One of Brent Comber’s earliest memories is as a young boy chopping wood from fallen trees. He remembers the sound of the splitting wood, the weight of the axe, and the effort it took to break the wood apart. Years later, Comber was given wood from old growth trees that had fallen during a fateful storm in Vancouver’s renowned Stanley Park. Combined with the human desire to “fix” what had been destroyed, the artist re-assembled the split wood into a dynamic Shattered Sphere, symbolizing the transformation of a community’s sadness into a reverent artwork.
When Brent Comber was given wood from one of Canada’s oldest known trees located near the Capilano River in North Vancouver BC, he did not realize that working with this ancient material would have such a profound effect on him. The powerful history of that tree inspired him to look backward in time. Over the centuries, many different communities inhabited the area. Working with this significant material triggered a desire to create art that would engage people’s curiosity while also revealing the story of the tree. A sphere came to mind.
The sphere represents volume and three-dimensional space. It is also symbolic of the Earth, the atmosphere and the planets. One of the characteristics of a sphere that first resonated with the artist was that every point is equal distance from the centre, and there are no distinct sides. Comber wanted to give equal importance to all parts of the tree, from the oldest layer of decay, to the active growing layer, to the age rings and the sapwood. He wanted to capture the void left behind by the rot, drawing attention to the empty space.
For Comber, an ideal community recognizes everyone’s voice. The Solid Sphere honours every part of the whole and represents the process of transformation, urging us to consider what something once was and what it has now become.
Inspired by the experience of walking in the dense coastal forests near his home, Brent Comber desires to reveal throughout this work the story of how it feels for one to walk in a forest that is constantly changing due to light piercing through the forest canopy. Alder was a natural choice for material since it is important in the regeneration of a healthy forest. It grows quickly, densely and contributes to the shifting light in a forest.
The Alder Disk represents revitalization, as every stick and branch from alder trees is carefully carved and bundled together to form something beyond the material itself. By drawing attention to the spaces between wood placements, as well as the varying colours the wood itself, the disk acknowledges the shifting experience of the forest. With the disk oriented horizontally, the viewer is drawn to the rhythm and patterns that emerge at eye level. The slight convex shape of the disk changes the way the light falls across the piece so that it will read in varying degrees, depending on the angle viewed.
Sentinel offers us a glimpse of another world, sharing the wisdom that is held within the wood. The inside of each tree has been hollowed out, forming a crescent moon shell that highlights the knots and gnarls of the wood. In order to acknowledge the journey of the tree, Comber has applied a special translucent white wash to highlight the characteristics of the bark, or skin, of the tree.
Positioned in a circle, The Nine Sentinels appear ghostly and ethereal as they seem to root themselves back into the ground. Every sculpture represents the elders, or ancient ones, in a community, imparting knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation. Each work is roughly 9 feet tall, and they are oriented 6 feet on centre with a distance of 18 feet, as you travel around the outer edge. The number nine has strong mythological connections, including the 9 muses in Greek mythology who reveal wisdom and inspiration, and the 9 worlds in Norse mythology, where the tree of life sits at the centre of the worlds. By representing the Sentinels in multiples of 3, this collection is paying tribute to the stories of the past.
The transmission of knowledge occurs when wisdom is passed from one entity to another. Within the circle, you will notice that your voice is altered, since the carved out Sentinels reflect sound in a different way. The Nine Sentinels allude to the conversation that occurs within the forest, honouring the relationship between the trees and inviting the viewer to partake in the silent conversation.