How Madhuri started compiling a series of leaf paintings
Book of Leaves came about while I was living at our house, ‘Dancing Leaves’, in an oak grove at the edge of the Ozark Mountains. Every day I would go for a walk up the shaded roads along the ridges and into the dips between them; and every day I saw leaves lying in the road, fallen from the thousand trees around me. Often a leaf would simply tell me a sentence about itself. These spoken lines were shamelessly anthropomorphic; so the leaves were a mirror. Thank you, leaves.
I would stoop down and pick up a speaking leaf and put it in my pocket; and when I got home I would put a bit of sticky tape rolled up on its back and press it to a piece of paper and trace its shape. I finally had a large pile of these pages, and one morning I began to paint those leaves. I listened to an audio book, The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy, and for two hours first thing each morning I painted, while Mr Hardy so poetically, truly, precisely described the shade and hues and textures and moods of his own native forests.
This was simply bliss. I did not know how to paint leaves really; so it was a discovery all the way. How delicious to stroke color on the paper in response to the colors I had seen on the leaves! I had fresh leaves in my studio to remind me of the greens; and I kept many of the drier leaves on the pages after I had traced them, in order to get their colors right.
I also made Leaf Mandalas, tracing the same leaf again and again and adding other leaves on top of the shapes. Then I had the fun of painting in whatever colors I felt like using. These mandalas, like life, are not perfect. They just grow, and are wonky and uneven – because I find myself incapable of making symmetrical things – they always come out strange. And if I cared too much about that I would be unhappy, and what would be the point? Painting is for delight. So they are not like mandalas one might be used to. I am much too lazy to attempt those – or, I attempt them, but it never works. But I love my mandalas.
What a luxury to have time to do all this! Well, I carved the time out from housework and so on; but I had it to carve. For that I thank my boyfriend Chris. We both love trees, and leaves. He provides the place for me to enjoy them; my job is the commentary.
I also had to sweep up leaves from the driveway – a gazillion leaves, again and again. Now we have moved, and the trees are not with us anymore. I am happy not to sweep the driveway. I am very sad to miss the trees – and so is Chris.
Hello, naked sky – what is your message for me? I have not really got it yet. Are you saying, “I also would rather look down on leaves?”
Artwork and text by Madhuri