The Art of Trees 

Local artist Jerri Lisk's "50 Series"

Living in the City of Trees, maybe I take trees for granted. That's the first thought that crossed my mind as I raced into Lisk Gallery to get a look at Jerri Lisk's "50 Series #5." That was the last thing I did quickly. As my attention was captured by Lisk's newest installment, I took a deep breath--maybe breathing in all that good oxygen that trees give off--and then, all I could think was that I do take trees for granted.

Lisk is a local artist who shows that artists can make a name for themselves while still living where they want. She is one of those artists that delightfully nurtures the urban artscape of the Treasure Valley.

Lisk began her career as an oil painter, studying under Frank Holda in high school and then moving on to study decorative painting at Leonard Pardon School of Specialty Design in London, England. Eventually, her talents led her into working in stained glass and faux finishes over the next 20 years. Currently, she is a full-time fine art painter. Her chosen medium: acrylic on sanded down aluminum; her models: nature.

As suggested by the title of her latest collection of works--"50 Series #5"--Lisk created four previous sets of 50 acrylic on aluminum pieces. Each year in April or May, she creates a series of 50 5-inch by 4-inch paintings. She pulls images from the many sketch books she filled throughout the year. Her smaller works are fun, tangible pieces and are an affordable way for beginning art collectors to start amassing Lisk's work.

In this year's series, Lisk has used brighter, bolder colors than in the past. The effect, when viewed as a whole, is reminiscent of whimsical stained glass. Though the colors are different, just as in the past, the subject of all 50 paintings is trees.

Lisk travels with her husband Mark, a photographer known for his wilderness landscape photographs. His photography work takes the couple all over, and the landscapes he captures on film inspire Lisk's paintings. She is seldom without a sketchbook on her travels, and it is from this source that she pulls her motivation and inspiration.

Once Lisk decides what sort of tree she is going to paint, she takes a piece of sanded aluminum, tapes off the edges and begins to apply the acrylic paint. The reason she uses aluminum is twofold, it seems. The first reason is that Lisk worked in decorative faux finishes for a very long time and developed a fondness for the hard, sturdy surfaces walls offer. When she turned her attention back to her art, she tried to go back to canvas and found it too pliable; therefore, she returned to the sturdier surfaces she'd become accustomed to.

The second reason is when her work is finished and the tape removed, the edges of the aluminum are exposed, giving the illusion that the work is framed, her trees seemingly floating in a self-contained border, the rough metal trying to contain the bright, carefree trees in a perfect juxtaposition.

After noting the paintings themselves, I was taken in by the titles, which are as intriguing as the works. The titles of the pieces are as fanciful and fun as the paintings themselves, for example, Laurel and Hardy Hand Shake. It's a bold image of two trees entwined in what, after reading the title, takes the shape of a comical handshake.

Lisk's background is working in realism, and it is only recently that she moved toward the freeing form of trees, leaving plenty of room in her pieces for viewer interpretation. Still, as I stood looking at her forest of walled trees, I again wondered, why trees? Maybe Lisk's dreamy woods are just her chosen subject, but maybe, after a second glance and a moment for it to all sink in, maybe she's on to something.

I was suddenly jarred by a barrage of imagery. Lisk pulls the ancient themes of trees into contemporary art. The tree of good and evil where Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. The Tree of Life that represented the coveted state of fulfillment, the Bodhi tree where Buddha received his enlightenment. I think even a couple from Egyptian mythology arose from a tree. And in how many books and movies are people searching for the tree of life. The Japanese use the meditative and methodical way of trimming the bonsai tree to find inner enlightenment. And the tree a lot of us place in the center of our lives every December 25. Trees ... even I was on to something now.

I've been to a few museums where a cross-section of a tree hangs on display, and on each ring, dates of importance in the history of not only the United States but in the history of the world, are tacked up on a tiny piece of paper pointing to the corresponding line.

Trees are silent mystics, time keepers, history recorders. Or maybe they merely offer shade from a hot summer sun or shelter from a spring rain. At any rate, I found myself thinking about the definition of contemporary art differently, and trees differently, as well. And in essence, isn't that what art is supposed to do?

--Nicole Sharp

The Lisk Gallery was opened in 2003 by Mark and Jerri Lisk. Their works hang side-by-side, Mark's black-and-white photography mixed with Jerri's bright aluminum-framed trees. The gallery, located at 850 Main St., is open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. First Thursday, gallery hours are extended to 9 p.m.

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