Wooden fragments are unearthed from the forest floor and translated through drawing, collage, painting, and sculptural installation. The displacement of these subterranean objects exposes the way that landscape can be perceived as an entity separate from human culture, and attempts to reconstruct the symbiotic nature of our connection to the world around us. By the selective inclusion and alteration of details, the landscape becomes a malleable spine to the anatomy of a painter’s composition.

Big Vista, 4’ x 8’, oil and marker over collage on canvas, 2015
(c) Joshua Kochis

My process is a compulsive response to this disconnect. I hold a subject up close to my face and draw without looking at the paper, methodically creating a blind contour of the wooden fragment in my hand. This intense observation is a way of exploring the terrain of an object in an immersive and physical manner, of losing myself in its miniature topography. The textures of erosion become their own kind of landscape, the scale of which is altered by their translation onto a large stretch of paper or canvas. As the composition grows I trace over lines like footpaths carved into fields of grass, creating a map of my journey over small vistas. Like my ancestors, I propose a new relationship to the content and invite others to wander the Subterraneans with me. The result is a simultaneously internal and external landscape, the original forms filtered through the lens of my own perception.

I begin my paintings with photographs of the fragments I’ve collected. By collaging these images onto the canvas, I build a panorama from the details, a narrative out of moments in time. The layering of contour lines over collage is a method of translation, a gestural record of my own hand. This line drawing in pen and marker documents my small journeys in a secret language. The continued layering of color pools and contour lines recalls the formation and erosion of

the geological time scale, the painting becoming its own vista as I work, the canvas laid flat as an open frontier stretching before me.
By mixing enough solvent into my pigments, the paint becomes viscous. I spill and pour the liquid color over collage and drawing, thereby exposing the early stages of my image to the effects of wind and gravity. I tilt the canvas and rivers flow in vertical drips. I blow on small lakes, throwing spindles of color outward from the center.

I play god on the illusionistic space of my canvas and let the forces of nature shape the landscape as they see fit.Stepping back I see the Treestory unfold as a pillar descending, the fragments held up and wanting to fall but stuck there reaching down. My eyes fill in the blanks and the woodbricks are moments of time, words in a vast infinite poem that’s always been written and never will be finished. The story is about Creation but also at the same time about Erosion and how their distinction is just a matter of perspective – how everything is in a constant state of flux, all of us becoming something else, always and slowly. I want to construct the fragments of my landscape into one new vista legend, like a cut-up poem where you rearrange another writer’s words to mean something else, only the writer in this case is Nature and the new story is my own life.

It’s all about scale. It’s about making space, to stop and think about the smallness of humans in the bigness of nature. It’s about the difference between smallness and weakness. It’s about recognizing our potential, the responsibility of potential, of being the primary natural force shaping the Earth.

It’s about displacement: the effect of taking a thing from where it belongs. It’s about seeing these Subterranean fragments out of their element, away from the dirt and green leaves nodding in the wind. It’s about what they say in a blank space, white space. It’s about how white homogenizes form. How we homogenize nature, try to own it, put it in a pot or inside a glass case. It’s about how “wood” is different than “the woods”. It’s about looking at each moment of the story unfolding all around, each crumbling fragment as its own kind of vista, the only frontiers left unexplored and unknown. It’s about letting our imaginations unfold.

Treestory is about putting the pieces back together. It is an attempt to reconstruct the fragmentary elements of our reality into one cohesive whole. It’s about the tension of our relationship with the environment. It’s about the grand narrative in layers of earth beneath our feet. The story is about a tree, my tree, but also our tree. The human tree. Anthropocene tree. We are part of the Story, roots of our own stories, each of us a tree in the vast infinite broken forest of this culture. We are implicated in the formation of the next chapter. What will we write? ɷ

Joshua Kochis grew up in the suburban forests of Southeast Michigan. He has always had busy hands. He received his BFA from the Penny Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan in 2015, where he focused in painting, sculpture, printmaking, installation, and creative writing. He is inspired by the forms and textures of nature and can be found wandering in the woods, climbing trees and digging things up from the ground. His practice is focused on creating images, objects, and installations in collaboration with the natural world. Joshua is currently living and working in Detroit, MI. Email: jakvista1@gmail.com