A feature article titled Pillars of Inspiration in The Tennessean
Life Section
Sunday, May 27, 2001

By Carrie Ferguson

Pillars of Inspiration

Charles Brindley is enthralled by trees, and he shares that through his paintings

The serenity and strength of trees have long enraptured man.

We commune at their base, kiss under their branches, gaze up at the life they hold.

Charles Brindley is no exception to the trance, for he is drawn, almost mystically, to the architecture, force and majesty of trees. The pull for him, by his own admission, is somewhat compulsive, a bit obsessive, and it has produced nearly 200 drawings and paintings of tall oaks, handsome beeches and thick hackberries.

"The form really attracts me," Brindley says. "Some are more elegant and lineal and delicate, while others are more graphic and aggressive."

The paintings and drawings sell, Brindley says, because the viewer senses the connection between artist and subject, and of course, because we are romantic about trees.

"I think it is something that is easy to relate to," he says.

The 46-year-old father of four lives in rural Cottontown in Sumner County, where he collects arrowheads from his back yard. He drives the rural roads of Tennessee in search of trees to immortalize. He visits open fields, parks and the private properties of those who want him to pick their own special tree.

When he sets out, there isn't really an agenda. He doesn't think that he must find an oak or a beech to draw. It just happens. But when his eyes land on the trunk, the roots, the twisting branches, he knows.

"I canıt define it, or put it into words, but something happens," Brindley explains.

Brindley sets up on-site to draw, always making sure he's got his snake boots on . He stepped on a snake once and that was one snake too many. He goes back to the site five and six times, drawing for several hours at a time.

He is methodical about capturing the rough texture of bark, the reach of a branch, the tangle of roots, but as an artist, he gives himself room for interpretation.

In the process, Brindly has what he calls an "encounter experience." It's that deep, almost spiritual, knowing that he's at the right place at the right time

"It is almost a meditation refuge while I am there. I get into this state while Iım drawing. Something happens there. I think people pick up on that metaphyscial property. They may not be aware of it, but they buy it," he says.

For fear of sounding "out there," the artist, who's as firmly rooted as an old oak, adds: "This exchange, this shift of consciousness, we all have those, even if they only happen when we've had a little too much to drink." But Brindley also knows the joy he has out there in those groves of trees is a privileged one, for few people are so fortunate to make a living doing what they are meant to do.

Brindley, the youngest of four sons, was raised in Woodbine by a proper and Victorian homemaker and a Robert Mitchum-type dad whose business kept him out of town often.

"It gave me a sensitive side and a side with an edge," he says.

His mother was a piano player who encouraged her artistic child to follow his passion and Brindley did just that, studying fine art and graphic design at Middle Tennessee State University and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.

At 25, he had his first one-person show at Cheekwood; and at 41, the Tennessee State Museum had a retrospective of his work, a privilege for such a young man.

The curator of the state museum show, Stephen D. Cox, wrote in the exhibit book: "In the many layers of color typically found in Charles' paintings, there is a tremendous depth and vibrancy that draws the viewer into the subject matter." Brindley's paintings are in private collections across the country, in major corporate headquarters such as HCA, at the Belle Meade Country Club and at the State Museum.

The tree drawings and paintings grew out of his interest in landscape paintings.

"Iım not a stomp-your-foot kind of environmentalist," he explains, "I'm just trying to be an artist."

And he's about more than trees, even if he keeps coming back to them.

Brindley's work also has included staggering rock formations; ruins of brick homes with large trees growing up through the former foundations; vines growing on rickety garden stakes; strung-up antlers; his own former home, a historic house in east Nashville; and flower -covered Indian burial mounds.

Brindley says he is in awe of the silent power the mounds posses. He can feel the history there.

"It is real. It pulsates," he said.

But one that doesn't attract as much as the trees. "My buildings, people can think 'Oh, that's just a bombed-out building,' but the trees, they relate to," he says.

"The trees are something that go beyond the here and now."

To Learn More

This spring, artist Charles Brindley will begin his 200th tree drawing. For the milestone, he has selected a giant white oak on the McRedmond Farm on Mill Creek in Nashville.

Brindley, who has been painting trees for nearly twenty years, sells his work for several hundred dollars to several thousand dollars and they include small pencil-drawn prints to large oil paintings. He also has a collection of note cards and bookmarkers.

For more information, call Brindley, 230-7398.

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