Andrew Sim, two rainbows and a forest of plants and trees (2024)

Urban nature is my favourite kind. Parks where ice cream is sold. Botanical gardens serving good coffee. Flower shows curated like art festivals. Tree lined streets leading to civic amenities. And, of course, residential gardens which allow metropolitan types to contemplate collections of plants, ready and to hand, like the contents of bookshelf. Nobody ever got eaten by a bear in a city’s green space.

I don’t know what Andrew Sim thinks of wild nature. They (not he/him) were born in Scotland, so they may have had a chance to see much of the UK’s wildest nature. But now they reside in New York and the trees that most attract their painterly attention are those in NYC gardens. They have said they will spot them on their way from A to B and now they appear to exercise a hold, as strong as any romantic sublime, over their imagination.

Consider the monkey puzzle tree, as Sim has done here. It is a fun tree. One follows the branches, as if through a maze. Our thoughts climb up and down the spiralling form and it is inevitable to visualise a cheeky lil’ monkey doing likewise. It is spiky as well, which is also cool, in a mildly punk rock way. And as for its puzzling nature? Well, if only every one of our societal problems could present such a low stakes dilemma as this: how a simian might get up and down a pine tree!

On canvas, the tree was all shades of khaki and lime, made bright greener by a black background. Unlike certain flowers which don’t bloom at night, this tree is coming alive before our very eyes. We can almost see it grow, by getting closer to observe the pulsing daubs of pastel which spread out along the branches and seem to move up the trunk in waves. The growth of a tree, one of the most ‘natural’ phenomena, looks here uncanny as if stage lit. The bulb of a streetlamp or security light is just out of view.

In this way nature is rendered theatrical and enchanted even if isolated to a single specimen of a plant most usually viewed by a roadside. This might make perfect sense in a city gallery, where the visitors also have patios and giant planters. But when I saw Sim’s painting it was ten miles outside of Edinburgh where mountainous ridges, picked out in sunlight, provided the backdrop. 

The immediate context was a West Lothian sculpture park really full of trees; these are no doubt just as carefully husbanded as a garden pine might be, but their vibe was much more pastoral.

This beautiful setting was Jupiter Artland sculpture park. It offers Sim the run of its nineteenth century ballroom as an indoor venue for their paintings. Hence here was nature, translated into art, surrounded by musical history, embedded in horticultural surrounds, and connected on all sides by the art system, be that UK museums, or international collectors, or even gratuitous blogs. It was very complicated, this context, even if the painting in question is quite a simple idea.

Andrew Sim’s exhibition can be seen at Jupiter Artland, as part of Edinburgh Art Festival, until 29 September 2024.

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