I’m not sure if those of you in Finland use the idiom “as the crow flies.” It is a favorite of mine, and when referring to hiking, I use it all the time. “As the crow flies,” the distance between two points may not be that far on a map, but once you start walking, there is a whole new reality waiting for you. That phrase seems to also apply to the period of time that has passed since I completed my residency at AARK and departed Finland in December of 2019. On the calendar, not all that much time has passed; yet in the eternity that has been the last couple of months, the entire world has changed.
Covid-19 has struck nearly every corner of the world with a callous and horrifying efficiency. And in the face of a global crisis effecting all humanity, the penchant for some governments (particularly my own) to stubbornly forge ahead with strict nationalism, corporate greed, and blind ideology, has sown the perfect conditions for this nightmare to reap pain and suffering for countless people.
I don’t want to go into great detail about all the pain being experienced from an American’s perspective, for I’m sure the pain you are all experiencing is just as real. But like many people throughout the United States and the world, each day is filled with accounts of more friends affected by illness, sometimes death. I have lost my job, and every established revenue stream I had with my art, due to Covid-19. I don’t know how I’m going to pay rent or put food on the table in a few more weeks. And sleep without the aid of sleeping pills is a fading memory; even with them, it’s forced at best.
What I really want to share are thoughts about the work that I’m creating now based on my time in Finland, a magical time that seems ever so long ago now, and how the experience of creating that work has changed in the midst of this crisis.
Shortly after leaving Finland this past December, I was awarded two shows based on the studies I created at AARK. The first is a group show at the Seattle Art Museum Gallery in Seattle, Washington. The second is a large solo show at the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery in Astoria, Oregon. Both shows are currently scheduled for October 2020, and will require close to 50 paintings in total. Each and every painting will be a depiction of the wonder and natural phenomena I experienced throughout southern Finland, and the Archipelago.
This felt like a daunting task even before all hell broke loose, but I was up for the challenge. I cleared my head and prepared to get to work. Then, just as I started painting, Covid-19 appeared in my hometown of Seattle; we were the first epicenter in the United States. I soon found myself in isolation, where I have now been for a little over four weeks. I’ve struggled each day to prevent my head from spiraling out of control, with an almost obsessive need to read updated reports on the virus mixed with a chaotic storm of despondence and defeat.
With all of this external and internal chaos, the act of painting this body of work has taken on a fundamentally new role. Before, it was an exercise in effectively recreating a cherished experience, and a beautiful, story-rich landscape. Now, with the cloud of the virus hovering overhead, and within the confines of my dreary, small basement studio, the act of painting these places is somehow transporting me back to my residency in Finland. As if in a vivid dream, as the paintings progress, I remember exactly where I was: the chilly nip of cold upon my face, the delicate sound of frost melting in the early light of day, the warmth of the hearty fish soup from my thermos, and the alluring yet haunting smell of the endless cycle of death, decay, and subsequent rebirth that only a place entirely shrouded in moss and lichen can bring. I am no longer surrounded by noise and fear; I am somehow in the potent embrace of solitude and silence that I came to love so deeply.
It’s possible that these shows will not happen this fall, but I will continue creating with urgency and purpose—not only because my pride and determination demand that I meet my deadlines with well crafted, meaningful work, but my psychological state requires it. My mind wants and needs to journey back to this time of great exploration and self-discovery. The experience of creating these paintings is a stabilizing force, an even keel in turbulent seas.
Before all of this happened, while finishing up my holiday with family in December, I had decided to call my solo show “Rediscovering Silence.” Now, as I sit here typing this, feeling the effects of my day-to-day isolation in the basement and yearning to once more be in the silence of the forest, I realize just how apt of a title it is. Each painting will be a journal entry, complete with date and location, inviting my viewers to stand within my gaze and experience my thought process and what exactly grabbed my attention in Finland. In a way, they will also chronicle the different days of my isolation during the world-changing crisis that Covid-19 has proven to be.
Korpo, “as the crow flies” you’re a long transatlantic flight, and a global pandemic away; but as you can see, you are still very close to my heart and mind.