1. Your bio states you started doing artwork on the beach in 2004. Did you make artwork before then, or was this one of the instances in which you were “reborn”?
I had been creating art professionally since 2000. I was making large, black-light reactive sculptures that were generally used in electronic music festivals. It was that artwork that put me on the path to the beach art.
2. What is involved in making your art? Not just the tools, but mentally and spiritually? Do you ever feel a sense of possession for your art, and do you feel negatively when it is swept away by the tides?
The tools are rakes, stakes, ropes- simple items.
I design with an eye towards how I would translate whatever is arising in my sketches onto the beach. The constant question is: How can the act feel intuitive? The less I have to think, the faster I can work and the larger I can go because I am not needing to make decisions.
Internally, the act of making the art is a zen experience. I become extremely focused and most all else falls away. My whole body is engaged, and all my senses as well. Its a good situation for deeper awarenesses to come to me. One of which is becoming more open to what in my mind is the pinnacle of life: appreciating the experience as the experience is happening. The result is less important than the experience. The tide’s assured erasure really put me in touch with the nature of the medium- it was something I had to accept at the very start, it’s not something I can deal with in some clever way- there is no barrier to the coming tide. So the medium itself made me have to let my work go. Which is all to say that I don’t feel negatively about it being swept away!
3. Do you have different perceptions of the art when you have made it yourself, versus when you have helpers?
Well, I can't deny that I'm a perfectionist. It is pretty difficult for someone to assist and for me not to have quibbles. Its a trade off because the truly massive and/or complex work requires that I have assistance. But if I want it without 'error' then I need to do it myself. Of course, I am constantly making 'errors', but it’s easier to accept when it is me making them than if it’s a helper.
Working with others has had me become more aware of what I am doing, or what I have in my head (which often is evolving even as I am working). The act of translating my vision into words and actions for others to follow is full of potential errors, which often take me by surprise when revealed. Assumptions are so easy to make and not be aware of.
Pretty much all of my best pieces were done with helpers. I might spot the faults, but it's doubtful many others would. 2 big lessons I have learned- what looks like a problem on the ground often will not look that way from a couple of hundred feet up, and the contribution of many hands, ‘errors’ included, can often make a piece feel warmer, more organic, more inviting.
The way forward for me is to continue working with others, to continue refining my translation process. It’s an interesting thing to be orchestrating a team of assistants. They are my literal brushes, each with his own interpretation of my instructions. The art then becomes the capacity to guide the living brushes to create something meaningful (rather than chaotic) and hopefully transcendent.
4. What inspires you to teach others how to create your style of art?
I naturally gravitate towards translating to others the places I have explored. When I first was putting out the calls for assistance, people who came to help would often have questions about the art itself. So then I started having a period of time before the art to go into the background of the art and what is influencing it. That morphed into a full workshop in which I sought to allow each participant the opportunity to meaningfully make a personal contribution to the group artwork (as opposed to following strict instructions if they were helping me with a piece) There are now 4 different workshops, each approaching the art from a different perspective, allowing a different activation within the participant.
I don't really consider that I am teaching others to do my art. And definitely it’s not about teaching my 'style' whatever that could be condensed as. For me it feels that I am really teaching about what the art has to offer in terms of concept and experience and giving the group an opportunity to engage it. There is a magic to both creating as a group and to doing large artwork. And there is a power in simply being on the beach making art.There is a cathartic release to being given permission to simply play on the sand! No one that I know of that has been in a class has gone on to do this artwork in any serious way.
My latest workshop is purely about the visceral and mental/emotional aspect of the artwork. After instruction and warmups we silently create a large mandala together, allowing the entire gathering to be a meditative journey.
5. What do you hope to achieve by passing on your talents?
I don't really see it as passing on my talents. My motivation is to allow people to experience the deeper aspects of what the art touches, what the art allows one to engage. My 'talent', if I were to enunciate it, is deep inquiry, which comes from a ceaseless curiosity. I actually have no interest in passing on my beach art, but I am extremely interested in passing on my love of exploration, experimentation, and play, and hopefully that is what people who are in my workshop are getting.
