This is my early Christmas present to you: A Portrait of the Artist with Jonathan Weisblatt - an artist asking questions, in different languages and on different levels, stitching a self-portrait out of the answers. He calls for collaboration on restoring the balance in our souls and our world and invites everyone to join him in the creation of here and now.
He feels at home in modern art and literature and his work revolves around a vision for a consciously collaborative and ecological celebration of our interdependent life on this planet.
Let me start with a question you ask on your website OneSelfPortrait: Who are you in this world?
I am you, I am rivers, dammed ones and wild with fish; I am what the fish eat and the bigger fish and grizzlies and who eat them. My body is the earth’s body, and I am healthiest and most alive when my life force is flowing unencumbered, un-dammed and fully integrated (so I practice yoga). And I am polluted and toxic at times. And I am empathizing with all my relations at this exciting time in our history.
I am one with everything, and I also have my own unique gifts to give to the world. I bring my own unique cultivated presence, as well as a purposeful web of perspectives and energy into my interactivity. I have observed and have been told I have a gift for awakening and enlivening people in my presence, and I strive to give my unique gifts as thoroughly as possible to the world.
As everyone is an agent of our coming culture, each moment we are choosing to bring it forth in whatever form we are enacting. I see myself as a deep and compassionate listener and an [aggressive] agent of our coming culture -- a catalyst, a fomenter, a questioner, a practitioner of artful breathing and a biodiversity networker. I am an exhibitioniste (I can’t seem to keep myself hidden or restrained-- I did grow up playing classical piano next to the Detroit Zoo empathizing with the caged wild animal). I take a stand for the potent possibility for an empathic, sustainable, just human presence on the planet.
|Paintings from Jonathan's virtual gallery|
You have studied Literature and Language Art, how did that knowledge lead you to multimedia conceptual art and what made you connect your art to sustainability and ecology?
I am moved by your questions to tears at the memory of my origins, my formative years.
Literature and Language art for me included learning storytelling, mythology, criticism, cross-cultural and cross-medium exploration of art’s origins and contexts. Everything has the potential for being an active and valued object of art, a word or piece of punctuation in the story of our lives on this planet.
My studies, at university and otherwise, taught me ways to connect with historical expressions of beauty and culture and to reflect on my origins and learn to contextualize and re-contextualize myself and my expression in the moment; I learned from great teachers how to observe, analyze and think creatively and critically. And I learned to tend my soul and follow my heart very early, through various relationships, artistic mediums, storytelling, and identifying with various artists throughout time. This brings me to how I view modern art: art relevant to our current moment. This brought me also to practicing yoga when I first lived in New York City. I sought, through this conscious physical practice of breathing and expanding and contracting and generating energy, to dissolve the physical blocks and barriers I had developed in my body so that I could be a more open, fluid vessel for pure life force to animate. And in this way, I would literally become a more expanded and free and present version of myself, released to a more liberated flow of life force through my presence.
This combination of practices reinforced my view as Shakespeare’s “all the world’s a stage,” and has informed my practice of living and creating.
I would say everyone is an artist; we are all creating our lives, our breakfasts, our relationships, our homes. We are all giving our gifts to this world. And the ecology of my presence in my bioregions became my own language of being, my path’s careful and wild and artful unfolding. We look at ourselves through history’s lenses, through the eyes of our great great grandchildren, and I ask myself regularly, “How can I be most present and alive and engaged and modern and responsible?”
The most significant educational experience I had was the New England Literature Program.
Thrust into immediate communal living in Wilderness with twenty-four students and nine staff members, we read Thoreau, Emerson, Cummings, Dickinson; Mary Oliver came to stay with us. We restructured our weeks into 9-day weeks. Reading Thoreau’s “Where I lived and what I Lived For,” asking why I need more than one fork, one spoon, one knife, while living simply in the woods, this changed me -- or, rather, this revealed more of who I truly am.
The experience of having lived in a foreign culture did provide unexpected wonders for my knowledge of myself and my world, beyond linguistic and cultural trappings, shifting the context of my expression of myself into a hitherto unimaginable sets of voices and views. Becoming a fluent French character on the world’s stage was profound, yet living in community in Wilderness revealed to me my own wildest nature, my truth in an unmediated language where I knew my oneness with everything, beyond language. I then committed to seeking my truth and expressing it, in whatever medium I might require, in what I hoped might be a more universal language.
Literature and Language Art I view as my continued path, as I carve my continually renewing story into the fabric of our world, step by step, moment by moment, breath by breath. The language of my being is my own mark on this big stage. Further, my name, Weisblatt, means “white leaf [of paper]”, so, as with anyone connected with the American mythos and/or modernity, I am consistently renewing myself and reinventing myself.
Can you reveal a little about your creative process?
