Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Ages pass, and still you pour

Ages pass
and still you pour
and still there's more
to fill.

Your infinite gifts
come to me

only on these very small
hands of mine.

Ages pass
and still you pour

and still there's more
to fill.

For Julia Ingersoll, who spends her time painting, teaching and exhibiting in Tuscany and Big Sur, this mystical prayer by Bengali poet Tagore comes as close as words can to describing her experience as a landscape painter.

Julia and I chatted a few Saturdays ago at what she calls our local "piazza": Loma Vista. Back in the 80's, when I was escaping the City, I remember it as a sleepy gas station next door to falling down greenhouses filled with peaceful pastel begonias.

In those ante-diluvian times, the sign with the marquee style plastic lettering on the highway said simply, Gas, Cactus, Beer. People were always asking for the "Cactus beer" when they stopped in to fill up their tanks. Now it's the site of a delightful cultural center and famous restaurant, but you can still pitch coins into the moss covered fountain for the volunteer fire brigade, and enjoy the view of Mt. Manuel to the north, especially beautiful at dusk.

Julia had one of those challenging but blessed childhoods that seem to create fearless artists: Growing up the child of academics with a dose of wanderlust, Julia was schooled in Paris, and lived in a village in Morocco. She spent summers in Greece, Portugal and Austria. Coming back to the US, she rode horseback in the shadow of Mt. Shasta and bicycled in the Colorado Rockies. It was, she says, similar to what Big Sur kids experience. "No one told us there were things we couldn't do, so we did everything we could think of, without fear."

It's no accident that she now teaches painting in Tuscany for Women's Quest, an organization that offers retreats all over the world, and whose slogan is a quote from poet Mary Oliver, "What will you do with your one wild and precious life?" As I write this post, she is teaching landscape painting in medieval Tuscan villages, having just launched an exhibit of her work as part of an art and poetry festival in Bolgheri, Italy.

In college in Boulder, Colorado (where she graduated in Philosophy), Julia developed a passion for mountain biking, competing internationally for almost a decade. Her career included racing for the National Team in the World Cup. These years gave her the opportunity to travel, make money and pursue her love of drawing and painting, something she has done all her life. During her last race, she vowed she would "never pin a number on again," and chanted "all I want to do is paint" to herself as she crossed her final finish line. Later that same day, she signed up for a live drawing class in Boulder.

After apprenticing 5-6 hours a day with painters she admired, her hard work earned her a spot in the Florence Academy of Art, where she thrived. During her travels she became a self-proclaimed "Italophile" adding Italian to her fluency in French, and looked at lots of religious art. "Madonna con bambino, Madonna con bambino, over and over" she says with a flourish, adding that "and in the backgrounds of all these paintings one sees landscapes."

"The presence of the sacred was a huge part of everyday life in the Renaissance world," Julia says. "And today," she adds, giving credit to the great 19th century American painter George Inness, "instead of characters from sacred mythology imposed on a landscape painting, you have it emanating from every leaf, the sacred shining through Nature itself."

Which brings us to Big Sur. Julia's been living here for 4 years, mostly on a coastal property with panoramic views of the Ventana Wilderness "back country". Like many Big Sur pilgrims, she had no idea she would be starting a new chapter in her destiny when she stayed briefly at Esalen Institute, which she calls a kind of "butterfly sanctuary". But one thing led to another, and now she's one of us.

Today, when she rides her bike on the Coast Ridge road and looks east towards the Ventana Double Cone, and west toward the Pacific Ocean, she muses on how the ocean is infinity in terms of space, while the mountains are infinity in terms of time. Big Sur and Tuscany compel her to paint like no other places on Earth.

"The veil between the worlds is very thin here," Julia says. "Spirit is in all the land, not just in a few sacred spaces. But in places where the land has been abused, spirit retreats. Here in Big Sur, the land pulsates with spirit. Everybody feels it. You can feel your heartbeat in the waves, the soaring of birds, you can't not notice that all life is one."

"All of this is so vivifying," she adds, flashing me her million-dollar smile. "Sometimes I think that being a painter is just an excuse to be out there in IT," she laughs. "You can't paint what's really there, anyway...It can be hard sometimes to be face to face with this ecstatic quality of Nature. It can push at your limits of what you can receive."

After our chat, Julia rides home on her bike. "Hey, where's your helmet?" I call out, and she just smiles that smile back at me. As I drive away, I repeat softly to myself "Ages pass, and still you pour, and still there's room to fill."

The Gathering Hour, Oil landscape by Julia Ingersoll
At Loma Vista
November Cypress, Oil, 24 X 30, Julia Ingersoll
The artist in her element


MimBe said...

wow! just happened on this site and am wowed to know that someone with such a beautiful perspective shares this world ... there's hope! and to think this translates into color on canvas ...can't wait to hang some of that energy in my house!

Lisa G. said...

I am so grateful for your Sur Vision in our community - for seeing and so poignantly documenting the infinite gifts of our precious home. I feel more of my own gratitude sitting next to you...
And Julia - whoa! I knew you are something, but only had the tip of the iceburg. Seems like about every day I shake my head at the depth of gifts and experience in this little town of ours.