“The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.”
― William Blake
For those of you that aren’t familiar with tree surgery, easily considered to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, it is the job allocated to a tree surgeon and involves climbing trees for the purposes of pruning, removal or repair. This arduous occupation is not only extremely risky, but requires a person with an ardent love for nature and the long-term care of maintaining our beautiful flora. Adam Birch is a tree surgeon. But not just any tree surgeon. He is also an artist with a keen eye for beauty in nature and turns the trees that don’t make it through surgery, into the most exquisite, limited edition sculptures and furniture, giving the tree an opportunity to live eternally.
Woodsman and sculptor, Adam Birch was born on a farm in Somerset West and spent most of his time outdoors. He describes his childhood as being “wild” and loved running amok in the forests, swimming in dams, fishing and horse-riding. This fervent love of nature stuck with him into adulthood and even now, living in the picturesque seaside town of Kalk Bay, he spends most of his days outside. The idea of tree surgery, however, was not something he considered as an occupation, and not even something he knew about until he had finished his studies at university in 2000. “I was surfing pretty much full-time after I finished my Fine Art degree at university and crashed my car one day, so I had to get a job to repair it. I answered an ad for a tree climber, without having a clue why anyone would be paid to climb trees. I started the next day and did it for 7 months. A few years later I started my own tree surgery company called Inditree,” he says.
Birch has an incredible eye for symmetry in nature and, not long into his apprenticeship, he started playing with the off-cuts of trees and turning them into the most incredible sculptures. “I pruned off a fork that was perfectly symmetrical and thought it was a striking shape. I enjoy working with the first fork of a tree because of the interesting patterns in the grain of the timber, where one set of concentric rings becomes two,” he recalls. His work, described as contemporary functional sculpture, is unique and striking. The natural shape of each piece of timber Birch works with informs his sculptural approach to it and the essence of the individual tree is present in each of his designs. Because no two trees are the same, these one-off pieces have a whole story to tell and the journey that they took to become refined and urbane artworks is remarkable. “I start with a chainsaw to get the rough shape, then use various hand tools, chisels, adzes, spokeshaves, and files to complete the desired design. I think that one of the things that attracts people to my work is the smooth finish I get from hours of sanding the works down to a glass-like finish. People are often surprised to see and feel such large pieces of timber, so well finished,” he explains.
It didn’t take long before Birch’s work was noticed and admired by the public and he has achieved fame both nationally and internationally for his distinctive, sophisticated furniture and sculpture work. He has exhibited at Paris Design week, Anthropology in both the UK and the United States, Johannesburg Art fair, Southern Guild in Cape Town and does a fair amount of commissioned work for a leading international interior design company. His passion for his work is something that truly makes him stand out and it is inspiring to say the least and his focus on creating functional art works enables the timber the long life it deserves. “I get very attached to all the pieces that I have done. I often feel reluctant to sell my work once it is completed, because I fall in love with them while I work on them,” he says. “I like the juxtaposition of the raw unfinished exterior of the timber against the carved and polished surfaces. Most of my work is functional and is designed to be used as seating or seating or furniture of some kind. I enjoy exposing the grain of each piece in new and unusual ways. I love working with timber as no two pieces are ever the same. Each different species has its own traits that affect the way each tool reacts with the wood.”
Described as being a “tribute to nature” and a “reincarnation of the tree”, his pieces, which emody a minimalist function as benches, chairs, day-beds and tables in unique sculptural forms, really allow the beauty inherent in the wood speak for itself. Birch is an inspiration and a true sustainable artist who is also living proof of ones name being a defining factor in ones vocation. According to Celtic tradition, the birch tree asks us to “shine, take hold, express your creative expanse, and light the way so that others may follow.”
For more information on this incredible artist, visit his website www.adambirch.co.za.
TEXT © Julie Graham