One of my artist friends asked "Who are those two boys wearing striped pajamas"? What are those two dancers doing? What are all those ropes? And what's going on with the green balls? Before I answer these questions, let's read what a college student, Shannon, wrote about the painting when it was on exhibit at the Thorndike Gallery at Southern Oregon University (see blog of 4/27/2012):
"This gouache piece is a colorful and playful idea that shows two individuals crawling around in a zoo of vines and roots. ....it made me think of hiking around in the thicket and having very limited movements. The painting is rather surreal, and I think there are several ways to interpret it. It looks, at times, as if the characters are circus folk performing in a tree's root system. It also resembles a network of capillaries or a microscopic vision of the layers beneath the skin. If this was the artist's intent, it is interesting that she juxtaposes what seem to be antigenes and the playful circus characters. ....it is one of those paintings that one could look at all their life and find different meanings. Maybe the figures are [in tune with] the external forces of nature. Maybe nature is their playground. Although the figures are the focal point of the piece, they might not be the subject, since the artist did not present any detail in their faces. Perhaps ... the artist wanted to make these characters simply general people."
"Trebouxia arboricola" lichen, vertical cross-sectionAnd now for my answers: Imagine yourself being tiny enough to move inside a lichen, shown in vertical cross-section in the painting. A lichen is actually two organisms that live in symbiotic relationship: algae and fungus.In this leaf-shape lichen, the "balls" are one-celled algae that contain chlorophyll and produce sugars. The "ropes" are the filamentous structure of the fungus that wraps around the algae, absorbing food from the algae and, in exchange, protecting the algae from drying out. The orange upper layer is made of thick-walled cells, and and the bottom layer is what attaches the lichen to the tree, rock or soil that it is growing on.
And in between, yes, the acrobats find themselves in a thicket of vine-like structures with living green balls coming to greet them. Like any Cirque du Soleil acrobat, they start playing.
Lichen from "Science" magazine cover, September 2, 2008