OLIVE TREES AND VAN GOGH
My plane jostles and bumps, playing dodge ball between the mounding clouds. Flying low over New York, my vision is diffused; amorphous rectangles, squares, triangle, dots and dashes form abstract patterns distracting my rising queasiness. Threading in and out of the landscape are carefully stitched perimeters, irregular outlines of bushes, trees, rivers, highways and country roads. From my vantage point there is a certain surrealism to the landscape. These are images that remain embedded in one’s mind.
As our plane slowly descends, my thoughts drift back in time, when again, standing high upon a mountain, had a breathtaking view.
The limestone Alpilles Mountain range at les Baux-de-Provence dominates as far as the eye can see. The castle of les Baux was built in the Middle Ages, on one of the most beautiful sites in France.
The castle, billowing like a royal cloak beneath the rugged mountain range spreading an exquisite design, including a magnificent pattern of shimmering-silver OLIVE TREES.
OLIVE GROVES fascinated van Gogh, Cezanne, Gauguin, continuing with today’s contemporary painter.
What pulls the artist’s eye to these weathered-gray, gnarled, twisted ancient trees; with their contrasting smooth, shiny leaves that change color in the passing breeze, lifting, ruffling to its white downy under side? Texture, color, form, and contour all qualities an artist desires for a successful painting.
Standing from my high vantage point, soaking in the panorama I am reminded of the SPIRITUALITY and SYMBOLISM the OLIVE TREE has represented throughout generations of time.
Symbol of Peace and Reconciliation: The story of Noah who released a dove into the sky, only to have it return holding an olive branch in its beak.
Symbol of Victory: In ancient times the forehead of winners were circled by a crown of olive leaves.
Symbol of Faithfulness: Friends of Jesus entering Jerusalem strewed the ground with olive branches.
Symbol of Sacrifice: Passion on the Mount of Olives, Christ’s cross was made of the olive tree.
Symbol of the Olympics: The torch that lights the way to the opening ceremony touches a cauldron filled with olive wood.
It is said about the olive tree that it is everlasting; when the trunk dies, vital living shoots spring up regenerating the dying tree. Looking down on the Baux Valley many of the orchards were decimate by a severe freeze in 1956. With time many of these once dead groves regenerated and sprung forth with life.
Van Gogh produced no less than ten paintings of olive trees when staying in St.-Remy. He believed olive trees were destined to become an important artistic theme. Vincent believed in the power of transformation/regeneration. He saw the olive tree as a powerful metaphor for his own body of work. His own life was transformed-regenerated from art dealer to preacher to ultimately a painter. Like the olive tree, his roots brought forth new branches, he was continually striving to be born again within his artistic vision.
We can capture this same metaphor in our own artistic careers, be it painting, writing, music, sculpture, whatever ones passion; we need but let new green shoots spring from withering and unfruitful roots. Our personal transformation-regeneration comes when we use new eyes with which to see; break open our perspective and outlook; slip out of comfort zones taking courageous strides; broaden our learning and open our hearts; and live with vitality and energy. Through our own deep roots we can move from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary. Just as I experienced the transforming panoramic view of the Les Baux Valley and its endless acres of olive groves, we, too, can take the panoramic path of our own unique genius and destiny.