Throughout the course of history, trees have occupied a very special place in the hearts and lives of man. That is especially true in Celtic cultures, where almost every tree was thought to possess some magical power or serve as the abode of fairies. Florida Gulf Coast University graduating senior Hadar Frey also feels a keen affinity for trees, and has used them consistently in her artwork as metaphors for nearly twenty years. In Beyond the Surface, she has combined them with the female figure to express important truths common to Celtic, Hebrew and American culture.
Frey started in art when she was just six years old. With the tutelage of a private teacher, she quickly developed her innate talent and modelling skills, evolving her own unique expressive/surrealist style by the time she was 13. But throughout that time and since, she has been consistently coupled the woman's figure and trees.
"I did some research to better understand my dual fascination, and I discovered that trees not only held a sacred place in Celtic culture, but that Celtic people saw trees as human ancestors," Frey explains. "They centered whole communities around trees like the oak, ash, apple and willow."
The importance of trees in Ireland is legendary. Out of 16,000 towns in Ireland, 13,000 are named after trees. And trees form the basis for the Celtic alphabet, called ogham, where words are formed from bottom to top just as a tree grows from its roots to upper branches.
"The tree of life has very strong symbolism in Hebrew," notes Hadar, who hails from Israel, "and so it all came together for me - my religion, my beliefs and the Celtic beliefs."
Hadar walks to a vibrantly colorful painting of a willow finished with translucent layers of laquer. "Willows possess stability and strength, and can withstand a lot," the raven-haired artist states, her distinctive Israeli accent perfuming both her words and the thoughts they express. In Druid lore, willows inspired writers, artists and other creative souls, infusing them with inspiration, skills and even prophecies. But Frey's connection is more direct.
"The face is mine," she adds, nodding her chin at the countenance of the female form woven intricately into the trunk of the stately tree. Like the willow, Hadar has weathered numerous difficulties since arriving in America eight years ago. Beyond the nettlesome idioms and linguistic challenges associated with learning a language like English, Frey also found it necessary to negotiate a host of cultural differences that even included the very nature of how a woman expresses herself in American society. People in positions of authority from employers to teachers don't always appreciate strong-willed women who speak their minds.
"This is an ash," she says, pointing to a van Dyke brown trunk painted against a deeply spiritual purple sky bisected by descending shafts of yellow-white light. "It has really strong roots, which were believed by the Celts to be doorways to the Underworld. The trunk connects heaven and the Underworld. The branches reach toward heaven and provide a spiritual connection to the world, which I have signified through shafts of light."
In Celtic lore, the ash represented life because of its healing properties and purported ability to insulate people against malady, including witchcraft. The female figure jutting from the trunk of this tree is pregnant, just like Hadar. While Frey doesn't dwell on the more Wiccan aspects of the Celtic belief structure, she does acknowledge that she chose a pregnant woman for the truck of her ash because "a woman is the source of life just like the ash symbolizes life."
Although Beyond the Surface is inspired by the Celtic belief system, Frey has clearly added her own spin on their ideas and symbols. "My works hold the characteristics of the Surrealist style, and they have different repetitive symbols that come together to tell a story," she sums up. "They combine ancient ideas with my own ideas and create something new and beautiful out of them. Each painting gives the viewer the opportunity to look beyond the surface and see something introspective."
You see Beyond the Surface at the Art Gallery at Florida Gulf Coast University now through December 14. Located at 10501 FGCU Boulevard S in the Arts Complex, the Art Gallery at Florida Gulf Coast University is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and Thursday evenings 4-8 p.m. For more information, please telephone 239-590-7199.