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Art, Art, Articles, Music, Nature

Jesse Narens – Composition/Decomposition/Art

August 1, 2017

Jesse Narens with artworks in forest. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Portland artist Jesse Narens is most at home in nature.  Artworks with tree motifs, raindrops and layers of mark making reflect the forests and coastlines of the Pacific Northwest.  Collected and followed by a global audience, Narens’ work is both lucid and magical, with creatures that seem to emerge, disappear and re-emerge from an ethereal plane.  What draws one to the artist’s work is an individual preference, but there is no denying an ineffable quality of being transported to another world – sometimes primal, sometimes whimsical  – vaguely familiar, if not altogether forgotten.

It is easy to make comparisons to visionary art when one looks at the works of Narens, although the artist would eschew any hierarchy – spiritual or otherwise – between the artist and other living beings.  In the creative process, Narens becomes one with both subject and object and returns both artist and audience to their wild essence of being.  Narens’ work embodies a transitory moment that is the quintessence of life, death, and art.

TTDOG met with Jesse Narens earlier this year and began a dialogue with the artist in advance of their upcoming show Asleep in A Field, opening Friday 4 August in Portland.  Narens describes the artist’s career to date.

 

I started painting at the end of 2010 after my friend and artist Jesse Reno suggested trying out some alternative techniques.  Prior to that I had never painted before.  I focused on ceramics in high school, and dropped out of art college in less than a semester because I felt like they were creating artists, not letting people just be artists.  I have always done something creative with my time.

I do whatever I feel like doing, creatively, at any given time.  Painting and music are my go-tos , but every so often I get the urge to try something else.

 

Collaboration and a sense of community with other artists has always been important to Narens.  As a teenager, the artist created showcases for their own and other artists’ works.

 

The shows I was hosting when I was 15-20 were one night music and art shows at different venues around the Chicagoland area, made up of people from the midwest that I found online, back when Myspace was popular.  I showed my own work and played music at those events.

I’ve always enjoyed sharing the things I like with friends, so when I started playing music and making art it just made sense to try and be an event organizer or curator of some sort.

 

Collaboration extends as well to the audience where meaning-making becomes an adventure between artist, subject, object and audience.

 

My paintings, titles and music never really have specific meanings.  I am trying to create a feeling.  The feeling I get when I am in the woods or on the coast in the Pacific Northwest.  Where people see bear and wolves, I just see a generic animal form, usually.

Sometimes I choose words just for the way they sound or to further push the atmosphere in the painting.  It’s also important that all of the elements (music, words, painting, etc) are taken in together at the same time to get the full experience of my art.

 

Observing Narens’ recent body of work, one gets a sense of both forthrightness and mystery that allows the artist to give birth to and express the unutterable. Whether seemingly benign or ferocious, the creatures in Narens’ works seem to belong to a world that adults, living in contemporary society, are no longer able to see, let alone access and engage.  Returning to a clarity and confusion akin to that of childhood, Narens leads us back to our own natural connection to the wild that we have distanced ourselves from, over time.  To do this, Narens draws upon motifs of the natural world.

 

Looking back on pieces I can remember making in high school, most of them were tree related; people with branch arms, bark texture on my ceramic pieces…I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and I don’t remember experiencing much nature before the age of 20 when I moved to the Pacific Northwest.  The few experiences I did have before then were all very memorable, and while I might not have thought about it then, I recognize now that the feelings I have now when I am out in nature have always been the same.  It’s the only place where I feel I can just be.  It’s the only place that feels correct to me.  When I go back home I tend to spend a lot of time worrying about things that shouldn’t matter, but we have made them matter.  I paint the places and things that make me feel good.

I find my greatest joy in nature.

 

Jesse Narens with mask. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

As an intuitive artist, Narens’ artistic process mirrors the cycles of the natural world.  The artist composes and decomposes each piece over and over again.  Each layer, rather than adding armour and complexity, seems to strip away artifice and repression and restores freedom of vision.  There is no attempt to obscure what has come before and the history of mark making, evident in the pieces, is like a treasure map the artist has left behind, to lead the audience to a sense of uninhibited being.

