The Alpine Fellowship & Thoughts on Art / Life Balance

Last September I traveled to Switzerland as part of the Alpine Fellowship. Inaugurated in 2013, the fellowship was created by my former teacher, the artist Alan Lawson, bringing together figurative artists and philosophers to discuss beauty and the way in which we work, live, and experience the world. Set in the majestic beauty of the Alps, I along with five other fellows spent three weeks painting nature and receiving lectures by various resident artists and visiting philosophers. The entire experience was filmed by friend and artist/filmmaker Basilio De San Juan Guerrero. We were left to our own devices to paint anything we wanted, whenever we wanted. I still feel as if I cannot fully comprehend and tie a bow around my experience in the Alps; it feels so fragmentary and sensory.

Alan spoke once of the difference between appreciating nature from a distance or a picture and experiencing it firsthand. While a picture of an apple tree can be lovely and beautiful, sitting underneath an apple tree is not always pleasant. With insects, changing temperature, or even apples falling on your head, it can be uncomfortable. There exists a harsh beauty. Part of the purpose of the fellowship was to slow down our pace of life and immerse ourselves in this world - to fully experience it, contemplate it, and thus paint it. 

I stayed quite trapped in my own head much of the time. I felt in a constant battle with myself to "get on with it and paint" and to really feel and experience my surroundings on a deep level. It seems like the two would go hand in hand, but quite often the opposite is true. I suppose that I didn't quite trust that giving myself the space to truly feel and experience this atmosphere and myself in it that I would actually make a painting. (This is still a concern). My favorite memory is finally saying fuck it to this entire mental drama and taking a long walk into the woods alone one evening at dusk, communing with myself and nature, completely at peace. Maybe this isn't as much of a problem for some, but it can be so easy to stay in a goal and task driven state (even or especially while painting) rather than experiencing the awe or beauty or stillness of life. 

Many of these issues are residual from school - the Academy. The Florence Academy of Art (and I speak only of the drawing & painting program in Florence) is the most masculine environment I have ever experienced. It is described by many, quite accurately, as boot camp. It's specific methodology ultimately calls for working in a very intense, linear, repetitive way. But I can't/don't/won't exist in that fashion. I work in a very unpredictable, cyclical, and intuitive way (as is the feminine principle). To others this is seen as erratic and lazy, and I have definitely struggled with being seen as such and "not taking my art seriously" or having a "compromised work ethic." Perhaps I do - but rather, I have decided that this is utter bullshit and choose to honor this about myself. I value my mental, physical, and emotional health, and I live in a way which supports these things - healthy food, exercise, at least 8 hours of sleep, personal fulfillment, community engagement, and relationship. Art is so often segregated from experience, existing as a sole thing that exists independently from every other aspect of life, which could not be further from the truth. There is an unspoken belief that by "focusing only on the art," it will speak volumes and expand and grow. In certain ways, this is true. But all the values I previously mentioned support my ability to create art for the rest of my life, and to enjoy it. Not to mention the fact that it gives life and depth to the art itself, and connects me with intuition and curiosity - all of the intangible things that sparked my desire to make art to begin with.

Zach Kramer, a resident artist from the Fellowship, spoke often about the way he creates art having everything to do with how he wants to live his life - that the process reflects the kind of life experiences he wants to have. This sounds simple enough, but it can be easy to focus only on some imagined ideal of a finished product, doing whatever it takes to get there, rather than savouring and giving equal attention to the process itself. What do you want the process and your daily experience to look and feel like? The product and process can be so utterly divorced from each other, rather than the two being one and the same. Zach and his wife, Kristin truly seem to embody this - living a quiet life in the Swedish forest, growing their own food, him painting as she writes. He reminds me of Andrew Wyeth in embodying his art on such a fundamental level. I aspire to my own version of this, whatever that may be. I only know it involves lots of yoga, nature, community, relationship, and joy. This idea has stuck with me perhaps more than anything else from my entire experience in Switzerland. And of course the nature, the beautiful nature!

Alas, here are several paintings I created whilst in Switzerland.

Lavey-Village, 22x16 cm, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

Lavey-Village Valley, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

Wandering Cows, 22x16 cm, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

Ben & two cups of tea, naturally. Oil on Canvas. 2013.

Cow Sketch. Oil on Canvas. 2013.

Before the Storm, Oil on Canvas, 2013.

The Old House, Oil on Canvas, 2013.