Rugging up: Boerum Hill artist weaves photos into prayer rugs

Rugging up: Boerum Hill artist weaves photos into prayer rugs
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

This artist mixes the spiritual with the arboreal.

In his new show “Prayer Rugs,” Charles Heppner photographs and weaves together images of trees to create beautiful graphics that resemble the intricate patterns of religious rugs.

Heppner’s work is inspired by the prayer rugs Muslims sit or kneel on during religious ceremonies. He arranges his stark photos of shrubbery to look like the center part of these rugs, known as the “medallion.” But, the photographer admitted, he takes some artistic liberties.

“Interestingly, prayer rugs are directional; they have a point on them to point towards Mecca,” said Heppner, whose work currently on view at Boerum Hill gallery and gift store Grumpy Bert. “However, the trees in the photographs are pointing everywhere.”

Heppner, who calls himself “a hippie Catholic,” succeeds in casting a spiritual light upon outdoor scenery. His works sends a deeper message that spirituality is embedded in the beauty of nature.

“The concept is thinking of the works as offerings of gratitude to the trees,” said Heppner. “Prayer rugs put emphasis on the sanctity of the trees.”

Even for the non-religious, Heppner’s photography still encourages an appreciation for nature, with titles such as “Giving Thanks” and “Circle of Life.”

The Boerum Hill resident, who will also give a talk on his work at Grumpy Bert on Feb. 27, said many of the trees in his pieces were photographed in Brooklyn. Brooklynites might recognize the pretty pink-petaled trees in “Weeping Cherry Blossom” from the Brooklyn Botanic Garden’s annual Sakura Matsuri festival.

“Most of the trees were shot on streets in my neighborhood or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and a couple in California and Texas, but this project started when I moved to Brooklyn a year and a half ago,” said Heppner.

As the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined — the nature-loving artist was raised in the Beverly Hills neighborhood of Chicago, where topiary was aplenty.

“I grew up in a home where outdoor activity was encouraged,” said the artist, who has been photographing trees for 20 years. “I was definitely outdoors a lot climbing trees as a kid.”

“Prayer Rugs: Arboreal Photography” at Grumpy Bert [82 Bond St. between Atlantic Avenue and State Street in Boerum Hill, (347) 855–4849, www.grumpybert.com]. Through March 16. “A Conversation with Artist Charles Heppner” at Grumpy Bert, Feb. 27 at 7:30 pm. Free, but donations appreciated.