Jennifer Bentson, Artist to the Oaks

Art has called to me as my expression of the things I perceive but cannot say. At first when I climbed the Catalina Mountains in Tucson or the Sierras of California, I sat on a precipice and gazed over the trees and rocks; painting was a substitute for the camera I could not afford. Soon I found a meditative state in my visage, seeing not only the rocks and trees but other things. This was the birth of my connection with nature. The process of painting while backpacking limited me to watercolors. These were easy to carry, use, and light. So watercolor became my medium of choice out of necessity.

oaks-charcoalMy project, “California Oaks as Art”, is an artistic expression of the beauty of the oaks, and a historical, environmental catalog of their stories. Yet on a deeper level the oak tree of California, although one of the most common trees, it is also one that is very unique to its climate. It is everywhere, and even in some places considered a weed. This project has taught me so very much about the California natives. We study Indians and early people of California, but not much is known about its early oaks and current oaks. Like my backcountry experiences in the Deserts of Arizona, and the mountains of California, there is a richness of nature that cannot be described in words. To describe sleeping under the stars, hearing the wind through the pines, smelling the morning dew of a meadow, tasting the clear clean water from a spring, and sitting under an oak, are all sensual and transient. Understanding the role oaks have played in history, in ecology, and their uniqueness is one of the goals of my art project. On one level, I want the audience to walk away and say, I never knew this about the oaks, I think I’ll take another look at the oak in my yard, or on another level; like the oak, I am one of many but I have a unique story, under the surface there is more, the roots of each being are what make them unique.

My paintings themselves represent my journey through painting and expression. I have found some of the oak trees are quite plain and have decided to use an unusual technique such as Chinese Brush Painting to make the tree more interesting. As in the case of the 13,000 year old Palmer Oak, it is a low growing scrub oak, which is far more interesting when I painted it using Chinese Xuan Paper, Chinese Brushes, and Chinese Paint.

There is an overt goal to encourage appreciation and knowledge of California’s Oak Trees, and there is a subliminal goal to see the limbs of the oak as we see the limbs of our own bodies and feel a connection to the oak. And how can you not love your own limbs.