Walls Talk: Rick Vian’s Trees of Life

Detroit artist Rick Vian takes a leaf from nature in his landscapes

Although much of artist Rick Vian’s recent work has been more abstract, trees have been an inspiration for the grid-like designs that have been his trademark for decades. “What really interests me about trees is that they grow according to a certain structure, and each species of tree has a different growth habit,” Vian says. “Even without the leaves, you can tell an oak tree from two blocks away just by the shapes it makes.”

Water is another recurring theme in Vian’s work, and November Remembered (5 1/2-by-13 1/2 inches, oil on panel) combines the two natural elements. Completed in the late ’90s, Remembered is one of Vian’s more representational works in a series depicting Lake Superior near Copper Harbor on a November day. “It was windy and there were waves and the sky was a steel gray, which caused the lake to turn a very dark green in the deep places,” Vian says. “This is an actual depiction of the way things looked.”

Vian’s other, more abstract works inspired by that November day focus on the colors of the lake and the “feel” of the weather. “I’ve been going back and forth between abstraction and representation for 30 years,” Vian says.

Recently, he’s been trying to reconcile the two. “I’m doing things now that you can tell what they are — you can tell it’s a tree painting — even though it’s pretty abstract,” he says. “I have the freedom of the abstraction, but I still have the actual object to provide the connection to.”

A teacher for nearly 30 years who got his start as an artist in Detroit’s Cass Corridor, Vian also instructs foundation drawing and landscape painting at the College for Creative Studies.

Vian’s work, including November Remembered, is available at Robert Kidd Gallery, 107 Townsend St., Birmingham; 248-642-3909, robertkiddgallery.com.

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