Jerry Wennstrom Interview : Page 2 of 3
Author and Artist
continued from page 1
Q: What is your favorite dessert?
A: Anything chocolate.
Q: What was the last book you devoured; the one that kept you up too late because you were simply unable to stop turning the pages?
A: It was an obscure little book I found in a junk shop called A Mantis Carol by Laurens van der Post. It is the story of a bushman from the Kalahari Desert who comes to New York City by way of a circus and is finally adopted by a wealthy family. What fascinated me about his story was the way in which he maintained the simplicity of his culture's magic and mystery in post modern society.
Q: What scares you? What is the thing that wakes you up in a cold sweat at three in the morning?
A: It scares me to feel that I am out of alignment with the greater forces attempting to express themselves through my life. Sometimes I wake in the night with this "off" feeling and go out to the meditation tower I built on our property and attempt to realign.
Q: What inspired your impetus to destroy your paintings, give away all your earthly possessions, and embark upon this incredible spiritual and creative journey?
A: Inspiration often enters our conscious awareness by way of a quantum leap. It takes us beyond that which we think we know. There were many whispers along the way that pointed to this inspired breakthrough for me. They forced me to pay attention, which then set the stage for me to make this timely leap. We can travel great distances and bushwhack exciting new territory for ourselves (and others) when we can fully give ourselves to a radically inspired moment.
I was extremely driven as a young artist, and had produced an enormous body of work by the time I was 29. It was at this point that I began to feel art, as I had known it, had taken me as far as it possibly could. There is a Hindu parable that says, "When you take a boat across the river, you don't drag the boat along once you've reached the other side." Painting in the studio served the first leg of my creative journey and eventually became too small a vehicle to carry the larger creation I sensed was moving through my life. With the discomfort of this realization stirring in my inner life, I knew I needed to give my full attention to the dilemma I was experiencing. Fasting helped direct the necessary attention, so I fasted for as long as it took for me to get clear on the next step I was to take. I had no idea that the final expression of my focused attention would be to destroy my art and give everything I owned away.
After a month-long fast, two choices became clear to me. I could keep doing what I was doing and stay with the safe and acceptable form established by the artistic convention of the late 70s, or I could give myself to the formless allurement I sensed would transform my life. Making this decision was not based on reason, so there was not the rational scenario guaranteeing some identifiable, beneficial outcome. It was an intuitive decision. I knew if I were to continue along a path of heart, the only thing to do was to find courage enough to let go of my identity as an artist and completely give myself to the exciting, formless allurement I sensed was drawing me forth.
It is mostly in retrospect that the complete gift of that choice has revealed itself to me. My original dream as a young artist was to touch the world in some significant way with my art. I find it a bit ironic and something of a cosmic joke that I have been acknowledged more as an artist for destroying my art than I ever was for creating it! Included in the larger mythos that eventually unfolded were two Parabola/Sentient Publications documentary films that were made about my art and life (In the Hands of Alchemy), and a book I was asked to write, The Inspired Heart. The paradox of letting everything go and the mystery of its' return express the deeper meaning of the word 'sacrifice.' Transliterated, it means, "to make sacred." When we can trust the quiet intuitions of a deeper calling, the whole of our beloved creation becomes inspired and is able to re-emerge in a way that we would never have imagined!
Poet Rainer Maria Rilke expresses the experience well with his poem,
To that Younger Brother
as I who came back from the same confusion
learned to pray.
I returned to paint upon the altars
those old holy forms,
but they shone differently,
fierce in their beauty.
So now my prayer is this:
You, my own deep soul,
I will not betray you.
My blood is alive with many voices
telling me I am made of longing.
What mystery breaks over me now?
In its shadow I come into life.
For the first time, I am alone with you
my power to feel.
Q: I'm sure you're eager to discuss upcoming publications, events and exhibitions of your work what's next for you, Mr. Wennstrom?
Continue to interview page 3 »