Trees is one of a number of works in egg tempera that Howard Taylor painted from around 1950. The work is a disciplined study of line, light and shape combined to create an overall shimmering effect. In this work Taylor explored the ephemeral qualities of light and colour and the rich and subtle surfaces he observed in the Australian bush. He said that: ‘painting the Australian landscape involved a big change for me, and another change was that I soon got more involved in tempera painting … if you paint in tempera you become engaged in a highly disciplined technique … you’ve got to plan right from the beginning.’1
In Trees the composition is divided into distinct planes, the horizontal bands set against a vertical cluster of trees. Positioned in the centre of the work is the apex of a circle. This circle is filled with light from an unknown source. Around its perimeter are eight trees, the trunks of which create long shadows stretching to the bottom right-hand corner of the composition. The tree foliage resembles a three-dimensional structure, carefully constructed by lines and subtle tonal variations. The shape of a figure 8 defines this arrangement, symbolic of infinity and the cyclical patterns of nature. Trees is a dense picture, yet the overall effect is one of lightness. The meticulous repetition of line suggests both the complexity and ethereal delicacy of the natural world.
1 Howard Taylor, interview by James Murdoch in 1986 for the Australia Council Archival Art Series. See Gary Dufour & Allan Watson (eds), Howard Taylor: phenomena, Perth: Art Gallery of Western Australia & Sydney: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2003, p. 61.