Artist Feature :: Fading Faces of the Wood

March 6th 2014

Maureen 2

Sunlight streams through the foliage as you walk through a maze of trees. The leaves and sticks crunch under your feet. You expect to spot a pair of tweedy bird eyes staring down at you, but the last thing you expect to see is a pair of human eyes staring blankly out of a tree stump…

You notice a wearied pair of peepers, and slowly walk on to see a wrinkled hand firmly planted atop a stump. This is not the scene of a horrific homicide and you are not Sherlock investigating the possible perpetrator.

Artist Claudia Bicen is taking art back to the roots. Instead of scribbling on paper, she is creating beautiful portraits on paper’s more archaic form: trees. British born artist Claudia stayed on a residency on the northern California coast where she painted portraits on logs for her project. She was one of the six artists invited to be a part of the Project 387 artist residency from around the US.

“So why the logs?” I ask Claudia.

“Since I work in pastels, all of my work has to be framed and protected behind glass. But for this project, I wanted to work on a surface that would be vulnerable to the natural elements and had a similar texture to a piece of paper or canvas.”

“The tree stumps and logs also provided a poignant metaphor for the theme of transience. Like gravestones, the stumps stood in place of entities that had once been alive,” says Claudia.


The body of work depicts six people who Claudia felt were connected to the land she was working on. There was the residency’s director, her parents, a local man who worked on the land for more than fifteen years, a Mexican immigrant who maintained and repaired the property, and a community nurse practitioner. Each person had a different relationship with the land.

“For one person it was a dream manifest; for another it was a place of childhood fantasy; for another it was a sacred connection to the natural world and for another it was labor and survival,” says Claudia.

Syd transitioning

Syd Transitioning

Ray transitioning

Ray Transitioning

Painting on logs poses a problem. The carefully created works will not last forever. The intricate and realistic details of the paintings are exposed to the weather. When someone paints a portrait of you, you want to show that portrait to every single person you know… and others you don’t know.

It’s not easy to see your own work weather away. Claudia was tempted to preserve her work at first but turned her thoughts around.

“I actually bought a sealant at the beginning of the project but when it arrived in the post I knew I didn’t really want to use it and at that moment I remembered I had as much to learn about letting go of material things as the next person,” says Claudia.

She hoped people would walk through the forest in contemplation. With everyone’s fast paced lives, this was an opportunity to meditate.

“I wanted people to contemplate the transience of all things and to embrace the fact that it underlies all experience. I hoped that people would find serenity in the present moment,” says Claudia.


As the portraits will fade quickly with time, snapping pictures was the key to sharing the work with people around the globe.

“The project sits on a very remote piece of land on the Northern Californian coast that few people will ever have the chance to visit. The photographic documentation of the final pieces and their degradation was important. It allowed for the art and the philosophy underpinning it to be shared with people all over the world,” says Claudia.

Thank goodness Claudia took some snaps. Now you can be inspired by her ephemeral brush strokes without needing to hop on a flight to the US.

Jose Hand

Gemma Piali | Claudia Bicen



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