Living in the time of COVID is a confusing mess. Art can help us untangle that experience.
This past year of COVID isolation has presented us with one of the most unexpected and challenging existential crises of our times: Just what exactly is the human experience without connection to others and moreover to the natural world? My latest gallery, currently hanging at Fulton Crossing Gallery in Santa Rosa, CA, explores that theme.
I’ve been fortunate to maintain the social aspect of my humanity by sharing four walls with a beautiful wife, daughter, and recently acquired pandemic-puppy. However, my relationship with the natural world which I usually experience and express through travel, rock climbing, and regular family camping, has been complicated by the pandemic. Staring at the walls, I’ve often found myself reliving an experience from my childhood in which I first really experienced a starry night.
I was perhaps 7 or 8 years old, standing on the deck of my father’s fishing boat on a clear and moonless night. Out on the Pacific Ocean, miles away from civilization, the night sky is impossibly black and the stars mesmerizingly bright - like someone has cleaned a window you didn’t know was dirty. Under the immensity of that view I suddenly felt the reality of our fragile existence on this tiny mote of a planet. It was utterly overwhelming.
This experience is, of course, not unique, and there’s a handy word for it on our language, “numinous”. This little adjective is helpful, but I dare you to try to really capture that feeling in language and express it to someone succinctly. It’s just not possible. For me, trying to understand this numinous feeling of being so alone and yet so connected came to define my human experience and my art.
Art is such a wonderfully human tool; it allows us to transcend the limits of our language and capture the stories, emotions, and truths that remain otherwise opaque. Creating imagery that affects emotion and how that emotion affects behavior has been my life’s work. I never thought, though, that my own emotional-image-wizardry could one day affect me.
This year without my regular connections with the natural world, I’ve turned to revisiting experiences and places through the landscape photography captured on my journeys. Viewing them from this new perspective I came to see a voice in my work that I’d previously ignored - a conveyance of my most numinous moments. In the best examples the camera was acting as an invitation, welcoming the viewer to fall into this experience, not just this place - and I found myself falling in all over again. How fascinating that what I had perceived as such a conscious process of composition was, in fact, largely motived by the subconscious, by a distant memory of a child standing on boat, swaying in the gentle roll of the Pacific, under an ocean of stars.
This past year of isolation driven introspection allowed me to make a new commitment to my work - creating the space and time to pursue this theme of connection to nature directly. It’s a strange and abstract space to work from. Occasionally a story intersects this journey and I follow it along in the language of documentary, learning how others are experiencing the same connections, and losses. More often I lay awake late at night, my mind a mess of raw imagery trying to make sense of a world that transcends language. Most recently I decided to try a new way of showing my work that explored ideas that didn’t fit neatly into every day conversation. I decided to start pursuing galleries.
My first gallery showing of 2021 is currently hanging at Fulton Crossing in Santa Rosa, CA. I’ve selected 4 uncomplicated landscape images, that are easy to look at and easy to fall into. For me, these images are windows for the walls that we’re currently trapped within. They provide us with a way to remember that we are alive on earth.