6. Do you consider yourself an artist first, or something else? What do you tell people you do, when they ask you?
This question makes me laugh to myself. It took me a long time before I started calling myself an artist. In large part it's because I think we are all artists, or at least have the capacity for expressing our inner experience poetically. I have a reaction to when people defer to me because I am the 'artist' and they aren't. That distinction seems to disempower people, to have them shrink from and even feel apologetic about their own capacity. In those moments I feel like a fraud. I couldn't draw to save my life! I am creative. I am resourceful. I love to dream and play with possibility. What is the word that encompasses that?
Lately, however, I have been more comfortable with the title ‘artist’. That’s come about with a shift in what it feels like I am tapping into and how I am translating my perspective, the concepts I am playing with on the beach (or anywhere else, but that is the primary setting at the moment). That shift has just been within this past year.
7. Which mediums do you work with besides sand, if any?
I have worked with many mediums. What I look for are materials that are biodegradeable, abundant, easily obtainable, cheap/free, and local...I've used straw to great effect. I'm always keeping my eyes open for suitable materials.
8. What inspires you to create art that “reflects upon the nature of impermanence”?
The focus on impermanence arose on its own due to the nature of the setting- that the tide would inevitably erase my work not long after finishing it. Exposure to this quality of the situation got me to appreciate what came with approaching the act of creation with the knowledge of imminent dissolution. It started shifting how I came to view our usual mindset, placing importance on things to 'last' (at least in an abstract way- lasting until we no longer think about it, perhaps). There is a liberation on many levels to creating without concern for longevity. Perhaps at the core the act of creation is closer to the inspiration to create at all- the joy of the act, being the conduit in the moment of the creative inspiration. I recently read a great quote from a Buddhist monk in which the monk is speaking of regarding a cup as already broken. When it does break, for whatever reason, there is no upset, for it was already accepted. With the knowledge of its demise, time spent with it was cherished even more. I really appreciate this perspective for it infuses all of life with greater depth.
9. Do you ever have trouble conveying these sorts of meanings to your viewers? As in, do people ever misunderstand what you are doing?
I don't doubt there is plenty of misunderstanding happening. Sometimes in comment threads in an online article someone might say what a waste of time it is or something along this line. What I am doing is laughable, I cannot deny. I laugh at myself quite often, especially when I get frustrated at some factor not working right. Iin the end what am I doing? Making marks in the sand!
But overwhelmingly I think people are connecting to the deeper nature of what I am engaging. I get messages constantly from people all over the world telling me how much I have touched them. There is something very challenging in what I am doing. It's not just marks in the sand, and people feel it. What, exactly, they are connecting to I cannot say, but something is touched.
10. Do you draw inspiration from history, books, movies, music, other artists or artwork? Could you name some formative influences?
My sources of inspiration come from what I encounter in daily life- nature, designs I see in a magazine or fabric print, an artwork I come across. These become starting points for my own explorations. I love analyzing cultural artforms. In terms of artists that I study, interestingly I love the biological drawings Ernst Haekel. And I appreciate the spirit and aesthetic of the work of Andy Goldsworthy. Alex Grey has perhaps been my biggest influence, but more for the spiritual side of accepting my role as an artist and the intangible benefit that art and artist brings society (something I needed to internalize, coming from my scientific, rationality-focused background- the question of what value did what I do have for anyone tortured me for many years).
11. Have you ever considered collaboration with other artists, say Buddhist sand mandala artists?
I have, actually. Working with Buddhist monks is high on my list, and will happen some day. It was working on that potential collaboration that instigated a project that will span several years and have me working in different countries around the world. I love collaboration- something richer always results.
12. What are your goals for the future? Artistically, personally, spiritually?
I have several large projects in the pipeline, ones that will allow me to expand artistically and as a person. In terms of goals however, I tend to be a let's-see-what-comes type of person. Having a direction to travel is great, and I am happy with the path I am on. I find that it's the side paths that appear on the journey that often offer the most delightful experiences and opportunities for growth. Being open to following these is important to me. My goals therefore tend to revolve around what I want my life to feel like. The beach art is in my life because it feeds me so much on many levels. That’s what I want every part of my life to offer me. But what that might look like I have no clue! :-)
Artistically speaking, my goal is to do more projects that are coming from me rather than commissions coming to me. That’s underway with several film projects in motion. I’m doing 3 festivals in 3 different countries this year- wow! I desire to find more opportunities like this, and ones that want to have me make my non-beach creations. There are collaborations I would like to do- like invite the Dalai Lama to work with me.
Ha!- to survive toddler parenthood!