The self-portrait features repeatedly in Plensa´s work. In the sculptures that comprise Heart of Trees they are slightly over life size, with their arms and legs wrapped around a tree trunk. The physical act of embracing is often seen in the artis´s
work and reflects his desire to connect with people and to reassert the importance of touch.
Heart of Trees relates to the cycle of life that is very evident in the growth of a tree, which germinates in soil, grows and flourishes, then dies, decays and returns to the soil to support new saplings. Transformation is the central concept and
again reveals Plensa´s interest in the way that something exceptional can be produced from a simple beginning, ant that base matter can give life to something infinitely more elaborate. This relationship mirrors the pairing of body and soul, the body being material and limited in scope, and the soul being immaterial and boundless. As the tree grows we can imagine that it may either break the shackles of the body that surrounds it, or be smothered by it; a conflict that represents the relationship between body and soul.
“I sculpted a character looking like me that is kissing a tree. This self-portrait is covered, shaped, tattooed by text. I have often referred to this tree as an evocation of alchemy, ie the transformation of lead into gold. The transformation is poetic here. I expressed the idea that it was possible to create beauty from nothing; to transcend matter itself. In this context, trees are a fundamental image for alchemists. The roots are in dead matter, minerals, earth, and they are able to create life. The trunk is like a bridge; and the branches are a link to the cosmos.
The philosophical tree was represented as growing out of a man´s sex and a woman´s head. Alchemists claimed that when humans died, dead matter gave birth to a new life. The tree was a metaphor for transformation. In my sculptures, I incorporated a real tree that keeps growing while the sculpture remains still. It is rooted in the ground, as we are. Our body is a prison, but our soul keeps growing, like a tree. I always wonder: what happens to the soul? Will it grow over us? Will it eat our body, as the trees will end up eating my sculpture´s face? I specially covered or tattooed all these figures with names of composers. Seven notes so seven portraits. Musicians also have a tremendous capacity to transform things into a very abstract material, into untouchable things like energy or the soul.”