El Bosque Pintado de Oma

14 08 2011

All credit to my excellent friend Alexandra Waters: months earlier, upon being informed of my summertime Pais Vasco plans, she had gushed to me about a highly unusual forest somewhere near Guernika that she had chanced to visit. Fast-forward to July, and Aldo’s handing me a tourist catalogue of the area; when I come across the photo I immediately recognize what it is I’m seeing.

Traveler’s destiny? I thought the same back in December, when Hondarribia was a strange name stumbling over the tip of my tourist tongue, when the long-awaited wild horses showed their fuzzy manes atop the most unexpected mountain. We can call it coincidence, if you prefer your grandiose proclamations fate free. A series of damn fine coincidence.

We make the trek to El Bosque Pintado de Oma on a hazy Saturday afternoon. Drizzle threatens but never materializes. It’s a several kilometer hike into the forest in order to find the famed painted trees, including multiple serious ups and downs, and a first view of white swaths of paint across trunks is uncompensatingly unimpressive. However, the forest floor is dotted with stone markers, complete with arrows indicating the direction in which one is meant to look – and from these particular points, what appears to otherwise be colorful chaos coagulates into magic patterns. Stripes zig and zag their way across the forest, alternatively forming both curved and linear designs. We see eruptions of flames, motorcycles, and a sudden menacing crowd that appears to have it out for the viewer.

Curiously, the eerie sensation of being observed appears to be somewhat of an artist’s theme; an enormous section of trees is dedicated to ever-alert eyeballs of every size and color.

Later this night, we mention to a few local friends where we’ve been all day, and are informed that the artist is not too highly regarded ’round these parts – seems his outspoken politics err on the side of facha, which certainly doesn’t go over big in el Pais Vasco. I do vaguely remember Alexandra mentioning something about politically-motivated vandalism of the painted trees. It certainly raises questions that are intriguing, if not too original: can art be “good” if its creator is “bad”? To what extent are we obligated to consider artistic merit in the light of the artist’s own proclivities? Those of you familiar with my beleaguered thesis will know my response already, but by no means do I consider the matter closed – what do you think?



10 responses

19 08 2011

I remember Alexandra telling us about this. It looks awesome. Maybe I will get to see it someday. .

23 08 2011

Urban graffiti of course comes to mind. Some of it is obviously done by talented artists and adds much to the scape. Do I consider it “good” art, even if defacing someone else’s property? Yep (if it’s good).
But I’d tend to appreciate such art more if it were on otherwise ugly urban structures, but not so much on naturally beautiful things like trees or rock. What is your beleaguered thesis?

24 08 2011

the thesis is subtitled “the subversive pleasure of meaning” – in some ways, an homage to Barthes’ “The Death of the Author.” my conclusions, mostly based on reader-response theory, held that the author was irrelevant to understanding meaning in any text, be it literary or otherwise (paint on trees, for example).

i think there’s an english copy floating around the house somewhere, or we should meet up for a cafe con leche and talk about it! 🙂

29 08 2011
Fiestas del Norte: Azpeitia « con tomates

[…] trusty Renault traipses across windy winding Basque coastline from our walking tour of Bosque de Oma all the way to Azpeitia, home-pueblo of friend Maider. It’s the final day of fiesta here, and […]

30 08 2011
Marty Torkington

My thoughts tend to agree with you there, Nell. Though I see your Dad’s belief that one shouldn’t desecrate nature’s beauty, all art is either “good” or “bad” based on the viewer’s (or reader’s) own opinion. You don’t have to know anything at all about the creator to appreciate the results and interpret what you see (or read) for yourself. The painting on trees must have been a wonder!

31 08 2011

I thought it was exceedingly neat myself – feels like you’re walking through a storybook.

1 09 2011
Elizabeth Switaj (@EKSwitaj)

Gorgeous images; I can only imagine what it’s like to walk through there. When considering this sort of art, it’s important to remember that there really isn’t such a thing as wilderness untouched by humans.

1 09 2011
Festival of the Trees #63 – Slugyard University | Slugyard

[…] 350 – Professor Janel (con tomates) takes us into the field to show how others create art from trees.  It may not be adored by some locals, but it is […]

3 09 2011

I do think it looks very nice – but I still hope that it’s not taking over and trees will be painted everywhere.

7 09 2011

Beautiful, colorful images, and as you point out, challenging ones as well. Thanks for sharing them.

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