By Rachel Cooke
Art Bermondsey Project Space; V&A, London
Three complementary exhibitions reveal the calming qualities of trees and their rich symbolic possibilities
The Arborealists are a loose collective of artists who like to paint trees. They came together in 2013, though at whose behest, exactly, I'm unable to say: not only is the catalogue that accompanies their first London show one of the most confusing such documents ever written, but on the afternoon of my visit there is no information on its walls either – not even the names of the artists (though I'm told this will soon be rectified). What I can say is that they take some of their inspiration from the Brotherhood of Ruralists, the 70s anti-modernist group of which Peter Blake and David Inshaw were probably the most famous members: their instincts are, in other words, broadly Romantic, though this doesn't preclude the possibility of abstraction in their work.
Challenging as an exhibition like this is to review effectively (it includes the disparate work of some 22 Arborealists), as a tonic for calm it works like a dream, the artistic equivalent of the Japanese practice of forest bathing. Yes, it has its sinister corners, not least Joanna Greenhill‘s 2015 film Grey Cranham, in which a pair of headlights appear in the darkness at the edge of a forest (it plays on a loop in the basement); and a couple of the canvases, all twirling roots and amber halos, do bring to mind, rather unfortunately, the covers of old prog rock albums. But for the most part, the room is inspiritingly lush, a verdant realm in a more than usually urban patch of London.