Tree & Leaf
TREE & LEAF
Simon & Tom Bloor, Vanley Burke, Angelina May Davis, Mark Essen, Andrew Gillespie, Harminder Judge, Dinosaur Kilby, Andrew Lacon, Joanne Masding, Harun Morrison, Ruth Murray, Duncan Poulton, Yelena Popova, Antonio Roberts, Luke Routledge, Elizabeth Rowe, Gavin Wade, Matt Westbrook, Stuart Whipps, James Winnett, Harrison & Wood, Rafal Zar
Exhibition text illustrated by Jonathan Dukes.
A group show of artworks; film, sculpture, photography and painting depicting trees by artists from Birmingham and the West Midlands. The theme of the exhibition is inspired by a short story by JRR Tolkien; Leaf by Niggle. An allegory of the creative process and, to an extent, Tolkien’s own life, which follows the structure of Dante's Divine Comedy.
Around 1939 the story of Leaf by Niggle came to JRR Tolkien in a dream and was first published in the Dublin Review in January 1945. It was reprinted in Tolkien's book Tree and Leaf which is available as a gallery copy in the exhibition.
The short essay is about an artist, a painter called Niggle he lives in a society in which the reader is not certain of any historic time or geographic location. What is clear is that art is not valued and is seen as a waste of time and resources.
However, Niggle is passionate about one painting, that of a landscape and a tree. The narrator describes Niggle ‘as not a particularly successful or good painter’ but his treatment of leaves as very good. Niggle is beset by mundane duties, interruptions, and a forthcoming mysterious trip. Added to this his procrastination and worry about the ‘trip’ constantly prevent Niggle from doing what he loves, his painting.
Ultimately Niggle is forced to take his trip where he ends up in a Workhouse, in which he must perform menial labour each day seemingly forever. Back at the home to which he cannot return, Niggle's painting is abandoned, used to patch a damaged roof, and all but destroyed save for the one perfect leaf which is placed in the local museum and eventually forgotten about except in tales of lore.