No image embodies the spirit and credo of shamanic practice like the single tree, standing alone, possibly bearing leaves and/or fruit but invariably revealing its essential structure. Having pursued study of shamanism for decades, going on power journeys and vision quests in widely disparate locales, painter Linda Jacobson focuses naturally, almost instinctively, on the shamanic tree as her basic subject.
To be sure, Jacobson does not seek merely to “illustrate” the concept of the “World Tree,” the Yggdrasil of Nordic mythology or the pine tree of Nepalese or any other arboreal embodiment of shamanic practice. Rather, she views the iconic single tree as a dynamic factor within the context of a larger landscape, a manifestation of nature within nature that proffers itself for the shamanic embrace. But, in the shamanic spirit, Jacobson’s arborocentrism is rooted in the painter’s encounter with a single tree, one growing in the fens of northern Yorkshire; it was that half-blasted [species?], rising from the bleak meadow, that moved Jacobson to contemplation of the lone tree as an aesthetic as well as shamanic presence.
As the lone tree has lost its British specificity and taken on aspects of the World Tree in Jacobson’s paintings, it has come to embody the shamanic precept that “intent” is the living energy of the universe, a teleological, regenerative force attesting to a consciousness that, in the artist’s words, “exists in everything and all things in nature.” The tree stands as living demonstration that “conscious awareness is something that we are able to tap into if we are sensitive and still enough to listen.” Nature is the evidence humans deduce of this force, of this “alive, conscious universe” – and the tree is the evidence Jacobson presents of nature in her art.
Jacobson, of course, is far from the only artist to regard – indeed, viscerally to feel – the life force at once larger and smaller than itself in nature. The entire metaphysics of landscape painting (and much of still-life painting) rests on this regard. But, with her sinewy lines and luminous palette, Jacobson clearly participates in a modernist comprehension of the universal life force. She has found mystic as well as optic inspiration in Turner’s proto-impressionism, in fin-de-siècle French painting – Cézanne, the Cloisonnistes, the Fauves (especially Derain) –in the vitalism of American modernism (O’Keeffe, Burchfield, the New Mexico Transcendentalists), and in outliers such as El Greco, Rothko, Hockney, early 19th century English landscapist Samuel Palmer and late 19th century Russian symbolist Nikolai Roerich, as well as contemporaries such as Gerhard Richter, Peter Doig, April Gornik, and Astrid Preston. From another angle, however, Jacobson reveals herself as a direct inheritor of southern California landscape painting: a student of Lorser Feitelson and friend of Helen Lundeberg, from both of whom she got a sense of landscape as structure, Jacobson’s translucent palette also harks back to earlier Los Angeles modernists such as Agnes Pelton and Stanton MacDonald-Wright.
But this recitation of Linda Jacobson’s artistic family tree only attests to how she “talks” about the trees she paints – or perhaps the single tree she paints over and over again, in different moods, in different settings, in different meanings. All those moods, settings, and meanings lead back to the original, the life force that courses through her lone tree, however blasted and desiccated it might appear. Indeed, by repeatedly depicting what seems a nearly barren tree, Jacobson is telling us that there is no real death, that energy remains not only continually vital, but continually conscious. For her, painting is the vehicle for this reassuring, regenerating message.
Los Angeles August 2016