 

I don’t have the final piece in mind before it’s done.  I just start painting, whether or not I have an idea, and the piece evolves as my mind processes what I’m seeing and thinking about at that time.  Pieces get to a point where they definitely look like they could be called finished, but something just doesn’t feel right to me.  I’ll paint over “finished” pieces again and again until they are done.  Even pieces that are done might someday become unfinished again.  If I have to sit with them for a long time, at some point, my mind might be in a different place than it was when a particular piece was finished, and I will no longer feel connected to it, so I paint over it.  When I sit down and examine why I do certain things, I feel like working this way is a lesson in letting go and embracing change.

 

 

I get stuck at some point in almost every piece.  Usually when they get to a finished looking point, but I don’t like it.  To move forward, I usually have to paint over the parts I like the most.  It frees up the piece to become something drastically different at that point.  It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s almost always the answer.

 

Narens does not create artworks for archival purposes, and believes that decomposition is as valid as composition in the making of art.  For Narens, an artwork has a life that continues beyond the moment when the artist and the subject have transmuted the mystery of creation into form.  What happens beyond that moment is a part of the life cycle of the art and Narens delights in seeing, for instance, works weathered in nature or by time.  An ecosystem of its own, Narens’ art is in a constant state of flux and adaptation.

Art by Jesse Narens, placed in the wilderness, to be discovered by followers. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I don’t like making products for the sake of having things to buy.  Sometimes I draw something and want it on a shirt for myself, so I get maybe 20 shirts made.  When I do make something like a shirt or a book, I only make a small number to keep the items special to whoever ends up getting one.  I try to make things on my own, or work with friends so I can keep the prices as low as possible.

 

Narens work is primarily self expression, yet the artist aims to allow their artwork to be a catalyst for a return to the wild.  Using social media, Narens showcases the natural world through the artist’s own adventures as much as showcasing their artworks, encouraging followers to get outdoors.  On occasion, Narens has left free artworks at natural sites as incentive.  Having experienced nature, followers may be encouraged to protect the wilds.  Yet, in the face of our society’s failure to protect ecosystems and natural preserves and our failure to act to avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change, Narens accepts the limits and responsibilities of one’s own place in the lifecycle of this living planet.

 

I’m alive, so I’ll live the best life I can, but I don’t have much hope for humans.

The earth will fix itself when we are gone, if we can’t learn to live with it.

Even though I feel this way, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up.  I’ll continue to try and inspire people to care about the planet, and to share and support the work of people who I think are doing a better job than I am, like E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.

 

While humankind may provide no solace for Narens, it is to the pockets of community, cultivated by the artist throughout life, that Narens turns.

 

I am currently going through a big transition in my life, so at the moment I am most grateful for the friends in my life that have been around since I was young.

 

 

“The Moon is Made of Chalk” by Jesse Narens. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Like an old friend, Narens has returned to the artists’ roots, performing live music with art at the upcoming exhibition, Asleep in A Field.  For many of Narens’ fans, this will be the first opportunity to experience the artist’s music (performed under the name Ghost&Flower) with Narens’ artworks.

 

The last time I played music live was in 2011 and the last time I played music where my art was on display was probably 2008.

As with my visual art, my music is for me.  And with music, I am again chasing a feeling that I don’t get from anything else, and I can’t express it in words, but when I am making music I very quickly go somewhere else in my head.  I’ve recorded very little over the last 12 years of playing music live.  I make music the same way I paint.  It’s improvised, and I build layers through loops.  I use a prepared guitar instead of electronic instruments, and build most of my rhythmic parts with a contact mic to play the room.  Recording, even live, takes me out of the headspace that I am doing music for, so it’s no fun for me.

I went to a Bang On A Can marathon show when I was around 18 that had a big impact on my music.  The show was something like 12 hours of non stop experimental music, but at the beginning they encouraged you to come and go as you wanted because doing so meant that each person would have their own unique experience with what they heard.

 

Setting up for Asleep In A Field, a solo art show by Jesse Narens; music performance on opening night as Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I’ve played so many great shows that I wish I had recordings of, but I know they would have gone different if it was being recorded.  I like knowing that everyone who has seen me play had a unique experience that no one else will ever know.

