique, and often stunning. They are a reminder of the histories that lay hidden in our natural environment.
Woodcut, a book about Bryan Nash Gill’s work, has just been published by Princeton Architectural Press, New York. His work is found in many private and public collections, including IBM Corporation in New York and the Boston Public Library. There is an upcoming exhibition of his work at Homer Babbidge Library’s Norman D. Stevens Gallery, University of Connecticut from October 29, 2012 to February 22, 2013. Bryan can be contacted through his website.