Branching Out

Houston artist Joan Laughlin’s haunting nature portraits go on display at the Jung Center.

By Nick Esquer August 28, 2015

3 nno5q1

Houston is known for its lush greenery, kudzu and bayous weaving their way throughout the city. The overgrown, ambling lawns and bushes, the thick roots from oak trees punching up through the concrete, makes it look like nature is constantly trying to reclaim its home. For one Houstonian, artist Joan Laughlin, this chaotic nature takeover is pure art in motion.

“I love nature’s resilience here in Houston. Mother Nature always wins,” says the painter, whose latest exhibit, The Forest and the Trees, running Sept. 3 through Sept. 29 at Jung Center. Laughlin puts oil to panel in her portraits of fallen trees, shattered pinecones and tangled thickets. The portraits blend realism with abstract, enticing the reader to look a little more closely as the subjects seem to decompose the closer one gets.

Dsc02494 q2t5eh

Laughlin, who teaches art at HCC this fall, began putting brush to canvas for this project in 2012 after gathering inspiration from her travels. While vacationing in Ireland in 2007, Laughlin noted that the large and old trees covering the terrain caught her attention.

“It was a turning point for me, in my work,” she notes. There was something haunting about them as they writhed and twisted in the Emerald Isle’s lush setting.

Fast forward to 2011 when Laughlin hiked through the forests of New Hampshire. While Houston was in the middle of a devastating drought, the artist was in the middle of ample greenery, the trees poking the sky above her. That was enough for her to begin her three-year journey into the art project set to be unveiled at Jung.

Laughlin  joan  conception  9x12in. oilpanel bkmygx

“It’s interesting to see the cycle of life in nature,” she says. “Seeing the cycle of life, the decomposition and all the sprouts—it’s inspiring.”

For now, amid the stoplights and tall buildings and concrete jungle, Laughlin is taking inspiration where ever, and however, she can get it. “I head to the Houston Arboretum now. It’s not much, but it’s interesting to have this piece of nature right here in our city.”

The Forest and the Trees. Opening reception, Saturday, Sept. 12. 5. Jung Center, 5200 Montrose Blvd. 713-524-8253.