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Judith Belzer gets to the root of 'Trees Inside Out'

June 3, 2009 | 10:00 am

Trees, closely examined, are the subjects of Judith Belzer's latest installation at the 818 Dosa gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Nature has long been the focus of Belzer's work, but when she moved to Berkeley from New England six years ago, she was struck by the larger scale of the West Coast landscape. And trees "are very large forms," Belzer said at the gallery. "They're also the part of the landscape that I relate to most, as another horizontal on the vertical plane."

In the show, "Trees Inside Out," Belzer offers various ways for gallery-goers to interact with her interpretation of the nature of wood. (See the video above.) By creating two "rooms" out of plywood, she invites viewers to step into and experience both a macro and micro way of seeing a tree's patterns, either by looking at the oil paintings that she's done as a "sense memory" from her imagination or by looking at the plywood itself, which she has outlined in pencil. You can also see real wood on pedestals, and pencil and paper drawings of wood formations that evoke cartographic images of a landscape from afar.

"Patterning repeats in interesting ways," says Belzer, "and also you find the same patterns across nature in many forms. In rock formations, in water, in sand. These things operate on multiple levels. And I think it's interesting, because I think it gets to the idea that there's no one way to look at nature."

Belzer was in town last week to give a lecture about the project with her husband, author Michael Pollan ("The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals"), and gallery owner Christina Kim. The latter, a clothing designer who uses recycled material in her work, asked Belzer to create a show in her urban loft after one of her fashion lines was inspired by Belzer's paintings. As for Pollan's role, Belzer's collaboration with him has lasted for more than 30 years (since they met at Bennington College in Vermont) and includes a 16-year-old son. Though they may argue about which music will be their muse as they paint and write side by side, you can see the common tie that binds their intellectual curiosity. They each take something that is everywhere in our daily lives -- trees, and in Pollan's case, food -- and put it under a microscope to illuminate a larger story.

Plywood, for example, "is a very everyday construction material," Belzer says, "but yet when you actually stop to reflect on it, it's a beautiful material and actually relates to you. It's not something that just magically appears at the lumberyard."

She likes to play with the symbolic ideas of wood as well. Just as our culture has looked at trees "as these symbols of stability, of history"; as "a place that you go to for a peaceful lie down"; or as a "threat of fire," she hopes that those walking through her exhibition will see how all these elements intertwine.

"It was just amazing to start to see the connections," says Belzer, who sees the installation, available for viewing by appointment, as "perhaps a first step in helping us through what our relationship is to nature now in these troubled environmental times."

-- Sachi Cunningham

818 Dosa, 818 Broadway, 12th floor, downtown L.A. Hours: by appointment, Tuesdays through Fridays. Ends Sept. 15. (213) 489-2801.

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