 

Asleep In A Field opens Friday, August 4th in Portland and runs through Tuesday, September 5th  at True Measure Gallery.  Jesse Narens will play live music under the name Ghost&Flower on opening night, at sunset.  For those interested in purchasing artworks but who cannot attend the exhibition, contact Jesse Narens (Jesse@Jessenarens.com) or True Measure Gallery.

 

 

Asleep in A Field – Jesse Narens’ Solo Show at True Measure Gallery. Music by Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Follow Jesse Narens:

 WEBSITE,

INSTAGRAM

 

Articles, Nature, Oneness

Making Every Day, Earth Day: Working with Oneness

June 8, 2016
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Photo by NASA

Not long ago, we celebrated another Earth Day. For many of us, marking Earth Day demonstrates that we care about the environment, however, setting aside one day per year for Earth Day or Women’s Day or Mother’s Day always sits uncomfortably with me.  I feel that as long as we need a special day of remembrance, we are not fully integrated with Feminine energy, caregiving, or the Earth.  And, on a practical level, there is a danger that attending an event on the given day may generate the good vibes of actually making a contribution, while our behaviour has not changed at all.

On Earth Day, an artist that I follow posted to his social media account a woodcut print that he had made.

 

 

Like the images in the print, he made an impassioned plea to his social media followers to rethink their values and consumption patterns.  He ended his plea with: “Every Day Should Be Earth Day.”  He isn’t the first person to have said this, but he does not seem to use words lightly, so when he speaks, I pay attention, and I think about what he has said.  Over the next few days, I thought a lot about it.

What would it take to truly make every day, Earth Day?

Behavioural change, is needed, to be sure. And so, I set about developing something that, as a sustainability consultant, was within my reach:  A series on ecological issues and behavioural changes that we could all make to help address the issues.  I completed and edited and polished the first article.  But I couldn’t publish.  I knew something fundamental was missing.  It wasn’t the first article, after all.

I needed to get out of my comfortable position of understanding, in order to begin at the beginning.

At the heart of  behavioural change must be a real shift in consciousness and an awakening to the insanity of our apparent indifference to the consequences of our lifestyles.  That awakening would seem to require a deep reverence for the Earth and clarity on what we are doing to destroy her.  I am not saying that we should not reduce and eliminate the use of plastics, switch to clean energy, grow our own food, reduce water and embedded water use and avoid the use of conflict minerals like Coltan, found in electronics.  But I do believe that we must begin with a perceptual shift toward the interconnectedness of all things: Oneness.

Those of you who have navigated around this website will notice that I have not completed the article on Oneness.  I have deliberately left it blank, for now.  I have been writing for nearly two years about Oneness as we each develop our own understanding and meaning.

There are many great thinkers who have had something to say about the concept:

 

“Oneness is very simple: everything is included and allowed to live according to its true nature. This is the secret that is being revealed, the opportunity that is offered. How we make use of this opportunity depends upon the degree of our participation, how much we are prepared to give ourselves to the work that needs to be done, to the freedom that needs to be lived.”

— Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee from the book Working with Oneness

“From out of all the many particulars comes oneness, and out of oneness come all the many particulars.”

— Heraclitus

“A human being is part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest. A kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from the prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. The true value of a human being is determined primarily by the measure and the sense in which they have obtained liberation from the self. We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if humanity is to survive.”

— Albert Einstein

 

We require a paradigm shift.

Last month, we celebrated North American Mother’s Day. There is meant to be no greater bond between humans than that of the bond between child and primary caregiver, regardless of gender or biological relationship. Our first relationship, with “Mother,” is an archetypal one.  It is, for better or worse, a relationship that defines us.  Yet we seem to have forgotten that our first Mother is the Earth.  Connecting to Oneness may help our remembrance of her and to re-establish and work with our archetypal relationship with the primary caregiver of us all.

Of course, when we begin to do this, if we are truly witnessing what is happening, we cannot help but feel overwhelming pain.  As horrible as it is, perhaps the grief of “witnessing” is a sign that we are on the right path.

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, one of the Interfaith leaders dedicated to Working With Oneness offers a brief talk on our current ecological crisis, in this 7 minute film.

