What is spirituality? Perhaps it’s the felt experience of transcendence, of lifting oneself out of the mundane, everyday world within which we all reside to commune for a few moments with something larger, more significant, more powerful than ourselves. Certainly, this could occur in the context of religious activity. Spirituality could also of course be found in music, prayer, physical activity, drugs, or in love. And yet for me, one of my most profound spiritual moments occurred outside an unassuming city on the border of a wilderness. I was on my first trip to Alaska. We had rented an RV, a perfect vehicle through which to see the interior of the largest state in the country. I had seen forests and national parks and wilderness areas throughout my life. I had even hiked and backpacked through some of the most remote national parks in the country. And yet, nothing could have prepared me for what I saw as we drove five miles out of Anchorage on that breezy warm day and took the highway aptly called TurnAgain Arm.
I had only imagined in my dreams that such a place could exist. This was wilderness on an unimaginable scale. As we approached the Chugach mountain range in our makeshift home, I could only gasp at each turn of road. The expanse of mountains, the glittering green water and densely packed tall pines that went on infinitely, the silence, the hawks and eagles circling overhead all embraced and beckoned me. I walked into that scene like a visitor from another world. I felt awe for our planet. I felt so small, so inconsequential, yet also part of this magnificent sight. I felt connected to the earth in a way I have never felt before or since. To me, this was spirituality. Of course, going to Alaska or being immersed in deep wilderness isn’t always possible. And religion, physical activity, music, love, or drugs, while perhaps capable of catapulting us to a different plane of existence, don’t necessarily serve as a conduit into the natural world. (Well maybe, a little bit.) What can blast through the mundane and inspire the viewer to step through a portal into another world? And what if there were a way to package those spiritual feelings so that you are not just reimagining a memory, but actually able to experience those glimmers of light, color, and the feeling of the natural world every day, from your own home? Therein lies the power of art. The landscape art of InLiquid artist Kirby Fredendall is a perfect example.
Fredendall’s Evening Blue Light captures a misty scene at dusk of mountains abutting the water. The blueish colors convey a sense of impending darkness, stillness and peacefulness. The sun has already hidden behind the horizon, but traces of peach colored light are evident in the sky and reflected in the water. The brushstrokes, particularly on the water, are each visible, making the scene appear less realistic and reminding us that this is the product of a creative vision. This sentiment is echoed by the artist: “I do not strive to recreate the particulars of these places that inspire me, but rather the timelessness of the elements of light, weather, and geometries that inform them. My work is not about how the landscape looks as much as about how the landscape makes me feel. My goal is to create an image that allows the viewer to engage with it in such a way as to invite similar introspection.” It’s a canvas that transports us to an imaginary landscape, where the glimmers of dying sunlight and the curves of the mountains reverberate and build from nostalgia of such a place. It captures many of the similar feelings of actually being there, and in so doing elicits an element of that elusive spirituality upon seeing the grandeur of nature.
Winter Shoreline Friends Lake captures heavy wintry clouds above a black and brown minimal landscape. The colors are somber, reminiscent of winter with whites, dark greys, and seemingly deadened brown grasses. The swirling brushstrokes of the clouds and grasses captures a cold wind as vividly as if we were standing in the scene. The painting portrays minimal landscape, and yet the swirls and colors and composition remind us of being in a place such as this. But it’s not just about a place. It captures a mood, an interior state of being. Like my foray into the Alaskan wilderness, it wasn’t only about what I saw but what it triggered inside of me. This was the revelation. And similarly, this artist is able to capture an interiority that can mirror the landscape. It’s almost as if the artist was able to capture that elusive space between the physical landscape and the mental manifestations of being there; she packages up that tenuous space and serves it to us on canvas. As Fredendall notes: “While the paintings can be most directly defined as landscapes, they can be more accurately described as representations of the constantly changing energy of our relationship with not only ourselves, but also with those around us and with our environment. They examine the unbreakable but changeable connections that exist between forces both within us and without.” In its minimal imagining of landscape, this painting is able to make visible an intangible mood and spirit.
Similarly, Cathedral Series Golden Fall Light focuses on the bare minimum color and shapes to hint at the painting’s subject matter of a tree bathed in autumnal light. It’s more a study of the light and the overall impression than a painting of a single tree. Like the nineteenth- century French Impressionists, it captures the time of day and the filtered light using small yet visible brushstrokes. Unlike the Impressionists, this artist lets go of the fidelity of realistic portrayal to get at the emotional resonance of the scene. Here we have a pink and blue background sky against gold leaves, as if highlighting for us the majesty of this natural view. We are uplifted. Even the title, Cathedral Series, speaks to spirituality, to inhabiting a loftier plane that connects us to the natural world. Just goes to show that, like our emotional memories of place which live deep inside our temporal lobes, art can invite deep spirituality. And all it takes is looking at a canvas.