Habitat and the Artist




Jung says we spend our adult lives trying to recreate situations of our childhood. 


When I was seven years old, my family moved to the homogeneous suburbs of Portland, Oregon from Seaside, Oregon.  It was rough because what preceded this extirpation was an ideal life, where I roamed freely around the forests, fished with string and stick for pollywogs in the cow trough, mucked through the swamp of skunk cabbage, and played follow the leader with my pet duck.   The sea air and birch thickets of this little coast town quickly became a memory replaced with houses laid on a grid painted in variations of beige.   At seven, I thought, “People aren’t supposed to live like this.  Everything looks the same.”  I cried throughout first grade.


My mother was raised on an Indian Reservation because my ancestors were purveyors to the Indians.  The lush landscape of Neah Bay, the myth and spirit of the Makah tribe have, by association,  informed my sensibilities. Perhaps this explains the necessity of nature in my life. My approach to nature isn’t about decoration, instead it is about man’s unity and integrity in the universe where there is little room for ego.


As I recently read that the entire land mass of Vermont is developed in America every year,  I couldn’t help but think of  Chief Seattle warning the white man, in his famous speech of 1854, to beware the spirits if respect is not paid to the land.


I paint mimetically from nature conveying the similarities of the micro to macro, fascinated by, for example, the Hubble pictures of galaxies telegraphing the patterns of dendrites in our nervous system and petal veins.   And lately I find myself wondering what will become of our biological connection to nature if someday there isn’t any nature left? 


I am fortunate to live in two remote places surrounded by nature.  In the summers I live and work on a small island far off the coast of Maine.  The rest of the year I’ve settled on another island, this one on the West Coast in the Puget Sound where I live and work on ten acres.  I have bonded with a wild rabbit who has become a permanent resident on the property and I regularly hear the howling of the wolves echo through the forests.  (A women across the woods cares for captive wolves). The climate is wet, but the moisture brings infinite texture that inspires my paintings.


As I find myself surrounded by critters, forests and water, I realize, I am home again.  I have, in a way, come full circle back to what I left behind at seven.  As a tree frog can’t live in the desert, an aspect of myself wasn’t fully alive until I found once again, my habitat.  It’s all made me think about how important habitat is to an artist.  Because artists absorb, filter then express our surroundings, we must place ourselves in environments that foster our process.


I have some reading recommendations for these winter months ahead:  anything by Mary Oliver as well as The Power Of Myth, by Joseph Campbell.  If you’ve read it already, which I had, it’s worth a second read, particularly in these times when our culture is in deep need of a spiritual revitalization. 


Peace to all.


Betsy
December 2006