Italian artist Giuseppe Penone has been exploring the relationship between people and nature for decades with his thought-provoking sculptures and installation art. Oftentimes, this means merging parts of himself into organic objects—like trees—to portray the connection. “Tactile experience and physical contact give the true dimension of things,” Penone wrote in 1968. “Not having a direct relationship with the material, but only a concept, or an idea of making a work to match an image conceived in the mind, isn’t fertile over time—it doesn’t produce many things.”
In 1968, 21-year-old Penone experimented with a variety of materials, including wood, metal, and plaster in a series called Alpi Marittime (“Maritime Alps”). It was at this time that he installed a steel cast of his hand into a tree in the forest near his home, entitled Continuerà a crescere tranne che in quel punto (“It Will Continue to Grow Except at that Point”). By doing so, Penone forced the tree to grow around his sculpted hand for decades until its removal in 2003. “I feel the forest breathing, and hear the low, inexorable growth of the wood,” Penone said. “I match my breathing to that of the green world around me, I feel the flow of the tree around my hand placed against the trunk.”
Trees and other natural materials continue to be a major theme in the artist’s oeuvre. One of Penone’s recent exhibitions took place in 2013 at Versailles. There, he installed 20 sculptures in the gardens to create a dialogue with the landscape. Among them was an upturned bronze and steel sculpture of a tree with a live cedar sapling growing on top called Le foglie delle radici (“The Leaves of Roots”) that he placed in the Fountain of Apollo.
In 1968, Italian artist Giuseppe Penone installed a steel cast of his hand into a tree near his home in Turin, Italy.
For years, he’s continued to explore the tactile experience through nature-inspired sculptures.