The short version: I paint to bring the outside in and to capture this planet’s unending beauty. My work is inspired by the everyday—the color of sunsets, reflections on water, the texture of rocks, sunlight shining through trees, beautiful places I’ve been fortunate to visit.
The long version: I pretty much grew up outside. Part of this has something to do with the fact that I grew up in a small town in southeastern Louisiana, where everybody gathered outside like it was going out of style. Pool parties. Crawfish boils. Football games. Camping and fishing trips. Mardi Gras parades. Halloween-night block parties.
But the other explanation: Aching to be outside is just naturally a part of who I am. I remember coming home from kindergarten and tossing my backpack on the couch only to race outside to swing on my swing set, climb the trees in our backyard, run up and down the hills of the golf course behind our house, bike around our neighborhood, and draw on the concrete with chalk.
I never thought much about it until college. Looking back, I’m not surprised that I became miserable when my family moved to Houston, where concrete and traffic extend for dozens of miles in every direction, nor am I surprised that I chose to attend a college with a 22-acre green space smack dab in the middle of it. Being outside energizes me in a way that few other things do. (And in fact, I’m not alone in this regard. Studies have shown that people who live near green spaces live longer than those who don’t, and spending time outside is good for your mental health in general.)
So, it makes sense that my artwork is inspired almost entirely by the outdoors.
As I continue to make artwork, however, I am struck by the tragedies ravaging our planet. Wildfires in California. Drought and famine in Africa. The melting of glaciers in Canada.
These things weigh on my heart for the obvious reasons—namely, the lives they’ve destroyed and will continue to destroy as disasters like these get worse—but my heart also aches for the places that may never look the same because of them. When I look at my travel bucket list—which includes places like the Swiss Alps, the Grand Canyon, Iceland’s glaciers, the Amazon Rainforest, and the Great Barrier Reef—I wonder how many of them I’ll be able to see before too much damage is done. I wonder if what I see will resemble anything that others saw 50 years ago. And I wonder, even if I do see them all, will people years from now have the same opportunity?
I recently learned of an interesting art project led by Scottish artist Katie Paterson called the Future Library. Katie has planted a forest of 1,000 trees just outside of Oslo, Norway, and she is collecting an original work by a popular writer every year until 2114 (100 years after the project’s start in 2014), at which point the trees will be cut down to make paper for printing those 100 books. Until then, the manuscripts are locked away in a “vault” in the Oslo Public Library where visitors can see the title of the work and the author’s name, but not a word of any of the works until 2114.
Famed author Margaret Atwood, the first contributor to the project, has been asked why she, at 78 years old, would consider spending any time on a book that no one will read for 100 years. I loved what she said: Because it’s an incredibly hopeful project. It assumes there will be people 100 years from now. It assumes they’ll want to read. It assumes they’ll be able to read. (Ha!)
Couple that with Katie’s words: The project “has nature, the environment at its core—and involves ecology, the interconnectedness of things, those living now and still to come,” she told the Guardian. “It questions the present tendency to think in short bursts of time, making decisions only for us living now.”
I think both sentiments are important—that art is hopeful, but art can also jolt us into seeing the world anew and thinking about not only our shared humanity, but also the consequences of our actions.
I doubt that I’ll ever make anything as grand as the Future Library, but I hope that my art accomplishes the same goal, whether that’s brightening someone’s home or office with something that reminds them of being outside, capturing fleeting beauty and sharing it with others, or giving someone pause before taking our planet for granted.
I hope you’ll join me in going outside more often and doing your part to preserve our beautiful planet.