Featured Acquisition: Joan Backes' Multi-Species Tree

October 28, 2015 - January 31, 2016

Joan Backes’ Multi-Species Tree stands 12 feet tall and measures 10 feet across at its widest. Backes assembled her tree out of recycled wood reclaimed from dumpsters and building sites on the east coast. In doing so, she has returned this material to its “natural state”—a tree. Her blending of the natural and manmade is further reflected in the adjacent installation where she has gathered about 4,000 leaves, laminated them, and hung them as if they were a large curtain. With both works, the artist reveals her great appreciation of nature, as she blends reverence with a sense of irony. Although her tree incorporates recycled materials, Backes’ work is not directly about this topic. She attached leaves cut out of transparent colored plastic to the tree’s branches with wires, uniting the natural, the handmade, and the commercial/industrial worlds in one sculpture.

In this part of the world, trees frequently become one of the main ways we note the passage of time and the changes of the seasons. Multi-Species Tree manages to suggest elements of all times of the year—the buds of spring, the full leaves of summer, the blaze of color each fall, and the tracing of the lines of bare branches against winter’s snow. Backes invites us to reflect on all of these seasons and our relationship to nature while observing this work. Her playful use of color and commercial material in her addition of leaves, invites us to imagine spending some time underneath the tree’s nurturing branches.

Backes was raised in Milwaukee. She has her BA from the University of Iowa and her MFA from Northwestern University. She has had over 20 solo exhibitions in the US and abroad since 1990. Her work can be found in public collections around the world including: the Aberdeen Art Galleries and Museum, Scotland; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha; Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City; Milwaukee Art Museum; and Reykjavik Art Museum, Iceland.

Joan Backes
Multi-Species Tree, 2009-2011
Found wood, acrylic, and metal wire
Racine Art Museum, Gift of Family and Friends
in Memory of Steve Gabriel, Candace Lynch, and Jean Reid and Gift of Brian and Carol Morello
Photography: Jon Bolton, Racine
Exhibitions are made possible at Racine Art Museum by Platinum Sponsors Karen Johnson Boyd and William B. Boyd, SC Johnson, Windgate Charitable Foundation.