Conversations with an Artist: Obi Kaufmann
A birthday gift to Jeffrey of The California Field Atlas introduced us to the world of Obi Kaufmann, naturalist, author, artist, poet, teacher. Obi pairs data with art in his stunning and compelling way; each page, each experience with his books invites us to discover aspects of our beautiful and complicated state and inspires us to joyfully adventure, dig deeper and help protect its natural environment. Come take a walk in Obi's world with us!
Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
I am unconvinced of the existence of something called a soul. I believe that a theistic context for describing our evolutionarily endowed ability to withstand and apprehend the experience of aesthetic arrest is an alienating notion that prevents us from a better connection to both each other and the more than human world.
What themes do you pursue in your art and writing?
My work revolves around the subject of California and its natural world. The panoply of California represents an entire cosmos to itself and my continued adventures are to better understand that cosmos. In that sense, my work is about finding better inroads to understanding space and time and how the living systems of the natural world arise from them.
Tell us about what influences the direction for your creative expression.
When I was in college at UC Santa Barbara, I spent many years exploring the art of the Chumash in the Santa Ynez mountains. An elaborate technology of visual participation with the natural world became known to me — or at least was uncovered. I found deep meaning in indigenous Californian art and its ability to transcend academic understanding in lieu of an intuitive, vaguely mystic participation in the natural world. Although my paintings of flora and fauna are realistically rendered, I always strive to evoke a bit of abstraction that attempts to express the sublime.
How has your work developed over time?
I was a galley painter for many decades. In my thirties, I retook my childhood passion for obsessively walking across and over California's backcountry, falling in love with its rugged identity and making it my own. Now my days are spent with watercolor, documenting inner landscapes as they appear to my outward eye.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
My boots are my studio, and my studio is my boots. I am a walker. I find the experience of walking equivalent to the experience of reading.
Do you collect anything?
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
Today I am moved by three theories revealed in the three books on my nightstand by my bed. 1. Timothy Morton's Hyperobject theory (Ecology after Nature), 2. E.O.Wilson's Biophilia theory (Biophilia) and 3. Robin Wall Kimmerer's Reciprocation Theory (Braiding Sweetgrass).
What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
Everything unfolds by its own momentum and genius. Work towards a truer center and groundedness of being. Turn the key in yourself to turn the world.
You'll want to own each of Obi's books, reference them often and share with others. The potent experience of print is still alive and these books are tactile, stunning references for your journeys.
Join us Sunday Sept 8 from 1-3:30pm as Obi comes to Poet and/the Bench for a talk on his latest book.
See you soon,
Bonnie & Jeffrey