German cultural history is intricately linked to the forest in various ways. Beginning with the Germanic tribes who revered trees as seats of the gods, the forest was particularly glorified as a place of longing during the Romantic era. The forest symbolizes peace and relaxation, and its fragile ecological balance serves as a visible metaphor for humanity’s natural livelihood, which we are threatening to destroy in the 21st century. The drought years of recent times, which have transformed forests into lunar landscapes with skeletal trees, are the most visible evidence that man-made climate catastrophe is indeed occurring. Thirty-four artists showcase a wide range of artistic expressions in their works, inspired by their engagement with the complex and highly topical theme of the forest. October 16th to November 28th, 2021

Forest Near Baernfels, oil on canvas, 165 x 330 cm, 2021

View to Mount Altenburg, oil on canvas, 30 x 42 cm, 2021

Healing Stones Jesserndorf, oil on canvas, 30 x 42 cm, 2020

Chapel of the Miserable Saints, Kemmern, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm, 2021

View from Leienfels Castle, oil on canvas, 31 x 42 cm, 2021

The forest is both microcosm and macrocosm, habitat and landscape, shaping our perception of space. To do justice to these different perspectives, Thomas Michel explores the theme of forest delight in both small and large formats, as well as the tension that arises from this difference in scale. The small-scale paintings of Franconian landscapes depict an outsider’s view of the forest, the boundary between urbanity and nature. Inspired by German Romanticism, the images address human intervention and encroachment into nature, as well as traces and relics of human civilization that nature reclaims and overgrows in an eternal cycle of formation and decay. Various seasons and times of day, along with the associated different lighting moods, are emphasized.

In contrast, the large-scale triptych “Forest near Baernfels” suggests to the viewer, through its size, the sensation of standing in the middle of the forest in a labyrinth of trees. It depicts a typical monoculture of spruces and a classic example of man-made nature. The image exudes a meditative calm but also an ambivalence between security and loss, between freedom and captivity. The forest appears endless and without a way out, hopeless. The composition is characterized by contrasts, between the vertical rhythm of trees reaching towards the sky and the horizontal lines of the forest floor, spreading out like a carpet of needles and moss before the viewer. The hardness of the trees meets the softness of the ground.

Groundedness and spiritual longing are metaphorically combined in this composition of contrasts to represent human existence. Light and shadow are balanced, the tree shadows move like the hands of a clock, reminding one of the transience of life. Dead and living matter are in a fragile balance; as the viewer traverses the image, they wonder whether the trees are dead or budding anew. Stepping into the forest, the viewer becomes the protagonist of a deserted stage with no way out, becoming a part of nature suspended between life and death. Yet on the horizon, there is light.