After working as an illustrator for advertising and literary agencies in New York City, Peter Fiore decided it was time for a career change and became a painter. For the past 15 years, he has painted the same trees in a stretch of protected national forest that runs along the Delaware River near Milford, Pennsylvania. Here, Fiore discusses why trees are like people and how the woods are a metaphor for life.
“The pine trees series came about because of a car accident that I was in. It was pretty serious—the car flipped six times, and I busted up my lower back, broke all the ribs on my right side, and damaged my right shoulder. I couldn’t paint for quite a while after that. To pass the time, I would walk down by the Delaware River that is a part of the national park system. I began to take walks into an area where there were all these pine trees. I started to look at and photograph them. They were very symbolic of people, like individual portraits. One day I went back, and a tree that I had repeatedly returned to had been burned. It turns out, the federal government had done a burn-off to stimulate forest growth. The tree was scarred and blackened. It was horrifying at first, but wonderful to watch the tree come back stronger over time. That was a great metaphor in terms of life continually healing and moving on. I was attuned to these trees as living things and individuals, instead of, ‘Oh, those are just trees on the side of the road.’ It became a specific project; it was one tree and variations of it in the handling of the light and color. It was an exploration of what the motif could become—not necessarily what I saw, but how I could create different moods through one single tree.
These trees occupy everyone’s life up here. You can’t drive five minutes without going through sections of the national forest. People come up to canoe in the summer and ski in the winter, but I’m here all the time. You start to take things for granted and lose the specifics of things, because you’re busy living your life. For me, this is my career. I’ve dedicated a lot of the past 15 years to these trees and painting the northeast corridor. It becomes very profound. When you walk in the pine forest and you’re standing among the trees—cut off from the rest of the world in terms of noise and light pollution—there’s no evidence of anything else except yourself being there. Is this a pine forest from 10,000 years ago or is it a forest from the future? To me, it’s a self-sustaining environment that keeps going, and always comes back stronger. Trees are like people in that regard, which is why the series resonates with me.”