 

I understand that not everyone reading this will resonate with the concept of magic.  However, it is useful to note that Vaughan-Lee is not only a mystic but a Jungian psychologist.  I don’t pretend to understand the depths of Jungian analysis, but I have some knowledge.  Perhaps we can consider this destructive entrancement as a kind of strangle hold on our collective unconsciousness.  We need a paradigm shift to break free; It seems, to me, that the first step toward that paradigm shift is in working with Oneness.

So, how can we work with Oneness?

In whatever way is natural to you, every single day.  I came to my own understanding and practice of Oneness through a spark that was lit by Llewellyn Vaughn-Lee and the Interfaith leaders of Working With Oneness.  I am not an expert in Oneness – I struggle as much as anyone to work with it, every day.  However, there are many experts on many spiritual paths which take up the practice, even if not so named.  And, Einstein shows that shifting to working with Oneness is not the preserve of the mystic or the spiritual aspirant.  For the secular among us, an association with a group of like minded people who care about the planet, and who practice compassion towards all living beings, can help us connect and work with Oneness.

For the spiritual seeker, I suggest looking to your own path to see how Oneness with the planet is called to manifest.  If you practice healing, perhaps make it a regular part of your practice to send healing to the planet and to the soul of the planet – the Anima Mundi. If you are a meditator, yogi or have some other spiritual practice, dedicate at least some of your practice to healing the planet. In your remembrances of the Divine Quantum, remember that Divine Life that is Mother Earth.

Working with Oneness will, no doubt, bring us in touch with grief as we witness what is.  It is a terrible burden that is necessary for the transformation that can lead to the creation of a new story.

If you are an artist, writer, or musician, connect with, and start to tell not just the story of destruction and crisis, but the new story of Life.  How?  However you can.  All art originates from storytelling and heroic tales.  We are all on a heroic journey through the dark night of the soul – now, it is no longer just our own soul, but the soul of the planet, as well.  We must make this journey alone, but with the knowledge that we are together, in this darkness, with one another and our Mother Earth.  Like the hero, we must find the light in the darkness that leads us to the other side, or else, we risk being lost.  Too much grief can dim the creative light and energy in us all, if we don’t also work to midwife the new story of Life.

If you are not an artist, writer or musician – create, anyway!   Create a community garden, draw a picture of a tree, tell a story from the point of view of an animal, sing a song when you go for a walk.  I come from the West coast of Canada.  When hiking, it is advisable to wear a bell to warn bears that a human is approaching and to avoid a startled and possibly dangerous meeting.  I don’t wear a bear bell; I sing.  I’m pretty sure I’m not in key, but do the birds worry about being in key?  They just sing.  Rebirth is a creative process; Let’s generate as much creative energy as we can.

Let’s spend more time in and develop a new relationship with nature.  Let’s reflect on the wonder of the natural world and how we have not only taken her for granted, but destroyed her with our forgetfulness.  Let’s learn to listen with our intuition, our imagination and our hearts to the story she wants to tell, and to our role in the narrative.  Let’s  reflect on the food chain at each meal and reflect upon what has gone into bringing this food to our supermarket, our kitchen and our table.  Reflection on this may lead to an understanding of our own role in creating the toxins poisoning our Mother Earth and finding its way into our food and it may help make conscious the ways in which we are creating and exacerbating drought conditions around the planet with our consumption patterns.  It may lead us to switch from fossil fuels, eliminate plastic waste and grow our own food in a community garden, as we care gently for our Mother Earth.

There are so many ways to work with Oneness and discovering the way that is right for each of us is part of our own individual part of the story.

Behavioural change is crucial for our survival.  But a more important change must come if we are to avoid patching up a system built upon a paradigm that is fundamentally broken and unsustainable.  If we really work with Oneness, we all must accept responsibility for our part in the current ecological crisis that comes from recognising we are one with the story of destruction as well as the story of creative healing that is required.

In the coming months, we will look at ways we can change our behaviour and our ethos around various issues.  For me, as much as anyone else, it will also be a venture into the unknown world of working with Oneness with Mother Earth.

If there is an issue you feel strongly about, or if you’d like to write an article, a poem or feature some artwork related to the topic, contact us.

Let’s make some magic.