Tree, Broken Tree

Mortimer, Dylan

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Visual Arts

Genre: Multimedia

Annotated by:
Lam, MD, Gretl
  • Date of entry: Feb-03-2020
  • Last revised: Feb-03-2020


A tree, colored in pink glitter and outlined in red, stands alone. Two of the main branches are cleaved apart, and green glitter oozes from the wound. This does not look like normal tree sap; the yellow-green color is purulent, and the glitter gives it a toxic glowing effect. Two of the three branches droop weakly towards the ground.  The tree is sickly, possibly dying.  

Because the tree is mounted on a white background, with the tips of branches curling lightly off the panel, the piece also recalls a scientific specimen mounted on display. Those who are familiar with lung anatomy will note how the tree trunk recalls the trachea, and the branches recall bronchi. The pink and red coloring reinforces the idea that this isn’t merely a tree, but also lung tissue.


Dylan Mortimer is an artist who has cystic fibrosis – a genetic disease that causes abnormal chloride transport across epithelial surfaces (such as in the lungs and the GI tract), leading to abnormally thick secretions that impair organ function. In the lungs, this leads to chronic respiratory infection, progressive respiratory impairment, and ultimately respiratory failure. Although Dylan Mortimer’s disease advanced in this way, he was fortunate enough to receive a life-saving lung transplant (actually two lung transplants, after the first transplant was lost to rejection).  

He not only creates art about the challenges of cystic fibrosis, with broken lungs and purulent mucus, but also about his gratitude for the lung transplants and their gift of life. The tree is not only an anatomically accurate analogy for lung structure, but also a powerful symbol for life. His use of glitter underlines a sense of joy and hope. In his words, as told to the Washington Post, “I’m taking scars and wounds and making them bright and shiny.”