Richard Tuttle and his Thoughts of Trees
Mar 19, 2018
Twenty-three new works by Richard Tuttle debuted in South Korea on 9 March, at Pace Gallery Seoul. Each of the works is made out of the same materials, and each is contained within a nearly identical wood burned maple frame. The frames are about slightly bigger than a sheet of office paper: 33.3 cm x 25.7 cm x 5.6 cm. The work within them is delicate, nuanced and direct—abstract constructions made from colored paper, hot glued to board. The title of the show is Thoughts of Trees, and that is also the title of each of the 23 numbered works. It comes from a poem of the same name, which Tuttle wrote. The middle section of the first stanza of the poem reads: “Trees think upside-down. Maybe they think from the roots up like the sap spreads nutrients to the top leaves where the thought appears as color.” The poem goes on to suggest that this is but one of the many ways to read the phrase Thoughts of Trees—that every leaf is the manifestation of the thought of a tree. Perhaps each one of these new works can be seen in such a light, as though each is a thought Richard Tuttle had, appearing as color. The poem goes on to suggest that another way of reading the phrase Thoughts of Trees is to think of it as if it refers to the act of thinking about trees. The final stanza reads: “In this case my thought is more like putting my tree into my mind, changing my mind for my tree.” These new works can perhaps also then be seen in this kind of a way as well. They are each an opportunity for us to change our mind by putting the thought of this tiny, beautiful thing into it.
The Tuttle Method
Richard Tuttle calls what he does drawing. This description does not relate to the usual way we might think about drawing—as in dragging an implement across a two-dimensional surface in order to make a picture. Instead, it expands that idea of drawing into space and time. Tuttle draws within space with whatever objects and materials interest him. His drawing method is based on the idea of line. However, instead of his lines being confined to two-dimensionality, Tuttle embraces the entirety of what a line can be. There really is no second dimension, after all, is there? Nothing is ever really completely flat. Everything that exists has elemental properties that require it to exist in three-dimensions simultaneously, which means there really are not three dimensions—but only one dimension.
Richard Tuttle - 20 Pearls (1), 2003, acrylic on archival foamcore board and museum board, 6" x 10-1/4" x 3/4" (15.2 cm x 26 cm x 1.9 cm), © Richard Tuttle, courtesy Pace Gallery
The way Tuttle draws reveals that the separation of dimensions is an unnecessary complication. Sometimes the lines he draws in space manifest as something hanging on a wall. Sometimes the lines look like a constructed conglomeration of materials and objects sitting on the floor. Sometimes they look like bent wires delicately projecting a curved shadow, which might change with the passage of time as the light grows or fades. It is all drawing, and however the drawings manifest they are just lines, or images created by the culmination of lines. His methodology is not complicated nor mysterious. Nor does it represent any kind of highfalutin philosophy about going out of the way to be clever, or minimal, or anything like that. Tuttle draws things in space. His works are leaves—manifestations of thoughts. He does what he does in order to give people things to look at, to perceive, to think about. What people think of his leaves from that point on is up to them.
Richard Tuttle - Compartmentalization, 2008, acrylic paint, acrylic yarn, aluminum metallic tape, archival mat board, balsa wood, bass wood, birch plywood, canvas, cardboard, glue, graphite, metal, metal wire, mohair, nails, oil paint, oil pastel, paper, papier-mâché, pine wood, plastic, sawdust, silicon, staples, steel wool, straight pins, styrofoam, thread, twigs, velvet, wire mesh, 54.6 cm x 255.3 cm x 15.9 cm, overall installed, 35.6 cm x 33 cm x 2.5 cm to 48.3 cm x 48.3 cm x 15.9 cm, 6 elements, each, © Richard Tuttle, courtesy Pace Gallery
Thoughts of Art
In an interview in 2016 with Dylan Kerr for Artspace, Tuttle shared an anecdote that relates well to the work in Thoughts of Trees. He described pitching an idea for an exhibition to the director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. Tuttle told the director, “Everything is turning into art too fast. I want to make a show...of something that hasn’t turned into art yet.” To elucidate what he meant, Tuttle described going on a walk in the woods and seeing a flash of yellow on the ground, “and you are just knocked out,” he said, but then you realize that its a maple leaf, and that is when the experience ends. He wanted to make a show that existed in that moment before people realize what it is they are experiencing. Tuttle did in fact go on to have that show, in 1978. The problem he ran into was that the Dutch public evidently was not looking for experiences. “They wanted image,” Tuttle recalled. Viewers became outraged by the work. They misunderstood the methods behind it, and lashed out at Tuttle for not living up to their expectations of what art is supposed to be.
Richard Tuttle - installation view, © Richard Tuttle, courtesy Pace Gallery
What I love about Tuttle is that he continued with his method regardless of what anyone thought along the way. Decades later, many people still feel inclined to rush to judgment when they look at his work. But more often than not, Tuttle has contributed to the evolution of how people relate to art. More of us than ever realize that there is no reason that we ever have to arrive at judgment when looking at art. It is enough to look, to think, to feel and to describe. Thoughts of Trees offers 23 new respites from the everyday moments that occupy us. It gives us 23 more chances to look away from whatever is making us anxious, whatever is making us sad, and whatever is making us feel stuck in our own heads. Each of these 23 new drawings is a chance to put something new into our mind, and to change our thinking in some small way so that we might suffer a little less. Thoughts of Trees continues at Pace Gallery Seoul through 12 May 2018.
Featured image: Richard Tuttle - Hello, the, Roses 15, 2011-2012, wood, foam, paper, spray paint, paint, wire, 36-1/16" x 11-1/16" x 6" (91.6 cm x 28.1 cm x 15.2 cm), © Richard Tuttle, courtesy Pace Gallery
By Phillip Barcio