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Art & Mystery

Inspiration in the Badlands

“An artist’s duty is rather to stay open-minded and in a state where he can receive information and inspiration. You always have to be ready for that little artistic Epiphany.”

—Nick Cave, Australian musician

I’ve just spent the week in the badlands of North Dakota on a work trip to collect Late Cretaceous fossils for a new exhibit at the museum. I didn’t expect to be going on a week long artist date. I found myself surrounded by sculpted buttes striped in orange, brown, cream, and purple. There has been a lot of rain this year, so we can add more green to the palette than usual. All of this is capped by the blue and white of a wide open sky. This area is truly beautiful, even if harsh as I scramble up and down the slopes of the buttes and try not to fall into the crevasses between.

As I’ve taken hundreds of photographs on my iPhone, I find myself captivated by the smallest details and changes of texture in the rock formations, the patterns found within the fossil bone fragments that litter the landscape, and the small, bright bursts of colors in the thistles and sunflowers.

Through all of this, I am reminded of the hardiness and vulnerability of life. That life and death are inseparable companions. The abundance of rain has provided opportunities for life to flourish. The abundance of grass, sage, and wild flowers, will provide significant fuel when the inevitable lightning strikes in the late summer storms. Life feeds death. Death makes way for more life.

There is a certain beauty in decay and growth juxtaposed. A rusting car riddled with bullet holes in the middle of the prairie. Coyote scat filled with bones and scorpion fragments nestled under a carpet of tiny purple flowers. Fossil leaves of an ancient temperate forest found buried in the rock of the dry badlands. Morning glory vines overtaking an abandoned house in a dying town.

I’ve collected so many images and patterns to inspire my artwork in the coming year. Will any of my paintings look like the badlands of North Dakota? Probably not. But the pattern of a dead baby rattlesnake on the side of the road or the weathered bits of fossil bones may. I will let these new visual resources simmer within for the spirits to choose when they come calling for their next portrait or shrine.

So, I invite you to go somewhere outside your comfort zone. Open yourself to beauty where you least expect it. Narrow, then expand your focus. Collect images, colors, textures. Fill up your visual reserves for your muses to sift through and use in your next creative project. Let the divine within this world inspire you.