It begins in a vacuum. Nothingness. At some point arrives a feeling of inspired connection with something or someone or a vision of how we might be more beautifully together and balanced on this planet, a celebration of our collaborative potential. I will often have either visual or conceptual visions of how things might come together and flourish. I sit and breathe with this and allow it to sink in. Then I endeavor to make some sort of sketch of my vision. Often I will bounce my ideas off of friends and sometimes acquaintances to see how things might resonate with others and how the experience of opening this delicate, fetal stage discussion might affect my ideas of possibility, accessibility and effectiveness. I have a strong desire for my work to connect everyone, to inspire and connect us all to each other and to the wild and to a more beautiful state of collaboration with all living things. Often I may discover my ideas are too idealistic to bring to fruition in this world in the near term, so I will assign these visions to a place in a screenplay I am writing -- in order to present the vision I find beautiful at least on a screen to inspire people.
The Occupy Movement has shifted the line of what’s possible in my view, and I have been deeply engaged with it as a beautifully imperfect collaborative experimental art project in our decaying plutocracy.
In perhaps every project, I am confronted with a dreadful fear that my work is a pointless or unbeautiful expression and a failure. This I have learned to accept as a part of my creative process, to continue pushing forward through the resistance, and what normally results is a much more positive experience and product.
In what way is your art sustainable and eco-conscious (f.ex. what materials do you use)?
I use everything. Early on I had to reconcile my presence on this planet as both a creator and a destroyer. No matter what we do we will be destroying something, e.g. galloping across a field we trample grasses and insects.
Long ago I started painting “Ingredients” boxes on my paintings, when I could get the acrylic paint companies to tell me roughly what is used to make their paints outside of proprietary corporate protectionist nonsense. I have a funny exchange with a representative from a paint company in some email box somewhere about eating paint, feeding it to our bioregions, etc. I thought if I were transparently and colorfully expressing, in the limited rectangle which is the canvas’s field, the sources and effects of my job, my work, then this might bring consciousness of this footprinting into all other areas of all of our culture and our lives. I take polluting footprints into consideration each step, and I realize I am not a model sustainable citizen, I am not an ultimate example to follow, as I am participating still in the culture in which I was educated (in the French sense of the word “education”) and attempting to awaken and steer the dominant conversation and action closer to its source, thereby transforming our systemic failures from within. I think we would need 2.3 planets to act as I act. Better than the 5.5 or so average for North Americans, but far from sustainable. I sometimes consider dropping out of the urban life and living on a farm, but I believe I can be of more service in this context with my gifts at this time.
You participated in this year’s SOCAP where you presented an interactive art installation, called Self-Worth. Did you fulfill your goal of providing environment where people will find peace and space for reflection, hopefully leading them to a more just and sustainable human presence on the planet?
SOCAP was a delight. I provided a beautiful environment and context and a solemn, reverent space for reflection, and some people participated in it in very inspiring ways. I’m not sure how much it actually affected people or our path toward a more just and sustainable human presence on the planet. I got some great feedback, and I marked the space with Truth and Wilderness, Compassion and Self-Awareness, Love and Laughter, a tipi, a soundscape and a circle of twelve reverent sculpted female forms. My hope is the mere presence of this piece will resonate in people’s landscapes of memories and dreams as we strive for beautiful, balanced new cultural models.
In the age of ego, when every human action is directed towards achieving personal happiness and welfare, do you believe there are enough people willing to spend time collaborating in the name of nature and biodiversity?
I keep hoping we are melting the age of ego and sinking into activating a collective consciousness. I have hoped this for a long time, and it apparently has had to be a gradual process :)
How is it that we do not realize as a culture that everything is interconnected and that our ecosystems are what are supporting us and our economies? It’s mindboggling to me the degree of illness, separation, imbalance, we are so actively supporting in our stories of ourselves we hear in the mass media, and then that we hear parroted in conversation. It’s tragicomically disastrous.
I do sense a hopefulness in the youth I see more unfettered (or less fettered?) by the old status quo and fears and illusions of stiffened, older generations. I have also been greatly inspired by the Occupy Movement, and I have been actively participating in it. This gives me hope that people all over the world are willing to put our lives on the line to make a stand for what is true and just and sustainable and wise.
Do I believe it’s enough? I believe in the potential of our species to act in collaboration with Nature and with each other to create far-reaching cultures of beauty. I believe this is possible, and this is what I strive for.
You greatly value collaborating and the fact that all humans are part of one whole. Do you think that participating actively in a community can help people find their way back to respecting our planet’s eco system?
I DO! The more connected we are with each other, the more we share cares and responsibilities, the more we collaborate, the more we thrive. The root of the word “culture” is “to care for.” The genius of the collective far surpasses that of an individual, and rapid solution-making can take place and spread like wildfire.
If you could make any project without limits to cost, materials or skill, what would it be?
I like the idea of inviting people from all over the world to come together in dozens of places around the planet to build cultural learning centers with gardens together, to create more compassionate exchanges and listening between individuals from everywhere, and to create pragmatic, lasting central architectures of our conscious global cooperation.
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All photos courtesy of Jonathan Weisblatt