The Boston Globe, September 21, 2000

"Forest From Trees"


Prilla Smith Brackett has spent a lot of time in the past few years hiking in New England’s old-growth forests. She photographs the ancient trees, and uses her photos as a source for her paintings and drawings, on view at the Watson Fine Arts Center at Wheaton College.

There isn’t much old-growth forest left in New England. Brackett may as well be painting a panda or a snow leopard, some animal bound for extinction; the work can’t help but to be charged with poignance and politics. Brackett loves trees. You can see that in the way her lines caress roots and branches; in the way even small details light her imagination breaks apart each work. “Silent Striving” groups small paintings into a grid, interspersing details from old-growth forests with details of urban trees: the way a root burrows beneath a sidewalk; the skeletal stretch of dead branches into lake water. The grid of paintings is filled with intersections – those in its structure and those within the works of crossed branches and cast shadows.

The result is both a sense of network and a sense of fracture. The latter plays large in the other drawings and paintings, each presented as if seen through shards on glass. In drawings like “Remnants: Communion No. 9,” Brackett collages two images together: The sweep of branches along the water collide with the side of the building, shadowed by a pine tree. The format distances the viewer, refusing to lull us into a pretty forest picture. It also focuses us in an unsettling way, insisting that we see what is right in front of us, which we are so prone to ignore.

They all tell the same, never ending story – city tree and country tree, noble and gnarled in their persistence despite our efforts to crowd them out.