This week, I started painting some subject matter I've never tackled before: the American landscape, eventually to become a series of paintings of the National Parks!
It's sort of strange, but I think my ever-inherent sense of wanderlust has prevented me from ever really thinking about seeing the country in which I was born. I've always had a strong passion for seeing the world and experiencing different cultures, but I never really even thought much about experiencing the beauty that's right here in the US.
Pretty big oversight on my part, because it's obviously magnificent. This year I'll visit what I think will be my first National Park, Olympic in Washington state, and I'm really excited about that. I think going to Peru- into the Andes Mountains, into so much wild, uncharted territory in general- opened my eyes (and my heart) to a lot of new revelations about what nature can actually do for the soul of a person, as it's experienced and felt. Pretty crazy to think I'd never really done that in my life before relatively recently, but I think it's characteristic of me, once something really takes my heart, to commit to it fully and never turn back.
Books have always been a big indicator of where my heart is for me, and I've always gravitated naturally toward Emerson, Thoreau, Frost, Goethe, Hawthorne; sort of more transcendental writers in general, with a sense for the depth of the spirit of man. I have many distinct memories of falling in love with literature, which has so shaped my life, one of which is finding my dad's copy of Whitman's Leaves of Grass in our basement and taking it to my room to read for hours when I was twelve. Even then it seemed true to me that there was something both internal and eternal about knowing your place in the grander scheme of a world to which you are merely a visitor.
Right now I am watching an incredible PBS series about National Parks, and much of it is centered around John Muir, another amazing writer and naturalist who played an important role in founding and preserving the American wilderness.
To listen to his writings, to hear his motivations for sending man out into nature; 'spiritual' is almost an understatement to describe him, and the way he thought and was. I wrote here some weeks ago his words: 'no synonym for God is so perfect as beauty,' and I feel there could be nothing more true, or concrete. I think creating art has brought me to an incredible reverence for God, for seeing the concept of creation in all things. There is something about experiencing beauty that is wild, rare, pure, and life-changing; it stirs most people on a level on which they are not regularly accustomed to feeling.
I have realized slowly, over time, in looking out into the world- at people, at nature; and good and at evil- that there is some underlying force in the hearts of people, and they are either submersed in the reality that they, their very existence, is sacred- or they are not aware of it at all, and the most ultimate reality for them is work, houses, children, spouses, jobs, comfort, television, entertainment, money, possessions, things like this alone, or foremost; with maybe occasional attempts to apply spirituality to their lives, when the ultimate view is of course that there is no need: it is ever-present, or it is a mimicry of an invented- and not an all-pervasive, self-evident- sense of God.
When I lean into the process of creating, it shows me how pieces of things are put together, and when I can figure out how pieces go together, the end, the result, is a lot easier not necessarily to see, but to trust. Creativity- true, free living- is a process of faith in and of itself: to see the pieces, and to see the way they fit together, and to trust that way.
Even before I ever painted I looked at paintings (those of other people) and sort of dissected them into parts, wondering how each component was placed- in what specific order, did this speck of color go down before that one, where did the artist even start- and when you do this you start to see things newly, and you gain an insight into not only the thing itself, the painting, but the Creator, hidden in the work all along, whose very characteristics are delightfully more beautiful and than anything He makes.