In her latest work, artist Katherine Taylor invites you to turn your eyes to the ceiling. There, you’ll find her Bark Lights illuminating the room with their bronze warmth. The lamps are an extension of the artist’s sculpture series on tree bark patterns, brought into the realm of design with an added layer of functionality.
Though the sculptures serve as an interior centerpiece, their roots are in the outdoors. A client commissioned Taylor to create the series for her private residence nestled in the woods of eastern Alabama. Taylor chose to complement the beauty of the home’s natural surroundings with a sculpture that draws from it, the intent being to relate the home to its landscape.
Taylor naturally gravitated to the magnificent pine trees on the property. She and the client chose a particular tree near the house to serve as the basis for the lamps. The visual equivalence is clear to the eye. The shape of the lamps echoes the cylindrical form of a tree trunk. Further, the bronze, treated with a dark brown patina and made to simulate the rough exterior of bark, mimics the appearance of a tree, only it floats overhead instead of on the ground. The interior of the Bark Lights, in contrast, is polished and treated with a gold patina, which brightens the hollow core with a reflective sheen.
When you first walk into the room where the lamps are suspended, you immediately notice the strong impact of the contrast between the gold and brown colors. At night, the visual impact is even more pronounced. Slits in the columned forms create openings for light to shine through. Without ambient daylight, this internal glow eclipses the detail on the shell of the lamp and yields contours of brilliant gold light that hover overhead. (More images are available here.)
Into the woods
Central to Taylor’s current practice is the use of trees as an artistic medium. She first began taking molds of tree bark in 2013 for her sculpture Tronco. Natural materials have always been a part of her work. In the past, she drew inspiration from objects she found on hikes in the woods, often sticks, which she could carry back to her studio. Using standing trees now requires her first step to be on site.
What Taylor is after is the tree’s texture. To isolate it, she takes an impression of the bark using a silicone paste to pick up the grooves and fine details of the surface. In effect, the silicone mold is a portable substitute for the tree, which Taylor can manipulate and shape before casting in metal. For the series of work she exhibited at Skoto Gallery in the fall of 2014, she fashioned the accumulated textures she collected into zoomorphic creatures. Skillfully, she transformed the pulled texture of the bark to appear like animal skin. With the pendant lamps however, the reference to the original textural source remains evident, as she restores the tree’s round shape and dark brown color and showcases the organic pattern of the bark.
The client’s land is a working tree farm she inherited from her father. In the 1960s, he acquired the land and its trees from the state of Alabama. It was a shrewd arrangement to financially support his quail hunting habit, as the client recounts with a laugh. With the pine trees now nearing the end of their lifespan, the client turned to Taylor to preserve something of the trees in their current state. Together, Taylor and the client surveyed the land around the house and found their mark, a tall pine tree lining the driveway. Taylor says she enjoys the search as much as the actual making the work. Finding the right source of inspiration is key to fulfilling her intentions for the project.
More than any of her other projects, this one is concerned with forming a connective thread between indoor and outdoor space. Taylor literally drew on the materiality of the landscape to produce the sculptures. As such, the lamps serve as a tangible reference inside the home to the physical surroundings outside. They capture the ephemeral nature of the trees in enduring form. Taylor has observed that “trees, like any element of topography, anchor memories and define a sense of place.” These sculptures are by nature intrinsically tied to their location. In any other setting their meaning would be lost.