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Artist Tristram Aver is Raising Awareness of Austerity and Autism Through His Native British Trees Series

30 October 18 interview: Bridie Squires

Tristram Aver is a father, artist and curator who recently used lino-printing techniques to create 1,000 prints in one day, all on his tod, to raise money and awareness for Autism East Midlands and The Woodland Trust. An extension of his Native British Trees series, the project delves into topics ranging from austerity and war, to sustainability and mental health. We sat down with Tristram beneath the yellowing Victoria Park leaves to find out what's rustling in his brain crevices...

What is Native British Trees about?
Austerity cuts and their impact, and how our actions overseas have long-term effects on us. Through research around our arms exports, the work became anti war too. We’re spending more on arms exports and manufacturing than we are on our own woodland, and our own people.

When did you first think about using trees to highlight these issues?
During the 2011 UK riots, there was a lot of explosive iconography in the media, and I was really drawn to it. Then I found paintings from the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth century that had exact profiles of trees within them. About two years ago I started comparing the images alongside each other which conjured a little mushroom cloud, and I started to see these beautiful oak trees.

The latest branch of the series, 1,000 Native British Trees, depicts sensory overload for someone with autism. How do you see the project in relation to the rest of the work?
It’s a connection to my own life rather than the, probably-pessimistic, way I see the political world. I wanted to give something back through the problems I’ve experienced as a father of somebody with autism, and seeing first-hand how cuts have an effect on people we’ve met through our journey with our daughter. Even though awareness is getting better, the resources are dwindling, if not non-existent, for people. It all stems back to NHS cuts.

When did you realise that spending time with trees could be beneficial to your daughter?
She’s got a speech and language disorder. We realised she wasn’t speaking, and she created her own little language in a way. We’re now communicating with her and each other through these weird little translations from her world. She finds it incredibly hard to speak normally. One sunny-but-cold day we went to Belton House. We were sitting down on a bench outside having a sandwich, and just out of nowhere she started telling us about things she liked, about a dream she had, and about something she wanted to do the next day.

We were filled with total emotion, because it was the first time we’d had a conversation with her. As a parent of a child with autism, you do take the rough with the smooth; you have incredible, euphoric days of joy and you have dark days where everyone's at war with emotions, but that moment made us stop in our tracks and realise that our environment can be calming for her. It’s a way of filtering out the noise of the world.

Your experiences with your daughter inspired you to make 1,000 prints in a day to raise money for Autism East Midlands and The Woodland Trust. That must have hurt your hands.
I slowly realised it was going to be a bugger. 21 hours of endurance in the end. It was hard. I can’t remember the last two hours. The wine came out because by that point I needed a stimulant. It was a blur. You just go into robot mode, it’s like factory work; you’re in your routine and you’re thinking about something else. I got through some box sets.

We’re spending more on arms exports and manufacturing than we are on our own woodland, and our own people

You’re also making people aware that England’s woodlands are at risk and our oak trees are on the way out.
There are lot of high-profile tree-felling protests happening at the moment. Without wanting to sound like a massive tree-hugger, they feed us, they protect us, they keep us warm, they help us breathe, they filter out carbon monoxide. What benefit is there to taking down trees? Okay, take a tree, but replant it. With oak trees, it takes so long for them to grow, and they’re just not being planted enough.

How did you consider the use of materials in the prints? You’ve used renewable resources like cork, for example.
You don’t knock a tree down to use cork, you just take the bark off of it and it grows back, so it’s sustainable. The lino sheet itself is compressed cork in linseed oil. It’s estimated that more than 100,000 trees a year are felled to make Britain’s coffee cups, so originally I was going to make it from them, but they were much harder to source.

The paint is water-based and therefore environmentally friendly. The “plastic wrap” for the print is compostable, it’s made from corn starch. Down to the paper, it can all be recycled.

What else have you got coming up?
I’m currently creating a book of the work I’ve done in the last two years, which covers Native British Trees in its entirety. I see that as a beginning and an end. I want to get back to painting again. This year I’ve done pyrography, scraper boards, and a kind-of sun-exposed printing, so we’ll see, who knows?

Was there anything else you wanted to say to LeftLion readers?
Love your green spaces. We’ve got some wonderful places, and the city are focussing more attention into our parks at the moment which is really great to see. I’ve seen parks and playgrounds re-instigated throughout the city, and Highfields is being done up. Use them or lose them. Maybe that's too negative to end on. What about “You wanna breathe? Keep your trees.”

Tristram Aver’s 1,000 Native British Trees are available online, and at a pop-up exhibition at Leicester Print Workshop from Saturday 3 - Sunday 4 November. The prints cost £10 each, with the aim of raising £10,000 for Autism East Midlands and The Woodland Trust.

Tristram Aver website

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