Studio visit: Tim Musso, A Whale’s Heart and the Redwood Tree
“The tides are in our veins, we still mirror the stars… The greatest beauty is organic wholeness, the wholeness of life and things, the divine beauty of the universe.” Robinson Jeffers
“All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare, said a wise man. If so, what happens to excellence when we eliminate the difficulty and the rarity?” Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire
By Gary Brewer
Art is a form of expression through which a reflection of the world and the moral character of an individual can be conveyed. It communicates in its form and content, the ideas, intuition and needs of the individual artist and the larger zeitgeist of the times in which they live.
The use of skill and technique in one’s art is a way to engage the audience with a quality that sets it apart from the pedestrian world. To experience the fineness of an artist’s hand and eye in the creation of an image has an effect on the viewer; it slows them down to look carefully and think about how something was made and what the artist is expressing.
Tim Musso creates massive wood block prints that require patience and skill to achieve. Time is a factor in work of this nature. His approach requires the resolve to wait for the final outcome. It is satisfaction delayed and the slow reveal; patiently taking each step, not entirely sure of what the final result will be. He said of his medium, “I intentionally work with wood because it is a material that was once alive. It is a material that is whole and raw. This is very important to me.”
Tim has strong feelings about the world; that people have become increasingly distracted, losing a connection to both the world within and the world around them. He is passionate about nature and laments the increasingly deep divide between nature and culture and the negative impact that the world’s endless distractions and conveniences have had on human consciousness.
He has hiked the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada, walked across England and is planning an 800 mile solo, off-trail hike through the canyon lands of the Southwest. On his journeys, the intensity of carrying all of the needs for survival on his back, eliminating every thing down to the essentials; to hike through the heat and the cold, off-trail using a compass, his wits, and strategy to stay safe, is an exhilarating experience; an experience that feeds and fuels his art and deepens his engagement of life.
On his hikes he takes endless notes, photographs of the flora and fauna, and makes sketches to create his work. The intense engagement with nature and the slow reveal of hiking 16 miles in a day to arrive at a point on a map that may be breathtakingly beautiful or “an exposed windy perch in a foggy rainstorm”, adds an emotional intensity and challenge to his experience. There are no certainties about the reward for his effort; his willingness to put off pleasure and to do all of the hard work regardless, frees him from the carrot and stick mentality that guides so many. It is an existential statement of embracing one’s experience, good or bad, as a method of self actualization, to free oneself from the human-made structures of empty values and to return to the elemental relationship of one’s body and mind engaged with existence at its most fundamental.
His works are powerful; they convey the states of consciousness that these experiences have had on his soul. In them the power of nature in its destructive and regenerative forces are expressed in bold, complex visions of the flora and fauna that he has discovered on these journeys, transformed into visual poems of nature expressed in all of its sublime beauty.
While hiking in Humboldt County he came upon the remains a beached Blue Whale, the largest animal on earth. Its rotting body revealed its heart and entrails. The enormity of the heart had a deep impact. “The stench of the rotting flesh was so intense; but I had to look in and see its heart, the bones, and touch the hairs of the baleen. I could not draw it or even take photos, the smell was so bad, it was all I could do to stand there and take mental notes. Later on I came upon a small redwood sapling. Something about how small it was and that it would grow into the largest living organism on land, and the enormity of the Blue Whale’s heart came together in my mind as a composition. From this vision I created“ Cetacae Sempervirens”.
It is a powerful piece, the whale’s heart and heart valves merging seamlessly with the roots and tendrils of plant matter, earth and water. A circular motif holds the composition together; a ribbon-like flourish of liquid encircles the elements in the composition. Tim said of this detail, “Whether it is water or blood, almost all living things are bound together in their need for liquid, in order to properly function.”
The largest work we looked at was titled “Regeneration” it was an enormous print that has an almost dark, menacing tone. It suggests a feeling that it could have been a 19th Century woodblock print illustration for Moby Dick, or some other book that dealt with the sublime power of nature and of the smallness of man, in an ever increasingly vast universe.
It is a composition that was created from his experience hiking on Mt Adams, a volcano in Oregon; the clear physical record of the collapsed side of the caldera from its last eruption blended with the blue-white ice of the glaciers. The valleys clearly formed by glacier movement, with rivers and lakes, are all combined in this powerful composition in deep blacks. The stark white of the negative spaces animated with the dance of roots, water and branches to create a tour de force work of graphic and poetic power.
“The overall composition is based on a Celtic Knot which represents the unity of all things. The powerful interaction of the forces that were viscerally present in that environment, the destruction from the last volcanic eruption from which the forest regenerated itself, and the dark volcanic rock against the brilliant white of the glacier. It was a sublime experience to see this dance of life and death, of destruction and regeneration.”
We spoke about the idea of the sublime and of its meaning to 19th century artists and poets, of experiencing a level of beauty in nature so powerful that it arouses terror; the recognition of our insignificance in the enormous scale of the universe and the forces that create this living system that we are a part of.
Tim said, “I am drawn to the sublime. I love the Hudson River Valley School and the transcendent representation of nature that those artists expressed. It reflects something of my own feeling for nature as a spiritual metaphor. I hope that my art affects people so that it inspires them to slow down, to look carefully and to reawaken their curiosity and engage deeply with nature. If I can achieve that, I will feel like I have accomplished something.”
Tim’s images are philosophical and poetic, through their graphic power and formal beauty they guide the eye and mind on a narrative journey into roots and veins of living systems that express the interconnectivity of life that existed long before human’s presence on earth. It an emersion into the womb of creation, to move with the dynamic rhythms of life and death, which create each new incarnation of life, as it evolves on earth.
These works draw wisdom from the deep soil of truth upon which we stand. Nature is the collective mind of all living systems that animate the universe and from which we are born. To walk in the forest, the desert, or on granite peaks, is to empty the mind of the noise of the world and to return to the rhythms of nature.
Tim Musso seeks primal experiences to fully engage with the ancient relationship between our body, mind and the elements. On these journeys he records his sense impressions to create art that captures these experiences; from the smell of a fresh lightening strike to coming upon the skeleton of a dead caribou or finding oneself peering into the bowels of a beached whale. These are religious-like experiences that shake off the residue of the world of false human values and constructs and allow one to be moved and shaped by the moonrise over a granite dome, or the transit of the stars amidst the vast galactic drift of the Milky Way.