Danny Custodio: Trees

By Jean Dykstra, December 4, 2013

Danny Custodio, Tecumseh St., 2010. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Kayafas

From the majestic honey locust trees dotting the battlefields at Gettysburg to the more humble arboreal urban survivors entwining themselves around chain-link fences, trees have a lot to teach us about patience and resilience. Canadian photographer Danny Custodio adds a novel chapter to this continuing saga by turning his observant lens on his hometown.

Danny Custodio, Welland Canal Pkwy. #2, 2013. Courtesy the artist and Gallery Kayafas

Once composed mostly of farmland, St. Catharines, Ontario, today supports extensive housing tracts and is a way station along the telecommunication highway between Canada and the US. To make way for the massive power lines stretching across the landscape, city workers are dispatched each spring to prune the encroaching limbs from neighborhood trees. They freely hack through the middle or lop off an entire side of a tree making coexistence between humans and nature a bittersweet arrangement. Despite this extreme pruning, the trees are flourishing resulting in bizarre forms that resemble topiaries on steroids. In this show on view in November at Gallery Kayafas, Custodio forced viewers to reconcile with what remains of the leafy splendor by composing the tree’s negative space against an overcast sky and a view of the manicured streets below. A large ash on Tecumsah St, its center removed, appears to be spreading a pair of leaf-covered wings, trying in vain to extricate itself from its rooted existence. A maple tree on Welland Canal Parkway recalls an oversized burgundy crescent moon and the top of a tree on Grantham Street with its left side chopped off, resembles a beast peering over electrical wires toward a distant land. Blue recycling containers and a bird house visible alongside the houses point to an environmentally conscious community, making the harsh terms inflicted upon their neighborhood trees appear even more paradoxical. By witnessing their resilience, Custodio restores some dignity to these otherwise tragic and comic survivors.