This is the first in an informal series of writings about the intersection between making art and travel. I am slowly returning to daily life after leaving Alaska. Likewise, I am uncovering the lessons bit by bit and discovering flashes of insight as the experience of Alaska meets my life.
My life certainly changed after this trip.
I previously understood the overlap of art and nature in a very direct way. I learned plein air painting long ago. I did not immediately love painting out of doors, and something about it did not pull at my soul. Sometimes, I did not feel like going out to hunt for a suitable composition and setting up my easel before I could paint. When I met nature in this way, it was no more than a box to check off: suitable location, check.
The level of presence I now bring to being in nature has significantly shifted its importance. I feel a strong pull toward natural spaces. The sounds, the colors, the wide open vistas, the stillness, and the primordial elements of nature grab my attention and stay with me.
Fully experiencing wild, natural spaces reminds me of my own wildness.
I experienced as much as I could on this trip, and I let go of those experiences not meant to be. The physical experience of these wild spaces became vital. Greater vitality was an unexpected reward. This Alaskan adventure showed me how much baseline energy and enthusiasm I have when in nature.
Being surrounded by the forests, rocks, rivers, mountains and sky was deeply restorative. In some instances I felt the pull to get even closer. I swam in the cold, glacier fed Kenai river and it was invigorating. I left that cold plunge and realized that such a swim was the ideal way to start off every day. In Alaska, I was a more active and engaged version of myself.
Being fully present meant that sometimes just being in the varied and expansive Alaskan landscapes was its own reward. Mountains were everywhere while I explored Alaska. I could reliably look up into the sky and see mountains: mountains in the mist, craggy mountains, mountains covered in green, mountains in the distance.
I was surrounded by a steady diet of mountains.
They flooded my vision for the duration of my trip, stayed with me, and are now appearing in my art. I can best illustrate this by sharing the example of a painting I started before I left for Alaska. I have since added multiple color washes, covered up sections that seemed too fussy, and rotated the painting so that I could benefit from fresh points of view. When photographing the work after the latest round of painting, I saw mountains. I had not intended to paint mountains, yet there they were.
I used to see the overlap of art and nature through plein air painting. When it came to art, I regarded nature from the the vantage point of a landscape to be framed and captured. The way I currently see the overlap between art and nature has shifted. The images and feelings I experienced in Alaska have stayed with me and are percolating to the surface.
Direct contact with wildness and wilderness is primary.
I love how travel to wild places changes you. There is a relationship between wild places and creativity that I am still coming to understand and nurture in my own life. Three years ago I headed to the woods and rolling hills of Southern Wisconsin for my first solo retreat to be in nature, make art, and clear my head. I wrote these words, “I just need to be in this beautiful mess and see what is created next.”
Stay tuned for my evolving thoughts on the overlap between artmaking and travel.