One of the most common sites in France is a row of platanes (plane trees, relatives of the American Sycamore) shading a road or plaza. So common that many French have a disdain for them an American might have for the weedy Ailanthus. But they are so iconic to the landscape here! They are usually pruned severely—one wouldn’t exaggerate to say pruned to deformity—in order to enhance their shade capacity. When left alone, they tower 30-50 meters high.
Alas, our beautiful platanes are succumbing to a devastating fungus which is now tearing through the countryside. On a recent trip through the Canal du Midi, I witnessed the dismal sight of dozens of skeletal organisms at attention along the banks, interspersed with their still-viable comrades.
It’s not their vulnerability which first made me want to paint these trees. But now that I am aware of their plague, the knowledge does inform my paintings. Because of the harsh pruning techniques, their thick, muscular branches resemble our own limbs. The smooth yet motley bark ripples and sags just like skin. The people who planted them and trained them were harsh task masters. Until now the platanes still managed to survive, reaching majestically, when permitted, up into the sky.
As a kid, I spent hours on our hammock, strung between two trees on the edge of the woods. I think it was there that I became addicted to the view of interlocking branches, the pinholes sun spots formed by the leaves and the secure feeling of having a canopy overhead. As a being who has reached the age of a respectably-sized tree myself, I am awed by the majesty and poignancy of these great fellow habitants on earth. Each species has evolved for a specific environment; some managing to persevere of over 1000 years. They have provided shelter and inspiration throughout my life.