Seeing the Forest Through the Trees

April 29, 2013
God forbid I should ever have to take a really good look at myself on the inside. While so many of my friends spend countless hours and countless dollars trying to find themselves, one actually spent more time than I think he should have getting tattoos and donkey in a small Mexican town/prison, I prefer to embrace the mystery that remains in me. Call it fear, if you like, because really, that is what it is. I scare the dickens out of myself with what I already know about me; I care not to scratch any farther than the surface. I am content to escape into my own little worlds, or bubbles, if you will. In one bubble I am 25 again, a real blonde, and no one ever calls me big. In another, I am an athlete and my metabolism is perfect. In a third, I have never owned a cell phone, and have never heard the words "email me" or "deadline". Slipping inside my very own reality is a way to focus on me, just enough to feel good about it and just enough not to actually realize anything.

For the artist Tanner, located in his uber-serene studio and gallery at 830 Royal Street, escape has become the inspiration for some of the most simultaneously dynamic and static art in the French Quarter. With humble beginnings along the fence in Jackson Square, Tanner made a name for himself among locals as a good, kind, and consistent artist. Taking a rather long break from creating after art school, Tanner returned with body paining and tattoo design, and found that nature was the key to opening his mind and unlocking the talent behind his creations. As he took his place daily along the fence, looking within himself, he developed a level of appreciation for nature that gave rise to an appreciation for what he is able to do as an artist. While sometimes the final images are as much a mystery to him as they are to the viewer, the works always possesses an air of humility, persistence, and mystery, with a telltale style that statically says Tanner.

Starting with the canvas upside down, he creates images of trees whose branches seem to reach out and ask us to enter their forest. Now, while you might say that anyone can paint a tree, such is not the case. These trees are dynamic, in that no two are the same, yet they all relay the same message. Branches twist and turn through each other as if they are purposefully placed, however, the artist claims that he allows the paint and the brush to simply move across the canvas until the creation seems done. The draw to Tanner's work is that, almost by accident, he creates dynamic images that are ever changing, but at first glance, all look static and the same, and definitely convey the same static message: an invitation to join the painting. While many artists can create this with planning and extreme attention to composition and placement, Tanner seems to have a gift for just creating it. Perhaps, it's his attitude about his talent that lends itself to creating this very important part of each of his painting: he feels that the art creates itself and that he is just a conduit for its life, feeding that independent energy into each piece. That independence allows the work to communicate with an audience without the emotions of the artist tied to it. On occasion a leaf may appear, several in some cases, and as in a recent commission, birds might make a debut. Both are as static as the branches, but with the dynamic message that trees are a source of life for all of us.

At first glance, the colors are what catch you and hold you, but then the images make their way across each other tending to somehow step off the canvas and become an invitation to the woody paradise. As I sat with Tanner talking about his work, the piece behind him kept drawing my attention away from our conversation. It was no surprise to me when he commented that he doesn't feel that he can always take responsibility for the work, that it seems to have a mind of its own. No surprise because the one piece behind him was doing all the talking my eyes needed to hear. I was sitting and listening to the artist, waiting for every break in his voice to look up at the piece behind him. An odd form of flattery, I must admit, but Tanner is the kind of artist who will appreciate and respect the silence needed for a journey through one of his creations.

His Moon series is perhaps my favorite. Moon Series - 1 and Moon Series - 3 create a depth into a world beyond the face of the canvas. The use of three separate colors and sizes of the trees along with the positioning creates a path into the light towards the moon. With varying intensities of the background, the pieces pull toward the center directing our attention and our interest.

Moon Series - 2 and Moon Series - 5 seem as if we are seeing them as snapshots from one tree to another. These paintings spark one's imagination to create the tree that you are sitting in as you look out over the view. With no visible ground, the paintings make you feel suspended in midair within the paths upon which we are led. While some components such as fences, gates, posts, and birds make special appearances, it is the backgrounds and the trees that really create the illusion of movement into the canvas. The Moon Series can be viewed by visiting the gallery website at

The gallery itself is a true break from the race that's exists just outside its doors. With doggie beds tucked sweetly inside the fireplaces and sunlight passing through, the bright airy feel of the space highlights the open messages of the paintings. The side studio opens to the street and displays not only another set of creations but an easel holding a current piece, where Tanner works throughout the week. A sister location in the Garden District is new to town and her address is 2855 Magazine Street.

Commissions are welcomed, but can take quite a bit of time to complete. The list is long of collectors clambering for their own version of a Tanner created especially for them.

It goes without saying that at some point in our lives, like one of Tanner's creations, we will be compelled to take a look inside ourselves for the purpose of discovery. What we see depends on how open we are to taking the journey and meeting the discoveries. Maybe someday I'll become introspective and be brave enough to strip back the layers and see the real me. Then again, I know what I look like in bathing suit and if it's anything like the real me, may the bubbles continue.