“I see men as trees, walking” is a quote from the King James Bible, Gospel of Mark, which describes the Miracle of Bethsaida. When Jesus cures the blind man he asks, what do you see? The blind man replies, “I see men as trees, walking”. Man and tree merge together. It is also the title of a Jonny Cash song.
Combining these references sheds light on the complex of meaning in Lucas Reiner’s trees. The biblical quote refers to the traditions and myths of the sacred wood, the tree of life, and the transcendent beauty of nature. The Johnny Cash reference recognizes the solitary urban cowboy, surviving on city streets, aspect of Reiner’s trees.
Appropriately, for the city of angels, there is a classic painting part to Reiner’s trees. The tradition found in the Italian masters, of painting the lamentation and exultation of angels. In Italian painting these angels float in the vault of heaven. In Reiner’s painting the trees stand facing the vault of heaven.
As central and as beautiful as the trees are in Reiner’s work it is also necessary to address the vault of heaven, the void and light that are also a subject in Reiner’s painting. In this vein Reiner is very much part of the American West tradition, connecting to the clear and Eden like light in Bierstadt paintings of the Grand Canyon as well as its actual optic manifestation in the work of James Turrell and the California Light and Space school. In Reiner this “vault of heaven” is both beautiful and hauntingly empty. His trees stand before it in lamentation and exultation.