Artist Katherine Steichen Rosing paints the the delicate ecosystems of forests and watersheds. Visit her website to see more of her art.
I am fascinated by invisible processes in forest ecosystems and environmental issues. My work includes vividly hued paintings, intricate mixed media works and sculptural installations.
I often talk about my fascination with northern forests and watersheds, but sometimes forget to express the obvious. Equally important is the experimentation that happens in my studio.
When immersed in a forest, I am tuned in to the rhythmic lines of the tree trunks, dots of lichen and richly textured colors. I’m fascinated by the forest as a community. Invisible systems link diverse species, like the vast mycorrhizal network of fungi extending along root systems. This subterranean network allows trees to share nutrients and send chemical signals throughout the forest, protecting the community. Cycles of life are palpable in the relationships between grandmother trees and young saplings.
Painting is a means for me to contemplate these ecosystems. I try to communicate the mystery of nature’s hidden energies by composing abstracted shapes and spaces integrated with color and surface.
I spend a lot of time staring at the surface of the painting as I carefully brush across layers of previous colors. I try to deposit just the right amount of paint, finely tuned on the palette. Layer over layer is built, until the surface is woven together like a tapestry.
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Hidden within the tree canopy are magical systems. Photosynthesis transform carbon dioxide and water into leaves and trunk, branches and roots. This process invisibly cleans the air and water while mitigating climate change and regulating the local water cycle. My series titled Respirations are circular works reminiscent of the tree crown and earth, and they honor this process.
I begin by rubbing translucent layers of paint into archival Tyvek. This is a beautiful surface that looks very much like Japanese paper with fibers embedded. Leaf rubbings are created over this luminous surface. I record leaf patterns to identify each tree species and sometimes document species that are endangered by changing climate or invasive insects.
My newest body of work, Water Shields and Damselflies, explores the sensitive systems and complex interchanges between forests and their watersheds. In these paintings, the surface is created by drawing through wet paint. I inscribe lines that suggest tree roots, eggs deposited by damselflies and other amphibious insects. I also depict aquatic life, like the oval water shield plant that filters the water and provides habitat for many species.
As a Wisconsin native, these pristine ecosystems are embedded in my psyche. I see changes in these ecosystems and am concerned for our future. On the one hand, I am optimistic about the role trees and forests play in mitigating climate. On the other hand, forests are stressed by drought, deforestation and other environmental stresses related to the climate crisis.
We can each make a difference. Individual actions add up to meaningful contributions. We can protect our trees if we own property, and we can support reforestation efforts globally. More information about climate change is available on my website.
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